I was asked to write a little about this shoot for the newsletter
I enjoyed the process, so have included it here.
I’d photographed Paul before.. A few years ago before a talk he was giving at the writers festival. I don’t know if it was “pre show jitters” or whatever, but he gave me almost nothing, barely even acknowledging me. I get it, being photographed is a pain in the ass for many people.. Especially those who prefer to let their art do the talking.
So this time, I was determined to not have it happen again.
From my past life in the music industry, I knew where Paul’s rehearsal studio of choice was, and it struck me that I should just shoot there, rather than a big sterile photo studio, and besides, with COVID restrictions how they were, bizarrely rehearsal studios were easy to book with the necessary permits. I stressed out for a week (much to my wonderful photo editor’s amusement), and tried to make sure I thought of everything. I threw my old Vox amp in the car for him to plug into. I know he likes a glass of wine, so I made sure I had that, hell, I even bought a football as I knew he was fond of a Sherrin. He was going to feel comfortable, I was determined.
He arrived, with his partner and dog in tow, and it was immediately apparent that this was already a different shoot to last time. He was in a good mood, happy to chat, and generally very agreeable. We shot a little with his beautiful old “Gibson Les Paul Signature” (that he told me he bought with his first record advance in the early nineties), and he was giving me all the classic tough guy PK looks. It was working. I had an idea of shooting him at the bar that was built into the space, so we moved over to that. I suggested he pick up his beautiful old Maton acoustic for a few shots. He started playing through the Slim Dusty classic “Pub With No Beer”, and part of me couldn’t believe it was happening. My Grandpa used to play Slim Dusty tapes in his old Valiant, and I’ve always loved them. Of course I let him play it through, like hell I’m going to stop him. My assistant Ash exchange glances of delight. Even his dog looked pleased.
I suggested we try a few more with the acoustic in the setup we’d used earlier, as I’m obsessed with how beaten up and gnarly the old guitar is, like every scratch tells a story, and I knew it’d photograph beautifully. We had an outfit change and he sat back down.
For a minute he plonks through Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” (again, I can’t believe this is happening). I suggest maybe a few where he’s just holding the instrument, and I come right in close. I’m shooting for a little bit and then I see it. Just for a second Paul lets his guard down, and click there it is. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s electrifying. For 1/125th of a second Paul gazed down my lens with complete vulnerability, and something happened, and this picture was made. Without even looking at the laptop I knew what had happened. I’m not sure Paul even knew, but I felt like history was made, we’d made what I knew would be an iconic image. I have this competitive streak in me that when I’m photographing someone with a public profile, I want the images to be the best photograph I’ve ever seen of them. It’s a bit egotistical, but it honestly drives me to the point where I’m jittery, sometimes, and at that moment I knew I had it. It was such a quiet moment, but with the click of a shutter it floated past and it was gone. Thank you for trusting me Paul, I hope you like the picture.