A year in images | People

My favourite portraits from 2017

When you take as many photos as I do, the ones that tend to stand out are those that have something a little different about them, those that for some reason or another are out of the ordinary.

Usually, one sees an image in isolation, left to be judged only by what information is contained within the frame. But photos are more than just a moment in time. In most cases the end result is governed by the circumstances presented to the photographer, meaning there’s often an untold story behind them, one that can make them more interesting than just being another nice picture.

While quantity is ubiquitous, quality is elusive, especially when you’re continually raising your own bar. Like many creatives, my focus is habitually on the here and now, rather than the past, so I’m always more excited about the results I’ll see from my next shoot, than the images I’ve already created. Even so, I recognise it’s good to pause and reflect, to look back and take stock.

Photographically, my 2017 could well be summed up by that wonderful quote from Yogi Berra: it was déjà vu, all over again! But whilst I stood in front of much the same things I did the year before, I’d like to think the way I portrayed them has progressed.

The same can be said for this set of retrospectives. Previously, I’ve organised them in various ways: around subject matter, in chronological order by month and I’ve even grouped images by colour. This time I’ve split it across the subjects I photograph the most — art, automotive, floral, music, people and seascapes — and picked just a handful of shoots from each.

Whatever I’m shooting, I always aim to create images that are inventive, that are a little different from the norm. Whether that’s in the content or the execution, for me, it’s all about being out of the ordinary. Since day dot I’ve never been content for my images to be restricted to what can be achieved in camera and have continually experimented with different looks and treatments to find my own individual aesthetic.

My interpretation of what constitutes a good image has also sharpened considerably — manifesting in there being fewer images that I’m genuinely pleased with — as has my desire to push the barriers of what one can achieve within a single still image.

Choosing just a few frames from among thousands was never going to be easy. Deciding which would make the cut meant having to leave out many personal favourites.

These then are the stories behind my favourite people images from 2017.

Touka Voodoo — The Hybrid Human | Brighton | 13 May 2017

Without doubt, one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever shot, Touka Voodoo is unique in about every way possible. On the surface, it’s all about the facial tattoos, but the reality was much more than skin deep. Born female in Iran, Touka’s family fled to Sweden. Moving to London, as a self-proclaimed “radical ‘femme’ lesbian” Touka had long hair, wore high heels and worked as an exotic dancer. A few years later, following a mastectomy, Touka was living as a “super-manly man”, complete with a beard and a girlfriend. Today, when asked about gender, the tattoo artist from Stockholm responds “I’m not one or the other, I’m both!” Having had gender modification surgery, Touka is now a self-described “hybrid human” As soon as I spotted Touka at the Brighton Tattoo Convention I knew this was someone I had to photograph, but getting good portraits at a busy event is never easy. First, you need to find a suitable backdrop and then you have to be quick. Even though I only had a couple of minutes., I love the range of portraits I managed to get and that they weren’t just snapshots. To me, they’re both powerful and iconic.

Bruna — RHS Chelsea Flower Show | London | 22 May 2017

Often you might see someone interesting but you don’t just want to take a snap of them as you have no control of what’s happening in the background. When I saw a gorgeous model near the M&G show garden on press day, she was surrounded by people snapping pictures for which she cheerfully posed. Most would have got pretty much the same shot. I waited patiently and asked her if I could take her picture, then adding, could we do it over there? Some 10 metres away I’d spotted the only plain panel in the vicinity, it wasn’t very wide, but at least it provided a clean backdrop. It wasn’t ideal located, as the sun was really bright, so I asked Bruna to close her eyes. I managed to fire off a few shots before she had to go back to the garden for a photoshoot. With their art-nouveau feel, these portraits of Bruna turned out to be some of the best I’ve taken at Chelsea.

Ladies’ Day | Glorious Goodwood | Goodwood | 4 August 2017

Glorious Goodwood, or to give it its new corporate name, the Qatar Goodwood Festival, is more than just the biggest horseracing meeting on the south coast, it’s also one of the biggest social events, the south coast’s Ascot if you like. And it’s not only the horses that are on parade, so are most of the racegoers. But this year’s Ladies’ Day was buffeted by wind and rain, making the going hard for those wanting to capture the glamour of Glorious. Most of the women spent much of their time with one hand clutching their hats and trying to stay undercover. I got lucky when I came across one particular lady who was wearing one of the most beautiful hats I’ve seen at Goodwood. These candid shots were taken whilst she was talking with friends. I love how they came out, the fact she wasn’t posing for a photo and those seeing the pictures would never have guessed quite how inclement the conditions actually were!

Brighton v Atletico Madrid | Amex Stadium | Brighton | 6 August 2017

This was my first visit to the Amex Stadium and my first time sitting in the press box at a football match. It was a pre-season friendly between Premiership newbies Brighton and Spanish giants Atlético. Although I didn’t have a photographers pass, so had no access to the pitch, I was sitting literally next to the players’ tunnel which gave me one of the best views in the stadium. During the game, which Atlético won, I managed to get a few shots of the match and a few of the two star players: Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres. Afterwards, at the press briefing, I even got some good portraits of the two managers and another Atlético player. Making football shots — especially taken from a distance — look interesting isn’t easy, but I think mine have an artistic value that makes them stand out.

Joanna | Goodwood Revival | Goodwood | 9 September 2017

Rainy weather also proved a challenge at this year’s Revival where I struggled to find as many photo opportunities as previous years. My best shots turned out to be some candid portraits of a girl on the TVR exhibit inside the Earl’s Court Motor Show, where the lighting is notoriously bad. Immediately I saw Joanna I knew she’d be really good to shoot so I asked her permission and told her I’d be shooting from a distance and didn’t want her to pose or look at the camera. If I’d only have realised quite how well these portraits were going to turn out, I’d have stayed way longer than the few minutes I did!

Equipment: Olympus OM-D E-M1, Olympus 75mm 1.8 prime lens, all shot handheld with available light only

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Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people