This picks up where the first instalment left off.
S&L. OK Gil, what I’d like you to do now is explore the stories behind some of the portraits we have here. Let’s start with these two women in the shopping mall.
GG. (to himself) How did I get her like that?
S&L. Well don’t ask me because I wasn’t there.
GG. Gloria Hunniford is the one in grey and she and her friend are at a shopping centre. The poor friend looks ridiculous. But I think I love that picture and I’m glad that we’re using it. I can’t remember what it was for, I can’t even remember who it was for and I certainly can’t remember where it was. Yet what I like about it is that Gloria is responding to my performance with her own and the the friend just doesn’t know how to take it all.
S&L. Now earlier you explained that you used to just glance at the Polaroid, not dismissing them but at the same time not letting them interfere with your creative process. However you certainly looked at the Polaroid sufficiently to know that your exposures were accurate.
GG. That’s all I did. I then reserved my actual production – which was really a performance – for achieving the end result for the connection between me and the sitter. That would be me kind of whipping things up into a frenzy. (smiles mischievously)
S&L. I’d like you to tell me more about that connection that you had to make with the subject in order to come away with the type of shots that made your pictures so memorable. Because in truth you and I both know that that doesn’t just ‘happen’.
GG. I whipped the person up, the faster I went the more I got from them.
If I had a person who had big doubts about posing by the time I got to frame 10 on a roll of 12 I had them in such a state, ‘Oh, yes! Oh, yes! You can do it!’ It was embarrassing for me and I used to walk away dripping in sweat.
S&L. I remember.
GG. And with Gloria Hunniford I wasn’t feeling very good about myself in that moment, not very erudite. But someone like Gloria wanted to do that, she wanted an exciting picture so that made my job easier.
S&L. So there’s passion in there as well purpose and technique?
GG. Yes, yes. With me I just loved the whole picture taking process. I used a tripod, Multiblitz lights, a Norman battery flash. I would only buy lights on the basis that they recycled quickly. At that time I was shooting just on Kodak Ektachrome 64 ISO film.
Quite often the actual shot that was used was not anything that had been anticipated by me or the client. An example of this is this guy, Mark King from Level 42. That was taken in between shoots. He wanted to look cool and I was taking a picture with the intention to show how posh his surroundings were. He was supposed to be a rock ‘n’ roller so what was he doing in such a posh room? So I wheeled the drinks trolley in to show off his opulent surroundings.
GG. It’s the same with the picture of the guy from The Who… you know the one I mean, it’s the picture I have of him with the fish?
S&L. Roger Daltrey?
GG. I put that hat on him because I thought he looked someone out of The Archers.
Later on he did an ad for Barclaycard and for part of it they had him wearing that hat. I don’t know whether it was significant or if they had seen my shot in The Sunday Times. Anyway I found it extraordinary that a man I’d imagined to be a hard bitten rock ‘n’ roller wanted to wear that hat. I’d considered people in that game were all head-bangers but they weren’t, they weren’t. Really they were just nice little boys. Just goes to show how stereotypes can catch you out!
S&L. Let’s look at the photo of PD James holding the dagger.
GG. She hated it!
The dagger was an award she’d received so I lit it to get the shine in the metal but she thought it was too posed. My view was, come on, you write thrillers that are no more affected than what I’m doing as a photographer. But she didn’t know how to refuse me.
I would always play on the positive aspects of what I was which was a mystery to many of the people I came into contact with. They didn’t expect someone like me and whereas they could accept David Bailey with his Cockney accent. Nobody had told them there was a rascal out there with an Irish accent who would take a powerful images of them.
GG. Now if we look at the portrait I did of Lord Rothschild, an image that I love, I’ll explain a little more about my process. I did this for The Field and I’ve always been particularly proud of the shoots that I did for them.
This was at a time when I’d decided to take a less complex approach to my shots. It was to illustrate an article about him as an art collector so I used the papier mâché dogs because there was nothing else available.
S&L. Well you should be proud of that shot, Gil, it’s fantastic and works so well.
GG. Working for that client always involved a tight brief whereas with The Obs and The ST the page would often be laid out depending on the picture I delivered. With The Field I was always having to look for shots that happened in just three quarters of the frame.
S&L. Was this because they were running them as a DPS (double page spread)?
GG. No, they ran as a page and a column so I always had to leave space for the gutter. For this reason I kept a mark on the Hasselblad focusing screen to show me where the gutter was going to sit. I picked that up from watching the way that Pearce (Marchbank) used to tape overlays on the camera screen when shooting Time Out covers. You must remember him doing that?
S&L. Yes, I do. I never saw anyone else do it but him yet it was so simple and obvious.
GG. I don’t want you to think that it was always plain sailing. Every now and then I made a mess of my shoot and the Bishop of Bath & Wells is one of those. He and I just didn’t get along and I got quite angry. What’s more we drove all the way out there to photograph him and he didn’t even offer us a cup of tea. Can you believe that?
S&L. I sure can, some people can be like that.
GG. Incidentally I never judged people on their social status at all but rather on whether they offered me a cup of tea. I know is may sound bourgeois to say this but hospitality was so important and I would be a little nicer to those who offered that.
On that thought we’ll end part 2 of this interview and come back with the final piece shortly.