I understand you are continuing to work with dancers for a new project. Can you tell us about that?
I’ve been working on my new book project, called Devoted, and it is carrying on from the dancers in that they have such devotion to their lifestyle and the commitment, the time commitment, everything that they put into their career. It kind of takes over their lives. And then you have the sacrifice, a certain amount, to live that life because it is a real passion. So I’m continuing with the dancers, and I am taking other subjects. I photographed a geisha, which also has that ritual and that dedication to learning the process. I am doing various other subjects based around that devotion and that commitment.
This behind-the-scenes point of view permeates all your work, even of celebrities. Why do prefer this approach?
I am quite intrigued by what goes on before the performance. I’ve always been curious. Like, if I watch a play or a dance recital or anything really, even if it’s a kids’ puppet show, I get really distracted thinking: Who is this person performing on the stage? How did they get there? What was their life like? How did they end up performing in this way? Even to the point of, What’s their dressing room like? And what’s their ritual before they come up on the stage? What do they eat? What time do they sleep until they don’t feel too tired?
So you know, I get really distracted asking myself lots of questions. I really am quite fascinated by these people and their lives, these people’s personal stories, and I suppose it’s that privacy and that intimacy before the public display. So trying to get myself into these situations where I can kind of observe them in their more personal moments has always intrigued me.
But even when you are photographing people on the stage, like Bjork for instance, the approach appears shy and private. Why?
Hmmm. I think it sort of interests me more. It’s sort of looking at something from a different angle that isn’t the one that everyone sees. It’s the kind of thing, when I look at a photograph like that it makes me ask questions or want to know more about the story. Whereas if it’s more of a typical shot taken for the more normal kind of view point then maybe I’ll look over it a bit more quickly whereas I want to get something more arresting, to make people stop and make them look at it and wonder what the story is behind it, to make up their own story around it. I like images that make you question, make you wonder a little bit.
You got your first big start photographing the Blairs while Tony Blair was still in office as the British prime minister. Can you tell us about that experience?
Um, it was quite an interesting one. I started working as a photographer working in my mother’s photography archives, and helping her edit images, and through that Cherie Blair, we had donated one of mom’s photographs for a charity project they [the Blairs] were doing, and so we met though that, and then I just got a phone call one day from Fiona Miller, her adviser, saying can we meet somewhere to discus something privately, which was very intriguing. So, when we met she said, ‘Well you know, Cherie and Tony Blair would like you to take the first pictures of their baby because they are aware there will be a lot of public interest and they would like to have someone that they trust come and take the pictures in a relaxed environment and then release the pictures that way rather than have paparazzi stalking them that sort of thing.’ So they invited me in and it was very intriguing because it worked very much in my style in that I love to gain that trust of my subjects and go into quite personal situations and get portraits and photographs that way. [Those photographs] have an intensity about them. He was only about 36 hours old when I took those pictures, so there’s a tension in the air of a newborn, and just being in Downing Street, with all the press outside. It kind of had an excitement to it.