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 à 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.