In 1990 a shy young photographer grabbed the chance to shoot a wonderful actor. This was the snowball that became an avalanche.
The photo on the left, Stephen Fry, was the very first celebrity portrait I ever took. The photo on the right features a 19 year old fresh faced me holding my trusty Mamiya RB67.
The Archimedes Moment
“He is not a glamour photographer like Mario Testino for example, nor does he create scenarios and devise settings and single-moment dramas like Lord Snowdon. His forte is the absolutely direct black and white portrait, full-on, sometimes grainy and remorseless in the detailing of complexion, sometimes mischievously witty and unexpected, always completely unforgettable.” SF
In 1989 I embarked on the first of the 'new' qualifications that the government had pushed out. It had the very fancy title BTEC National Diploma in Design Photography, at the Norfolk College of Arts and Technology in the glorious metropolis called King's Lynn.
It was a little of a hotch-potch of a two year course. In year one we had to explore all avenues of photography; from landscape, to food, to documentary, to fine-art, to commercial, etc, etc, etc. I found it all interesting but nothing really floated my boat, nor sparked an interest that I would have to endure for all year two. In all honesty I was a hair's breadth away from throwing it all in, as the thought of spending an entire year in a subject my heart was not really into was stomach churning.
It was just at this junction in my college education that I learnt that the nations darling Stephen Fry was going to be visiting our humble college to hand out some diplomas and give a talk about AIDS awareness. Please bear in mind that the late 80's early 90's we lived in a different world. There was not satellite or cable television, nor did we have hundreds of terrestrial television stations to pursue...we had the choice of four! BBC1, BBC2, ITV or Channel 4, that was it. In this barren desert of entertainment Mr Fry was featured in three prime-time programs each week. The glorious Black Adder series,
A Bit of Fry and Laurie and the period comedy Jeeves and Wooster, with audiences over
20 million for each.
A Determined Little Fellow...
Through a little bit of digging I found out which college building, and room, Mr Fry would be giving his talk and Q & A. I found the adjoining room would be empty on that specific day and so my plan was hatched. In the same vein as the Jackal hunted Charles de Gaulle, I blagged my way into the arts block studios and prepared my space. I set up a seamless paper background, a studio flash, anchored by trusty Mamiya RB67 to a sturdy tripod, and then snuck into Mr Fry's talk and awaited the Q & A session.
Mr Fry entertained the bewitched crowds with many anecdotes, and the room was filled with glee and many chortles, then the moment came into view...the Q & A's. I had him all set in my sights and I patiently waited with my finger on the trigger. When I felt the moment was right I shot my hand up. Mr Fry smiled and nodded at me to ask my question. "Mr Fry, would you let me take your portrait? I've a camera all ready next-door."
My Fry's smile quickly went followed by an eye-roll and sigh. Through gritted teeth he uttered "Alright. Only if you can be quick." We adjourned to my makeshift studio next door.
I took a deep breath.
Then I was given 90 seconds and I took 10 shots. This minute and a half is now a total blur. I cannot remember what I said to provoke the expressions and reactions I had in these 10 frames, but that was it...BOOM...my eureka moment. It was like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and I knew celebrity portraits were the way for me.
On The Untrod Path
That is all it took. 90 seconds of kindness from Mr Fry shaped my career, and life, for the following thirty years. This fortuitous event started my way on a path that took me from Norfolk to Hollywood. I have been blessed enough to have worked with countless actors, musicians and beautiful people. But for me personally there is one part of this anecdote that I hold very dear. After all these years have passed I still count Mr Fry as a friend.