Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Mattas of Bold Street -where the cheer lasts all year!

It is that time of the year again and I find myself thinking of the Matta family and their wonderful food emporium on Bold Street. For despite being the last to sit for “People in Liverpool”, they were undoubtedly its inspiration from the project’s conception.

However, it took me a good many years to pick up the courage to approach them. How would they react? I was oddly shy. So many times I found myself standing at the counter, the request stuck in my throat, afraid lest they misunderstood my intentions.

In the end I did ask, last Christmas in fact. After all, MATTA’S was the first to bring international foods to all of Liverpool, in particular fresh coriander, for years almost impossible to find anywhere else. This shop was, and still is, a foodies’ hub where you can encounter almost anyone. Indeed, it is a favourite stop-off for Willy Russell.

The atmosphere there is always upbeat. I have never known a cross word from Mr. Matta, who along with his two sons, Dalip and Deepak, cheerfully serve everyone, no matter how long the queues are. If you ask Mrs. Matta nicely, who prefers to sit in the back with the frozen fish, she might even divulge her fail proof prawn recipe.

So it was with great relief that when I finally did dare ask them to "stand" for me, despite being somewhat bewildered, they nevertheless agreed to play along. Early one Sunday morning, Dalip, and Mr. and Mrs. Matta arrived to prepare their shop - the shutters were opened, pavements swept, lights turned on, and the street in front kept clear of vehicles.

A few late night revelers zigzagged in oblivion down Bold Street, lost in the nether regions brought about by illegal substances. In this surreal setting Mr. Matta served my assistant and me tea, while we waited for the last family members to arrive - Deepak and his Liverpudlian wife, Jill, with their five children.

Eventually an impressive people carrier pulled up and the clan hastily disembarked. Thus ten Mattas (the sister was too shy so sadly did not make it) assembled outside their gleaming shop. We started at once, before the winter sun rose too high and the traffic on Bold Street impeded our shoot.

Using powerful portable lighting coupled with a warming filter, I snapped away. My assistant made annoying suggestions, annoying in that he was right. Take the baby out of the baby chair, he hissed. Shut up, I hissed…uh, can you take the baby out of its chair, I requested.

Soon the shoot was over and the Deepak clan rushed away in their carrier for a family outing to the zoo. We packed up and left, but not before Mr. Matta had stuffed a large eco shopping bag full of eastern goodies for me.

Once home I unpacked my “Christmas hamper” and mused that although fresh coriander was now commonplace in national supermarkets, organic aduki bean sprouts and sango radish shoots were most definitely not.

And so now, a year later, I have just come back from Bold Street with my magic eastern ingredients for our Christmas dinner. I shall marinate our bird in a fusion of oriental spices and steam it slowly. The starters will be Mrs. Matta’s prawn soup, making sure the tomatoes are not tinned as advised.

And if you are curious as to what the Mattas will be doing on Christmas Day, I can tell you. At lunchtime they will be sitting down together to feast on traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings. Lots of trimmings - for Dalip is a vegetarian. And then, in the evening, Mr. Matta will cook his favourite dish, Lamb Biryani. East embraces West. Sweet.

Click Here to visit MATTA'S

Monday, 16 November 2009

Doreen McNally, Chairperson, Women of the Waterfront

I happen to photograph people through all kinds of ways. For instance, it was my hairdresser, Ian, who told me told me to get in touch with Doreen. Whenever he tells me to do something, I do it, except for the time he suggested purple streaks in my hair. Not old enough for that, or the hat, yet. But give it time.

However, I digress. Ian gave me Doreen's number and I called. She had been expecting me and we arranged to meet at her home in Litherland. One Monday morning, I knocked on the door, it opened and the first thing Doreen did was show me the collapsed ceiling in her kitchen. She gave a heated blow by blow description of her battles with the council, and when this was satisfactorily concluded, I learned of the circumstances that led to her fighting for the dockers' rights.

Doreen presented her case with passion and verve, for both the kitchen and the dockers, and I was with her all the way. The wife of one of 500 dockers unfairly sacked in 1995, she fought their cause for two and a half years, and the outcome was victorious. The implications of her vistory were worldwide for never again will any docker anywhere be sacked without notice or compensation. Having met Doreen I can tell you that no other result would have been possible.

I was very careful not to type-cast Doreen for that would have been too easy. I think she was fed up with this as well. I saw her for what she was: a strong woman who was not going to take any nonsense, but also a woman with great compassion and softness, and yes, also a keen sense of humour. And she likes things “nice”, especially her house, in particular her glassware; her passion is not restricted to politics.

When I came back to do the photos, I shot her in the same clothes, with the same hairstyle, and hoped she would present herself in the same way. I think this is a real portrait of Doreen, and I have enjoyed talking to her enormously. She is tremendously intelligent and perceptive, and along the way we even had a few laughs.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tony Evans, Sculpturer

It was not until he was in his mid 50s that Tony gave up his day job and went to Art College. His transformation from insurance salesman to extremely talented and increasingly successful sculpturer is nothing short of extraordinary. To look at it is hard to imagine he ever made a living selling life policies and I have to admit I was slightly disappointed to discover this.

His eyes are large and penetrating, somewhat hooded in a sexy way, and he is the kind of person that you are sure you have met before. I passed him at an exhibition in the Liverpool Town Hall and stopped to say hello, then realized I did not know him at all. His work I was already well acquainted with, however, through the excellent and witty photographs taken by Jim Connolly.

Tony’s sculptures are of animals fashioned from hammered copper and bronze, the anatomy dissected to leave you with neither skeleton nor sinew, but an alluring mixture of both. They impart the impression of flight, but Tony does not. He is calm and steady, and incredibly modest, almost as if his success has caught him by surprise.

After I had overcome my embarrassment at thinking I knew him, I asked Tony to sit for me. This was solely because his face bears a striking resemblance to that of Samuel Beckett as portrayed by the acclaimed Jane Bown, a photographer who was my earliest inspiration.

When I first started off I will confess that on the technical side I was somewhat lacking and when it came to flash this was more apparent than anywhere else. Quite frankly flash terrified me, so much so that I called my business “Black and White in Natural Light”. Just to make things clear. So it was to my great delight that I discovered that Jane Bown not only shot exclusively black and white, but also did not carry a flash. I make do with a light bulb if I must, she said. I tried it and it works.

So back to Tony. I wanted to “do” him √† la Jane Bown meets Samuel Beckett. I think Tony thought I wanted to “do” him in another way, and so, as a happily married man, he was understandably somewhat cautious. However, I managed to convince him and turned up at his studio based in an old bridewell one sunny afternoon. He was in the midst of fashioning an immense Pegasus for The City of Liverpool, and it dominated the dusty room with its rusty shades of spatula-ed bronze and copper.

There was a little too much light there for my purpose, but I spent about ten minutes moving Tony around in the room’s darkest recesses on the off chance of a lucky murky shot, and then I bid him farewell. Jane Bown was always quick.

The photos were good, but not quite what I had in mind so we met again some months later to repeat the shoot. I asked him to wear a black turtleneck and meet me at Starbucks on Castle Street. Always the gentleman, Tony wore the turtleneck (borrowed) and paid for the coffees (insisted). This time I had taken the precaution of bringing that iconic image of Beckett with me to show him. Tony was impressed with it, and thus prepared, we went down to the depths of St James’s train station.

There, in front of lavatorial yellow Victorian tiles lit hazily by smog encrusted underground lamps, I took him. Of course I would never pretend to equal Jane Bown, but nevertheless, the photo was as craggy and haggard as I had hoped. Like his animals defined by hammered metal, so Tony’s face was chiselled by the light into sinews and shadows. Fitting, I think.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Phil Hayes, Rock Promoter

My friend Tim Brunsden emailed me about Phil Hayes. “I think you should take his photo”, he wrote, “He is a positive force in Liverpool and good to know”. Intrigued, I googled Mr. Hayes and found out the following;

Phil is the driving force behind The Picket, one of Liverpool’s iconic music venues. In 2004 it was forced to close when its Hardman Street home was sold to developers. Luckily, Phil found a converted warehouse in the up and coming area around Cain’s brewery, trendily called Liverpool Independent Cultural District and it is here that the spirit of the original venue is continuing under his auspicious and dedicated leadership.

Well, enough said about that for now. That could be a PR release. I emailed Phil and we arranged a pre-shoot of sorts during a band rehearsal. Never having met him before, I prefer to cover myself with a “pre-shoot” clause in case I mess up (and mess up I do).

Liverpool’s ICD, as I shall now call it, is basically a motley assortment of bland industrial units, neglected council homes, Victorian quasi-ruins, and the magnificent, now renovated Buddleia Building. In some ways, the streets remind me of the iconic line from Adrian Henri’s Liverpool 8 poem: “now a wasteland murdered by planners not German bombers”.
In between a cacophony of prefabricated structures, the history of Liverpool hangs dankly, in the air, on yellow bricks, crumbling stones, and more than anything, across the streets with names of Brick, Kitchen, Flint - hinting at their erstwhile trades. Cain’s Brewery itself was billowing out smoke that day, pulsing forward into the blue June sky, a sign that all had not passed - yet. The skeleton of a modern and extremely ugly apartment block dominated the skyline. The shape of things to come. Someone told me that its design had actually won an award.

Apart from this, only the weeds appear to be thriving, growing out of broken cast iron drainpipes and cracked lintels, upwards towards the blue. Of The New Pickett we could find not a trace. I called Tim. ‘It is on a corner, somewhere near Greenland Street. He hasn’t got a board up yet”. So we drove around some more. On our final slow crawl around we found the building - shuttered. Phil had forgotten.

He eventually sent me an apology by email, but I was riding the proverbial high horse and so never replied.
Some months passed and I found myself at the opening of “The Beat Goes On” at The Liverpool World Museum. Very interesting too, it was, and quite a number of the people depicted on the wall posters were standing around in the real flesh. Echo and The Bunnymen, The Zutons, that guy from Cream.

It did not go unnoticed by me that many of these same were rather inebriated too. I don’t know what they were on, but surely it was not that luke-warm sparkly stuff I had been offered downstairs in the foyer? In no way am I suggesting that anything untoward was afoot, just that there was another party in (com)motion somewhere that I had not been invited to.

It was as I was bending over a memorabilia case containing Billy Fury’s guitar, that I heard, “To live outside the law, you must be honest”. I beg your pardon? Looking around I came face to face with none other than Phil Hayes. It’s Bob Dylan, he muttered. Never mind Bob Dylan, Phil was rather the worse for wear. How did I recognise him? From Tim’s “Liverpool Story” on him. No mistaking.

You stood me up, I told him, and I was supposed to have taken your photo? Swaying uncertainly, he peered at me, and then said, you were?

Around noon the next day Phil called and apologised for being drunk. I was impressed. We are all entitled to be rat assed from time to time. Also, forgetting an appointment is not the crime of the century. Being on a high horse is not an admirable trait.

Soon after I did the real thing, and by then the exterior wall of The New Pickett boasted a magnificent Irish Mural. It was the perfect background for Phil’s green blue eyes and highly coloured tattoos. Phil and I had a good talk, about life, his love of Shakespeare, and drugs in the music industry. And of course, Bob Dylan.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Ingrid Spiegl, Publisher

’When she was eighteen, Ingrid was the hottest girl in Liverpool”. So Adrian Henri told Catherine Marcangeli, who, in turn told me. “Every male in town was after her”.

Testament to this is an album cover Ingrid appeared on for The Liverpool Scene, a crowd scene true, but a crowd of all the “it” people at that time, and there in the front, Ingrid with her Cheshire cat grin.

It could be said that she was the original “it” girl, before the Hiltons, and Taras, the Sloane Rangers, and the Preppies. Ingrid was a flower girl, a Liverpudlian born and bred belle of the sixties. Now, she approaches another kind of sixty and age does not diminish her.

A lover of the arts, culture (opera in particular) and people, she is sexy and sparkling, as effervescent as a bubbling spring. Her voice is sweet, almost childlike, but don’t let that deceive you for her brain is tack sharp.

Ingrid is particularly good with words and has a WICKED sense of humour. For 30 odd years, with her late husband Fritz, she ran Scouse Press, specializing in books of local interest, such as the Learn Yerself Scouse series, from the basement of her Victorian mansion.

When the orders came in she would emerge into its depth and work all hours on the archaic printing machines until the deed was done. One day she experienced a particularly speedy route into the nether regions of her house when the living room floor collapsed beneath her and she was beamed right down.

The floor has been repaired since and the traditional printing press sold to a collector. Now the books arrive from China and though Scouse Press is still going strong, Ingrid has more time to enjoy her life on a brighter floor of her eclectic mansion. Knock on the door and warm your hands by her Aga. “Tea or coffee” she might ask? Then she will just as likely flash her violet eyes at you and say, “Oh lets have a bottle of bubbly”! Her mouth will twitch uncontrollably as she attempts to suppress the humour of the thought. There is a large, well-stocked wine cellar to get through after all.

With any luck Ingrid will give you a tour of her home from which much about her can be gleamed. There is the sixties bathtub in her bathroom, replete with a painting by herself, her Tudor oak four poster bed, the guest room where each item tells a story, and each one seems to belong. In another bedroom a mishmash of stuff awaits other destinations, including the colour triptych she has been working on forever, and the fox sitting on a potted plant, which is not really a fox, but bloody well looks like one.

Her sense of humour is everywhere. She has two cats, Toby and Black Jack, aptly named, and they have free reign of the place, even the kitchen counters. They are strong and self-assured and mirror their owner in many ways, only Toby is rather fat and watch out that Black Bastard does not snap at you.

With her background in art, there are many things Ingrid could have put her hand to. That she owns a publishing company is one of those turns of fate. Just when you think you have “got” her, she tosses a whimsical phrase out, and you realise that tea, coffee, what the hell, champagne, is what it is all about.. Or is it?

Friday, 17 April 2009

Levi Tafari, Poet

Levi looked at me with assessing eyes. I could see that he was trying to work out my intentions and it made me nervous. My intentions were not very profound.

Of Jamaican heritage and West African roots, he is a celebrated poet, playwright and musician. His compelling face and background make him an ideal subject to photograph.

On a dark rainy afternoon in November, I knocked on Levi’s door. Amongst all his other accomplishments, he is a trained Cordon Bleu chef and I had a vague motion of a man and his kitchen. This idea was swiftly dispatched when I found out that two others had been there before. The knife and the elaborate dish trick had been executed. I certainly did not want to be derivative.

That day Levi put together a simple meal of moist Jamaican fruit bun, thickly sliced and smeared with butter, and topped by a young cheese. To accompany we had fruit tea. He placed this gracious treat on mats in the dining room on a square glass table and invited me to sit down. I asked Levi which place was his. He is married, with a son and a daughter, and everyone in families has “their” place at the table. I did not want to start things off on the wrong seating.

We talked, circling a mishmash of topics. Often being described as an Urban Griot, I could see why. For starters, he jumped right into politics and the pending displacement of world powers. This was duly followed by food and Liverpool, mixed with various aside stories. The finale was why Levi had a Jamaican accent (of sorts), although he had been born and raised in Toxteth.

His formative years were passed in a large Victorian house owned by an aunt where he only heard foreign accents. A Barbadian family lived on the ground floor, Nigerians above, and Levi and his family on the top floor. When Levi first went to school he was placed in a class for the incomprehensible.

In the two hours I stayed, Levi never ceased to look at me with those questioning eyes. At the end he asked, so what about my kitchen, is it right for the shoot? I paused. It does not say enough about you, I said. He looked disappointed, and retorted, but it is only a kitchen. Exactly, I answered, and added hurriedly, there is not enough natural light anyway.

Thus it was agreed that I would shoot him in my studio, black on black. Just in case this did not happen, I took a few very dark shots of him in the kitchen in front of a metal wall organiser. Then I left and worried all the way down the dock road. Would he cancel?

As soon as I arrived home, I loaded the few photos onto my computer. Underexposed, but very good. Levi has a great face and he is very relaxed in front of the camera. I pressed auto contrast in Photoshop and the images took on new life. If necessary, they would pass muster.

The shoot did happen, and Levi gave generously of his time. He was extremely loquacious and we continued to explore a medley of topics. I had worried what he would think of my home, but I need not have. As a matter of fact he had had the same worries about what I had thought of his after a tactless comments during our first meeting. This is a man who pays close attention to words.

A week later I posted the contact sheets off to Levi. The next afternoon I was driving home after a really upsetting day and my mobile rang. It was Levi; ecstatic, full of heart-felt praise. He just wanted me to know immediately how much he loved the photos. His words flowed down my hands-free like beautiful, warm, soothing honey, sheer poetry and music to the ears. Levi, champion of Liverpool 8, Urban Griot and conscious-raiser, had cheered me up.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The confession

I confess straight off the mark so that you are under no illusions. Whilst under the influence of fermented grapes I photographed Justina Heslop, here,Image Resourcer for the forthcoming Museum of Liverpool, and she was standing in front of a church alter.

You may wonder, but let it be said that Justina comes in an extremely curvy and alluring package, a cross between Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame and a St Trinian’s hell raiser.

The first time I met her she was quite tipsy and did an impromptu photo session of five kooky poses for me. One ended up on my website, and from time to time I went back to it and wondered what more a controlled shoot might extract from her.

Enter the fabulous Alma de Cuba on Seel Street, a restaurant housed in a former church, and saved by a prayer, from administration this week. What better setting than this for a somewhat outrageous girl?

We arranged to meet there, Justina in her outfit from our previous encounter, and I carried along a number of light units to supplement the Gothic darkness of Alma’s interior.

When I arrived, Justina was firmly ensconced at the alter with two companions. A pint of wine spritzer, or at least the remnants of one, sat on the table in front of her. Hello, she said, that’s my auntie, and this is my partner Phil.

Suddenly I was nervous for she seemed very serious and not at all like the girl I had met some weeks before. Had there been any wine in the spritzer? I ordered her another and what the hell, a glass of wine for me.

While we were drinking, my assistant for the day, fashion photographer Bruce Smith, was setting up the lighting. He declared it ready to go and we had a mini dispute. I need to talk to Justina, I told him, and he replied, better take the photo now.

Not my style, but I complied. Justina approached as requested and we set about the mission. Quickly I decided to do the whole thing differently, took my camera off the tripod, and got into it. So did Justina. After ten minutes I declared the job done. We relaxed with another spritzer (for her), a beer (for Bruce) and a massive white wine (for me).

That is when Bruce saw the shot. All I saw was an agreeable haze. He grabbed a reflector and squeezed Justina into a corner, by a stain glass window, on top of a cast iron radiator. Luckily it was not on. “I thought this was over!” Justina protested, as I jumped on a table to take “the shot”. “So did I!”, I exclaimed, and soon it was.

Over drinks I asked her questions and we laughed a lot. Having forgotten a notebook, I scribbled tipsily all over my diary in whatever space I could find. How on earth I was going to remember any of this?

Justina was educated at Archbishop Blanche, in Aigburth, where she was a model student who did her homework and did it well. This girl was an A-star student in fishnet stockings who kept her head down; a hell raiser in appearance only.

The package Justina chooses to present is more a reflection of her fascination with Japanese culture and the sexy "Gothic Lolita" look popular with young girls there.

The truth is that Justina is very bright. Her eccentricity is but further proof of this. Who else would study Fine Art and Dance at university? And what about her passion for sword fighting?

She prefers the rapier and the dagger, she informed me, because both are short, like herself. “The point is to distract the male with these, and of course my chest, use what I’ve got…”

Her partner Phil joined us in laughter at the table. They used to live in Yorkshire where, playing Dracula, he earned his daily bread. Every day Justina, the dutiful girlfriend, brought him exactly this in the form of squishy sandwiches that would not disturb his fangs. This Dracula did not draw blood.

We ordered another few drinks. Confessions in the form of witticisms showered thick and fast. And contradictions too. We would like to move to Canada, Phil announced, there is more room there. Yes, added Justina, we live our lives online. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world if you do that. All we need is a bed and a computer screen.

Hail Justina. The sun was nearly over the yardarm for the Gothic model and her ex-vampire. After a very large coffee, I took a taxi home.

Friday, 20 March 2009

What Flower are you and will you be getting yours??

If Lorraine Whittle could be a flower she would be a deep red Peony. Its romantic old-fashioned form, colour and heady scent speak to her like no other.

Lorraine’s personality is equally fragrant and sunny. She is often seen to laugh ear to ear so broadly that I am frightened she will split in two, and then I rather think she is a bright and welcoming sunflower.

Fifteen years ago, I gave birth to a second child. So joyous was this occasion that my husband and I threw caution to the wind and threw the best party we have ever been to. No expense was spared –we hired top caterers, “now” musicians, and of course I wanted the best and freshest flowers. A friend suggested The Dutch Flower Shop and, being of Dutch origin myself, this seemed meant to be.

On the special day, every corner of our house was dressed in informal arrangements of lilies and wild flowers, in shades of white, all so amazingly fresh that a month passed before I had to reluctantly discard the blooms, wash the vases, and return them to the florist.

The pincipal secret to The Dutch Flower Shop’s success is Lorraine herself. A generous, but astute woman, she is a natural publicist and a firm believer in listening to her customers. It is not unknown for her to offer blooms free of charge if the moment suits, and similarly she knows when to get tough. Whatever the occasion, her flowers are always fresh, arriving daily from Holland in the confines of a capricious truck so long that it seems to swallow the row of modest shops, in Woolton Road, behind it.

When I came to photograph Lorraine she was deep inside one of these trucks, talking to the charming Dutch drivers. I climbed aboard and saw shelf upon shelf laden with crisp fresh blooms. Lorraine was selecting the loveliest and most unusual. Have you got any Ranunculus, she asked? (I googled this later and can tell you they look just like peonies). Then, coffee, she asked in the same breath to no one in particular. We all said yes.

The business opened in 1980 when she was heavily pregnant with her first child so Lorraine can honestly say she has not had a Mother’s Day off in twenty-nine years. But her two sons would never dream of buying her flowers. “My son once thought it would be a good laugh to get me a bunch of daffs from another florist. I nearly hit him with them.”

Traditionally this is the busiest time of the year for her, even more so than Valentine’s when it has not been unknown for one man to order romantic bouquets for more than one woman!

But as busy as she is, come evening she kicks off her heels, and loves nothing more than to cook intricate meals for her family while relaxing with a glass or two of wine. There is not one cookery program unfamiliar to Lorraine, no mean achievement considering the plethora of them around. Perhaps it is somewhat ironical then that the oddest request she ever received was for a funeral wreath fashioned to look like a McDonald’s hamburger. It had been the deceased’s favourite dish and perhaps it is best not to ponder this too deeply.

Not least amongst the many notables Lorraine has prepared bouquets for, there is the Queen (three times), Princess Diana and yes, even the Pope. She giggled when telling this, and her staff joined in. And that is the second secret of her success. Chez Lorraine everyone has so much fun. No wonder then that Vogue recently listed The Dutch Flower Shop as Coleen Rooney’s favourite florist.

The Dutch Flower Shop
123 Woolton Road L15 6TB
Telephone 0151 737 1595

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Ian and Minako and The Liverpool Art Prize and Things

When you attend the plethora of gallery previews and cultural events that every major city seems to spout forth, then it does not take long to realize that the same faces crop up again and again.

These faces can be variously divided into categories, such as “the art student”, “the I am a working artist, you know”, “the socialite”, “the I always-go-for-the-free-wine “person. Sometimes even, “the buyer with a lot of empty wall space to fill”.

The common thread linking each clique is its separateness - this and the fact that no one really seems to be “looking” at whatever is being exhibited, not even the buyer. So it came as a shock to me that after attending a number of openings last year, I repeatedly caught sight of the same wiry man of circa 55 years with his attractive Japanese wife actually perusing the artwork on the walls. Not only that, but they were stealthily communicating with everyone in the room.

And so it was that I discovered Ian Jackson, the force behind Started in 2004 as an independent online resource, this site meticulously covers every facet of Liverpool’s art and cultural scene. So tirelessly does Ian, an ex-IT expert, apply himself to his not insignificant task that now has established itself as offering the most comprehensive listings of independent artists in the UK. Once even, it achieved the accolade of being named the UK’s best art blog by The Times, no less.

Ian is helped by the perennially cheerful Minako, and one is never seen without the another. It is this obvious devotion to each other that led me to do a portrait of them in bed with laptops, intended to be a modern take on the famous 60’s photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in an Amsterdam hotel bed.

Of course it did not work out the way I envisaged and I suppose that is a good thing. Indeed I had not meant to mirror the shot as closely as I nearly did. In my memory, John and Yoko had been naked in bed, but in fact I later discovered that they were wearing pyjamas. So when I asked Ian and Minako to wear pyjamas to make the shot different, I should really have asked them to take their clothes off! I wish I had dared…

… The photo was not working so I kept on coming up with variations, including sticking Minako’s collection of cuddly animals in bed with them. That did not work either so I asked Ian and Minako to throw them out of the shot. As this troop of furry friends hurtled its way haphazardly across the bedroom towards my camera, I saw what had been missing. An accident stumbled upon by the subjects and therefore wholly appropriate.

Anyway, all this is leading me to that other accomplishment of the Jacksons, namely curating The Liverpool Art Prize, which is open to all Liverpool-based professional artists. In a city of numerous galleries dedicated to the international scene, the prize is a long-due breath of fresh wind and should be supported by anyone who cares about the cultural heritage of our city.

For its second year, it is returning to the Novas Contemporary Urban Centre on Greenland Street. With the winner yet to be announced, you are invited to go and vote for your favourite. Entry is free and you can catch it from Friday March 13th to Monday May 4th . Make sure you do.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ian Jobling, Picton Councillor

An email landed in my inbox from an Ian Jobling wanting to buy “People in Liverpool”. This is not a name that you forget easily and I was sure he had ordered something from me before. He had. Two calendars.

We got to chatting and it turned out that apart from working in the caravan industry, Ian dedicates his spare time as a Lib Dem councillor for the Picton Ward. So, when Ian said how much he enjoyed the calendar, and I said, how much flak I had received for the naked girl, he said some of us are open minded, you know, and I replied, how about posing for me then, but in an open minded manner?

As Ian is particularly interested in urban regeneration, and there is a lot of that going on in his ward, we agreed to meet on the boarded up Thorburn Street, which is in Phase Two of The Edge Hill Regeneration Project. This is not to be confused with the controversial Edge Lane West CPO which continues to be halted by the plucky Kensington resident Elizabeth Pascoe.

Ian explained that in 2003 John Prescott backed controversial plans to demolish swathes of Victorian housing across the North, and replace it with modern housing. As absurd as demolition seems, rejuvenation would not have addressed the fact that many of Picton’s existing terraces are tiny and lacking outside space, and therefore not so adaptable for modern family needs.

Ian said he was not surprised that on this side of Edge Lane the residents took their golden handshake and moved out without a murmur. I pointed out that that some houses still appeared occupied. Are those squatters, I asked? No, some people waiting for housing nearer by, or wanting more money. They should have left last year, when the prices were higher, he added as an after thought.

We walked into a small park and looked around at the forlorn buildings whose windows had been replaced by industrial metal shields. “Elec Off” and “Gas Off” was scrawled across the bricks. Council graffiti, no Banksey this, and a serious deterrent to entry. At the far end a derelict pub seemed to flap ghosts into the chilly afternoon. I could almost hear the people singing inside and it reminded me of Terence Davies emotive masterpiece “Still Lives, Distant Voices”.

What would this area look like in ten years? As if reading my mind, Ian, said, where we are standing was also housing just one year ago. This park is to give people green space, somewhere for children to play - it will stay.
Two lads in hoodies scuttled past and I clutched camera to my chest. It’s ok, Ian said, there is nothing to worry about – turns out he is a member of the Merseyside Police Authority too!

We started to take pictures, in front of the council graffiti, by the pub, in the central green. Ian was very compliant and appeared to have no ego whatsoever. He was certainly open minded, the only problem being that he is such a nice person that his tendency is to smile. No smiling, I chided, this is a serious matter, you have to show you are here to help. So Ian stopped smiling, and, like a marionette, did everything I asked, even jumping up into the air.

The shoot finished, we talked about the pub, and how it is was no longer the centre of community life, and then, twenty minutes later, we got into our separate cars and drove down off in different directions.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Natalie Russell, Artist

Natalie is an artist and one of her strongest creations is herself. We both had entries in a rather fun exhibition called “People and Love”, and I think hers was lots of hearts depicted in a pop art kind of way. The venue was a magnificent, but somewhat lugubrious Victorian mansion in an advanced state of disrepair bordering Sefton Park. Its atmosphere was greatly enlivened by the eclectic offerings of emotive artwork on display and a mass of people buzzing happily around, clutching plastic cups of wine.

Into this setting Natalie flounced, her porcelain skin festooned by a mass of white blonde hair and heavy fifties makeup. This was completed by what can only de described as a ‘Grease” meets cheerleader outfit - it glowed and spun refreshingly in the dark gothic manor. Naturally I wanted to photograph her and we exchanged a flurry of emails, fixing a date (May), her dress (exactly as you were at the exhibition), and location (her house).

At exactly 11am May 1st, 2008 I pulled up at her home, a tidy semi-detached new build on a housing development in Childwall. No one seemed to be in. Just in case Natalie was busy with the hover or hair drier or doing anything else that might interfere with hearing a doorbell, I pushed it again, long and hard. Nothing. Damn. I turned around to assess the situation and was nearly knocked over by a breathless female arriving on a bicycle in a fluffy pink dressing gown. She had run out of milk.

Natalie whirled around the house like a dervish, creating herself, including waxing a not very light moustache and putting right her hair with torrents of hairspray. I set up my lights and we chatted. I learned that she is 24 (though she looks 16) and that she has a little girl, and her partner is a musician. Her parents live around the corner and have an attic crammed full of her “stuff”. In fact she uses it as her studio.

While toying with the idea of going there for the shoot instead, I looked around the house. It was truly spotless. Surreptitiously I ran my fingers over a few of those places that are usually missed. Not a trace of dust. Not even on the mantelpiece where a lovely mug, made by Natalie herself, sat here amongst a conglomeration of other personal knickknacks and snapshots. Natalie’s partner is very handsome.

Elsewhere Natalie’s artwork was in ample evidence – this is best described as paintings of sexy, feminine girls in various states of suggestive undress. A large life-size canvas of a “babe” had taken residence in the broom cupboard.
Finally Natalie was ready to go and so was I. The light was perfect. She made us both a cup of tea, and sat on the sofa, cupping her handmade mug tightly. Snap. That was a very good image. I particularly liked the homage to “Clash” hanging behind her and the baby seat tucked next to the sofa.

Natalie bit her lower lip nervously. I noticed a bead of sweat on her upper lip and whipped out my powder to mop it up.

Then a kitten scuttled into the room, and jumped first into the baby seat, and then, thinking better of it, onto her mistress’s lap. Snap. This was getting better by the minute. Encouraged by my enthusiasm, Natalie showed me her collection of guitars and left one beside her, the frets of which the cat proceeded to inspect. Snap. That was the shot.

I spent another 40 minutes or so framing Natalie in various locations of her home - she even carried her large broom cupboard “babe” outside and posed with it on the neatly trimmed lawn. In the end I had a fantastic range of portraits and Natalie was genuinely pleased. “I was very nervous”, she explained by email, “I did not know what to expect”.

And to tell you the truth, neither did I.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Asa Murphy, Liverpool’s own Heartthrob

I am a loose woman. Not many people know this so I will explain. Just over a year ago I was asked to become a panellist on Linda McDermott’s “Late Night Live”, a BBC Merseyside program where an eclectic mix of topical news that might be interesting to sassy ladies is discussed. Initially I was a Monday Madam, but quickly I became a Tuesday Tart.

Asa Murphy would definitely be of interest to any lady, sassy or otherwise, who likes that old fashioned, romantic Sinatra kind of thing. One Tuesday he was invited into our garrulous sanctum and entertained all with his smooth voice and down-to-earth manner.

That night he was riding high, having just sung to great acclaim at a sell-out concert in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Before it had been Ronnie Scott’s, and later it would be the Liverpool Arena, not to mention Colleen McLoughlin’s Hen Party.
After one of his songs was played on air, someone commented that he could be Liverpool’s answer to Michael Bubl√©. I thought he was even better, possessing that rare talent for perfect phrasing. Furthermore there was a certain intense energy about him, the essence of which came across in his singing. Certainly it caused the collective hearts of The Tuesday Tarts to beat faster.
This aside, Asa was very unassuming. Growing up in a large working class Irish family provided a level grounding for whatever life might throw at him. Airs and graces were strictly off the menu, the ability to laugh at yourself always on. Previously a care worker, and before that an assistant in WH Smiths, Asa has never been trained musically. His natural talent has propelled him forward by chance, opened back doors and led to his full time career singing at “front of house” today.

Intrigued by Asa’s resemblance to Chet Baker, I looked him up on the net. His photos did not do him justice so I got in touch and offered a free shoot - he was beginning to get a lot of publicity and I figured he could use a solid headshot to tide him over. Also, I told him, I would like to do something more unusual for my own projects.

Two days later Asa was sitting in my kitchen, talking candidly about things that were troubling him deeply. It was there that I captured the kind of shot I like. Then, we went upstairs to the studio and I took the kind of shot I thought he could use. And that was that. I gave him the photos and forgot about it.
Some months later he called me up and said that his first CD was coming out on this forthcoming Valentine’s Day and that he had used one of my photos on the cover. Normally I would have been miffed at not having been consulted before the fact, but not so with Asa. I was genuinely pleased that I had been of help. He was bright and happy and his troubles were behind him. I asked him about the songs on the CD and he went into long detailed analysis of each one, his enthusiasm brimming over. Finally though, he said modestly, I do not really like doing studio work, it is the on-stage performance that gets me going.

Disarming and unassuming as ever, Asa Murphy is one to watch.

To catch Asa live or order his CD please visit

Sunday, 1 February 2009

In Memory of Joseph Patrick Mullin

What do you say to a grief stricken woman who has lost her only son? It was January 13th and we were sitting in the front room of her pristine house in Childwall drinking tea, and today was his birthday. Pauline had put the fire on.

If he had been alive, Joe would have been 25. But he had been dead for three years, and his mother was still distraught with unspeakable emotional pain. Especially so on this day. I asked Pauline if she would talk about Joe, and talk she did, unable to come terms with what had happened. While listening, I set up my camera.

Not long after this lovely, dignified lady started to cry, just lightly, and I sat down next to her. I have never seen such raw grief up close and it entered me forcibly. I was at a loss.

With Pauline’s permission, I began to photograph her and in so doing captured the gauntlet of emotions a bereaved mother experiences through sudden death. She cried, and frowned, expressed anger, remorse, guilt, and yes, when she recalled the mannerisms of her beloved only child, Joe, she smiled and, sometimes, almost laughed.
I stayed almost three hours and wept too. We hugged. Every ounce of my being felt for Pauline. There were no solutions or remedies I could offer, just a shoulder to cry on, and a stranger to be able to be open with. It did us both good.
On October 29th 2005 Joe was a passenger in a car that spun out of control in Wavertree. Such was the force of the collision that he was flung from the car and killed instantly. The driver survived. Joe was meant to be in another car, but it was one of those twists of fate that sent him to the back seat of this car. Life, and death, always seems that way.

His end was abrupt, and his suffering short, but the same cannot be said for Pauline who lives with the consequences of that night, and the subsequent painful court case, every second of her life. For her there is no respite as the tableau of every day existence only serves to remind her of what and whom she has lost.
How do you cope when a child dies? It is a question that I ask myself often, a fear that I hold deep inside myself like most mothers. I cannot imagine surviving the loss of a child, let alone the loss of my ONLY child. But survive Pauline does, for she knows she must, though that does not ease her pain.

By working with specialist organizations to create awareness of the consequences of death caused by road crashes, Pauline has sought to create something positive out of tragedy. Joe’s family and friends have raised money for a number of charities and a chorister’s award has been set up at the Metropolitan Cathedral where Joe himself had been a chorister. This very afternoon there was to be a presentation at The Walton Centre in Joe’s memory. But she was hurting so much I could feel the strength of it in the very atoms of the room, and so I did the only thing I know to do, that could help. I recorded her breadth of her emotions.
I hope this image of Pauline, unplanned, raw and real, is intended, shows how terrible bereavement is - that it does not just happen in war, but here, in our safe modern world.

Every day, mothers, and fathers, like her are being bereaved unexpectedly. Some stories make the news, others, like the murder of Rhys Jones, spark off the public’s consciousness, and yet more get a brief mention, then trickle away quickly from the public eye, leaving the bereft family adrift in a world that for them has changed forever. The best they can do is to allow their suffering to make them better, more caring people. Because sudden death is negative. It is destructive. The future has to balance this sorrow. It has to heal and mend to create something whole. But this whole will never be the same again. Never. Again.

Look at Joe’s Mum and imagine.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Linda Thompson, Community Development Manager

Linda came to me via a convoluted path. For 19 years I have been driving past the Buddleia Building, so named by locals due to the tenacity with which this plant had rooted itself in between the bricks of the neglected structure. Scrawny, unhealthy, but somehow alive, it echoed the contents of the cavernous Victorian warehouse with its piles of old furniture, quasi antiques, books and scores of dilapidated pianos decomposing into the fabric. Luckily the bricks of the building were so hard baked that all the neglect, woodworm, and buddleias in the world could not fell it.

Then it was finally emptied over a period of several weeks and I dropped by to film one of the clearers beside a hanging rope. Such was the power of his face that I cropped the rope out of the final photo in order to focus on him. But the rope stayed in my conscious and played mind games; swinging through my conscious like a breeze skipping off the Mersey.

When I visited The Buddleia Building in its new life as The Contemporary Urban Centre a few weeks ago, I was moved to discover the same rope hanging from the ceiling. It was sunny, a crisp, autumnal day, and the clear blue of the Liverpool skies trickled into the building, quickly absorbed by its dark brick walls. There were a number of interesting exhibitions on the different floors and I trekked around, fascinated.
At one point I stepped on a rotten floorboard and was startled when out of nowhere Linda appeared. Her first words were “I must do something about that” and off she went, speaking through a walkie-talkie, only to meet me again on the floor below, and then on each floor after. Cheerful, helpful, a bounce in her step, by the time I arrived back at the ground floor, I really knew I had to take her photo and luckily she agreed.

Linda is the Community Development Manager of The Contemporary Urban Centre and it is really a very special place. Its aim is to give people who otherwise would not have that opportunity, a chance to work. Ex-drug addicts, homeless, and socially excluded people, or indeed anyone who is marginalised by today’s society. The result is a vibrant environment, with staff, positive and friendly, clearly happy to be there.

Certainly Linda feels this way. Fleeing with her two girls from an abusive drug-dependant partner in Darlington, she ended up in Liverpool by randomly placing a pin in the map of the yellow pages. While working as a cleaner in a hostel for homeless and drug addicts, she saw a poster hanging on its wall offering training working with the same. She applied, was accepted and has never looked back. Over the course of six years she was worked her way up to her current position, driven by a desire of a better future for her children. In her words, “a world where there is no fighting or bickering, where everyone can get along, that’s what I love”.

Linda told me this and then I took her photo beside the rope, in the atmospheric October light. Behind her, through the large warehouse windows, the defining skyline of Liverpool confronted us, a piece of spectacular and evocative artwork, with its focal point, the Anglican cathedral. Linda’s face is as powerful and as full of emotion as the clearer two years before. In some ways the rope tells parts of her story, but like the clearer, I settled on this image, without any props.

I told you the path was convoluted and I am sorry you have not seen the rope. Perhaps the best thing would be to make a visit there yourself.

Contemporary Urban Centre - North West
41-51 Greenland Street,
Liverpool L1 0BS

0151 708 3510

My First Photo Post

I have finally decided to do a photo blog after being told a million times I should. Last year I published my first book "People in Liverpool" and it received really good reviews across the board. Phew, what a relief. It is now available in various outlets across Liverpool, including directly from me on my website,
Hopefully this book will be followed in due course by a sequel, and this time it is intended to have little stories with it. As a tester I have been publishing some of these through under the section local stuff/still lives, but I thought I would put my own versions of these stories on this blog. The first one follows.