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.