I was trying to think of people to photograph for this assignment, people who are markedly different to me – at first glance, anyway. Up pops Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury on News at Ten and I thought ‘ there’s a chap who’s about as different as can be’… from me.
Although Justin would probably be eager to sit for me, there aren’t really enough Archbishops for a series and they tend to live quite far apart, making travel difficult. So I stepped down a rung and considered Bishops, specifically Anglican Bishops.
I thought they had the potential to make interesting portraits, given their positions of respect, authority and responsibility. In looking for ‘the other’, I reckoned they would have ‘otherness’ in abundance.
I tracked down eight of our local bishops in the Southwest, wrangled their contact details and set about drafting my ‘pitch’. I quickly realised that you can’t email a bishop directly – it has to go through their diocesan office where such matters are handled by personal assistants, diary secretaries and suchlike.
I hadn’t been too hopeful but as it turned out all eight agreed willingly and several were enthusiastic. Having gained agreement in principal, the long slog of diary coordination began; bishops are busy people.
I was clear in my proposal: I would need an hour at the location of choice but only the last fifteen minutes would involve the bishop. This was to give me time to find a suitable setting, light it if needed and move the furniture around.
I was given every consideration on the shoot days by generous, helpful staff. The bishops themselves varied somewhat in their level of ease – more nervousness than antipathy, I think. I used to work on a TV news crew, a sound mixer, and often noticed how otherwise powerful and confident individuals became distinctly uncomfortable when called upon to relinquish control.
My verdict: adequate
Things I got wrong – as usual I was concerned that people would be getting impatient if I took up too much time. This is wrong; I should have used all the time, and then some… I need to be more assertive.
Don’t mix portrait and landscape. Only do landscape, it’s too difficult to make landscape from portrait later and mixed formats don’t look so good in an online gallery.
Technically, all OK. I didn’t hit the focus sometimes, I was using manual lenses. I need to stick to my routine of checking focus every few shots with the in-camera magnifier. It’s so easy! I don’t know why I’m not doing it every time.
I should have done tighter shots as well. I wanted some background context of course but some of them are just too small. If I had, I should have had the eyeline straight to camera. I gave the subjects an off camera eyeline in each case because I was trying to establish a ‘contemplative’ look.
I didn’t get ‘model releases’ intentionally. There was no way I was going to ask Their Graces to read a page of quasi-legal text and sign on the line. In any case, if it came to disagreement I wouldn’t rate my chances against the Church of England. And I feel it would spoil the ‘flow’.
I already had email exchanges which set out my intentions, to use the pictures on my learning log, which each office approved. If I want to use them for anything else, I’ll ask.
I was motivated to produce a coherent set of photographs here, with identifiable connecting elements between them. It’s pretty obvious that these individuals are all clergy. I asked that they shouldn’t wear the purple, unsuccessfully, although those who complied break the series up a bit. I also asked that they choose a place for the photographs to which they felt a particular connection, but this didn’t work for logistical reasons – I had to work when they had the time and that wasn’t usually adjacent to any special place.
There are eight pictures here, I used the results from every sitter, none was too bad to use. I would have liked a dozen – I think I could have included other bishops, especially having gathered a ‘critical mass’ – but it was so expensive in diesel, between deepest Cornwall and Wiltshire.