I was very saddened to hear of the death of Magnus Magnusson in January.
I once had the privilege of visiting him at his home to take some portraits of him with his daughter Sally. These were for an Icelandic magazine which was featuring an article regarding the publication of Sally’s book “Dreaming of Iceland” describing their visit to Iceland and tracing the Magnusson family roots.
I was a little nervous about meeting him. I had known Sally for some time, and had photographed her on several occasions. I like to think that we have a good working relationship and I always feel relaxed when I work with her, but her father was the legendary journalist and somewhat formidable television presenter most famous for his masterminding of “Mastermind”.
I had arranged to meet the reporter from the Icelandic publication at Glasgow Airport and together we arrived at Magnus’s house on the outskirts of Glasgow, where we were warmly greeted by Sally, Magnus and his wife, Mamie. I had been led to believe that he had a somewhat suspicious outlook of photographers - after all, some are more than a little intrusive to say the least. As the interview got underway I settled into the background and took a number of informal portraits. We tried slightly more staged shots in various locations, the lounge, the garden, and the study. I was pleased to see that it looked every bit as chaotic as my own office - and it was here that I successfully managed to knock a pile of videos from a window ledge - surely emphasising to Magnus that photographers are not just intrusive, but clumsy as well! The day was saved, however, as I had decided that it might be useful to take a framed photo of Sally from one of our previous photo shoots. He was very pleased with it, but didn’t believe me when I said that I’d brought just in case I knocked a pile of videos over!!
Eventually we were led through to his library where “The Chair” was housed.
This, of course, was the original chair from the Mastermind programme which had been presented to him when he retired from the series. I resisted the temptation to ask if I could sit in it - or to photograph him sitting in it, as I assumed (correctly as it happens) that just about every other photographer would have suggested that. However, he eventually said that this may make a good subject for the magazine. When I mentioned that I had been tempted to ask, he said - possibly joking - that he would have declined if I had!! He then offered to take a photograph of me sitting in the chair. I now have a most unique photograph not just of me in “The Chair”, but taken by the very man himself!
I think I must have created a reasonably good impression. As I was leaving he rushed out of the house clutching a bag of sandwiches, which had been left over after lunch, “to eat on my long journey home to Argyll”.
He was a most charismatic man, a wonderful story-teller, and I was greatly impressed by his kindness and co-operation throughout the entire shoot.
The wedding season started quite early this year with a February wedding in Barcaldine Castle near Oban. This was a new venue for me and whilst I had visited the area previously I hadn’t been inside.
This is always a bit of a worry as I like to know how well lit (or not) the venue is and the best place to get good photographs. In this case all was fine and I found a lovely recessed window which gave good light for some classic side lit portraits – I favour this type of shot over evenly lit flash shots. The officiating registrar was very helpful and allowed me to get in an ideal position for what I think is one of the most important moments – the exchange of the wedding rings. Outside the castle with views across to the hills of Appin was ideal but the weather was a too hazy and it cold so the potentially perfect location didn’t quite work as well as the couple had hoped for. The reception in a hotel in Oban was excellent and I was able to get lots of informal shots of the guests. Sometimes it’s very difficult to get good shots in these situations as guests invariably stand in groups arranging themselves in small circles. This means getting back views of half of them unless you ask them to turn round and if you do everyone poses because they are being photographed, losing the natural look!
This seems to be a year for attending weddings in castles, with two at Barcaldine, and at Castle Campbell in Clackmannanshire, Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire and more recently to Eilean Donan near the Kyle of Loch Alsh.
I had never been involved with civil partnership weddings until this year when I have photographed two.
In both cases the couples and their friends and family were an absolute joy to photograph, very co-operative and relaxed.
Earlier in the year I travelled up to Freswick Castle in Caithness, where I’d been involved with the production of “The Walk”, a film about William Wilberforce – see July 2006 Diary.
I returned in February for the premiere of the film which was to be shown in Thurso. I put together an exhibition of some of the stills I had taken during filming, and these were mounted in the reception area. The screening was so successful that it had to be shown again the following day.
Amidst the flurry of weddings in recent months I was diverted by a return visit of the Belchamp Morris Men from Essex.
I have been involved with the Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop since it began, and we have enjoyed a great many concerts since then. This has given me the opportunity to take portraits of some of the top traditional musicians around. Morris Men are a little different! They had visited on a previous occasion having a local connection in Lochgoilhead, and their return was eagerly anticipated, bringing in a breath of fresh air. “A breath of fresh air” is somewhat understating their impact – a hurricane is nearer the mark.
Perhaps not quite so boisterous – but not far off - was an evening I spent photographing group of newly qualified nurses at their end of exams “do”. I know there are many clichés regarding nurses and uniforms, but they all certainly looked very special in their “party frocks”.
In September I was commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland to attend a production they had organised at a high school in Lochgilphead. The production was to be in the open air (very brave in Argyll) and featured around 100 senior students. They had been directed by staff from the National Theatre over a three month period and this was to be their big night. Live stage photography is always something of a compromise between getting convincing shots and not disturbing the audience and this is even more difficult with the large area of an outside performance – especially at night, as this was. Fortunately, I was able to get some daylight shots during the dress rehearsal which proved more useful as reference work, but the actual performance shots had to be taken in the dark with just the stage lighting – not very easy as I couldn’t move around the stage area.
Most people, I’m sure, will have been aware of the plight of Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent who was held in captivity in Gaza. Early in October, I was commissioned by the BBC to take photographs for their in house magazine and for general usage during the filming of a special programme following the release of Alan and how his life has changed. A truly inspirational man.