Having created a small number of moving-portraits, my next logical step was to exhibit them. How? I hadn’t fully figured out the details yet. I was at a crossroads; I knew what I wanted, but truthfully, I wasn’t sure what the first step to make was, and in which direction to take it.
The limited number of videos online worked to a degree, (after a lot of coding to display them in their correct portrait format), but deep down I knew that in order to have the impact I really desired, they simply had to be shown on a much grander scale in order to give the project soul, and bring life and spirit to a traditional format.
The idea was for the public to walk into a gallery space, and to be greeted by a series of large music icon ʻphotographsʼ on the walls. I personally wanted their reaction to be one of both awe at the sheer scale of it all, and a profound shock of seeing subtle movement within the frame.
But the question I kept returning to was, ‘how I am going do this?’ No one had done this type of exhibition before, and as the moving-portraits were a new concept, it was a little harder for those approached, to initially grasp what it was all about.
It finally got underway towards the end of 2011, when there was an encouraging sign for myself (as a creative) to request time for a solo exhibition at a huge space in Shoreditch, for October 2012. Those living in the area - as I was at the time - were able to apply to use this space for up to three weeks, gratis.
It was ‘The Londonewcastle Project Space’, a 3000 square foot, concrete pillared and white walled empty building on the corner of Redchurch and Ebor Street.
The first time I saw the place, the exact moment I stepped inside, I just knew it was the one I needed. All my previous searching for venues had eventually led me here. Lawrence Watson was currently showing his own ‘Noel Gallagher’ exhibition, and I could sense just how well the space worked for subject matter that was heavily intertwined with music. I sought out who to speak to that night, to try and gather information and hopefully get the introductions for the next step. It was Peter Allen at Londonewcastle, and he was key in making everything happen during the very early stages; he went above and beyond in his efforts to help me secure the space.
I now had roughly nine months to prepare for the installation. In order to see how other artists utilised the building, I went to every single exhibition at The Londonewcastle Project space from the moment I’d been confirmed, to when it was my turn. The exhibition was always going to be purely artistic, and a non-profit making venture, so the only caveat when given the keys was certainly fair and agreeable:
“It must come back to us in the same condition you got it, no parties and no sub-letting”
As I also now had a deadline to work towards; it meant I could begin to contact record labels, PR’s and friends, to enquire about the artists they represented for the exhibition. I was heavily influenced by David Bailey’s ‘Box of Pin Ups’ at the time, and I wanted to shoot artists finely in tune with the cultural zeitgeist, who would bring their own creative spark and personal style. I needed a working title for my own show, and this eventually developed into #FaceToFace. I thought this was appropriate given the viewer was looking at the sitter, just as much as the sitter was supposedly staring back at them.
The ‘shooting’ part was relatively easy, the ‘showing’ part however, became quite problematic. There were a lot of calls made to numerous companies that supplied projectors, because in all honesty, it was an area in which I knew very little about. Those that did kindly respond, all said the same thing; namely, I needed projectors of such quality and luminosity that they would not be out of place in a cinema. Ok, so hiring fourteen of those for three weeks should logically be the next course of action then? Well, no, not really. Firstly, the prices all averaged around a lower six-figure sum. Secondly, no one actually has fourteen of the same model projectors in stock at any given time, that can be used in the same place for three weeks anyway!
I’d spent the early part of the year working for clients, shooting for the exhibition, and undertaking plenty of research, but as the Summer approached, the notion of how to show it, was genuinely terrifying me. Time was really beginning to fly, and as I’d committed to the place, and already called in so many favours, there was no way for me to back out now.
Not for the first time, luck would shine down on me unexpectedly, as I was introduced (naturally, by an email from Peter Allen) to my own personal superhero, Jo-Ann Thorn of Aurora-Multimedia. Jo had been installing a lot of the work for many artists at The Londonewcastle Project Space, and Peter thought she may well be ideal for the help I was so in need of. As it transpired, Jo was beyond brilliant and knew exactly what should be done, and how to practically implement those ideas to good effect.
There were brief time windows between artists packing away exhibitions, and others setting up, where we were able to carry out some fortuitous projection testing in the space. We established that the projectors recommended by the companies were too powerful, too heavy and too cumbersome; they were more of a hindrance than a help. Through trial and error, we found an incredible number of visual anomalies to learn from, and discovered countless positive developments for our benefit (all of which I’m afraid, will have to be kept secret!) We also managed to blow up a couple of smaller test projectors, which consequently then necessitated severe changes for future post-production working methods. It was unquestionably a nuisance in the short term, but had we not known all of this prior to the final set up, it would have resulted in a total disaster. But isn’t that the entire reason for testing, to make mistakes and learn from them?
We still had to refine our visual displays, and I still had an absurd amount of supplementary work to organise, owing to my insistence the portraits play aloud the actual song the artists listened to, as they were being filmed. If projections weren’t initially my ‘thing’, then my knowledge of playing and syncing sounds in a voluminous, echoing space has got to be even lower down the list. I spent months trying to get this unequivocally precise. I was testing advanced ‘sound clouds’ in farmyard barns in Chichester, to using headphones with differential channelling and undeveloped apps. Nothing quite worked how I wanted it to, and if it did, it was way out of my reach financially.
I had to rethink just how this was to be approached because this was one area where I didn’t have the knowledge to proficiently circumvent. It was finally decided, in each of the three rooms there would be one ‘main’ wall for projections from where the sound would originate, and all the other wall projections would have the video-portraits on a constantly rotating loop. Therefore, everything was shown in each room, except there would be no noisy, musical overlaps from each of the portraits, on all four walls, in what was essentially a considerable, sound reverberating room. I privately approached Bang & Olufsen to ascertain their thoughts on the loan of stereo equipment to accompany the portraits. To keep the story short, as an extremely forward-thinking company who believe in art collaborations, they were very happy to supply the equipment.
It’s always the little things you don’t plan for, that take an extraordinary amount of time relative to the task in hand, and forever become etched across your memory. I spent the penultimate weekend before the exhibition opened, lying on my studio floor, planning to the second, the order of how the videos would play on every projector, in each room, so there would be no visual overlaps at any given moment. Hundreds of tiny, thumbnail print-outs were created, cut-out and pinned to random cardboard boxes propped up around the room.
Although it made sense at the time and my calculations were correct; with the benefit of hindsight, I was oblivious to the major shortcomings of this method. Fundamentally, I’d planned only for what would happen if they all started at precisely the same moment. What I hadn’t factored into the equation, was the simple act of physically switching on all the projectors. You can’t start/stop them at the same time, all fourteen had to be powered-up individually, and therefore the timesheets for each projector were effectively irrelevant. Conversely, as the video play-order became visually un-synced, it became its own subsisting entity; they began to interact with one another in an unplanned and increasingly hypnotic manner. It was a beautiful secondary effect that could never be replicated under any circumstances.
The learning curve of this project was closer to being vertically linear than a gradual arch, and there are of course things I do differently now, mistakes were learnt, and unnecessary options left far behind. Nonetheless, it remains one of my proudest moments. I did it for the sake of doing it, to create something new, to try something I’d been working on for years. A case of ‘Objective Achieved’ and that will never be taken away from me.
Thanks again to the sponsors of this show: Patron Tequila, Bang & Olufsen, Happy Finish, Neighbour-UK and Aurora-Multimedia. There’s not a chance I could have accomplished it without all their expertise and kindness. Not forgetting all those at Londonewcastle, who gave me the opportunity to exhibit in the space. Because I was a beneficiary of this simple act of altruism, I now intend to pay this act of generosity forward; I’ve built it into a professional mission statement, to always give others help and opportunities when needed, and wherever possible.
It was only a matter of weeks after the exhibition had closed, that I received an email from Mark Pearse from ‘The Royal Albert Hall’, as he wanted me to come in for a chat about what I’d just done. Apparently, the previous show had been seen by an arts programmer from The Royal Albert Hall, and they were interested in exhibiting #facetoface in a smaller room, as part of their ‘Reflect’ series. As you would expect, I gratefully accepted and we planned for a show in June 2013.
During the course of preparation, there was an unexpected, but incredibly positive development. I was asked:
“Would you like the opportunity to move from a smaller room, to the main auditorium?”
It was an honour and a privilege to accept this invitation, due to it being the first time that any photographic exhibition has been displayed in the main room of the Royal Albert Hall. When I started this concept, to even imagine I would be displaying my work in arguably one of the world’s most famous, iconic and beautiful venues, was both exhilarating and bewildering in equal measure.
It felt perfect to be showing large-scale moving-portraits in The Royal Albert Hall, where so many music legends had already made their mark. Of course I’d been to many shows as a music fan, and knew just how magical the place was. It’s easier to list who of stature has not played there, and now my name would be a very small footnote alongside the greats who had.
Production was again, incredibly handled by Jo-Ann Thorn of Aurora-Multimedia, and this time she was able to coordinate a non-monetary sponsorship with Casio Projectors (major thanks to Yohei Nakano). I must also thank Bacardi for opening night refreshments, and everyone else at The Royal Albert Hall for their help and hard work.
The next exhibition was at the prestigious Lowry Theatre, Manchester, April 2018. It was the first time I’d done anything outside of London, and I was excited by the potential of showing in a new city. It arose from a chance meeting with Aine Markey from ‘The National Skills Academy: Creative & Cultural Skills’ in the late Autumn of 2017. From there on in, the production moved quite rapidly, as taking into consideration the imminent festive season and the usual New Year drudgery, there wasn’t actually that much time to organise it.
Because of previous exhibitions, it was now easier to request artist ‘XYZ’ specifically for a shoot; however, I now intended this exhibition to open its parameters of popular culture. I planned to include not only new musicians, but also actors, politicians, models, street-style, fashion and re-imagined older ‘classics’ with a freshly graded aesthetic. At this point, I was able to colour grade the videos myself; this meant experimenting with the portraits, and even playing with videos I’d previously forgotten about, creating a much stronger, and united experience; a benefit of heavily analysing previous exhibitions.
The bar was raised again in terms of production, as Jo (Aurora-Multimedia) brought on board Richard Henderson from Canon for the exhibition. All of the portraits had been shot on Canon, so it was only natural for them to be illustrated by Canon hardware. Because the room we were displaying in already had in-built rigging, we were no longer limited by where we could hang the projectors. In fact, we could hang the projectors from various positions in the room, and the result led to portraits much larger and sharper, than even I could have anticipated. They finally measured in at just over five-metres in height - they were enormous! With five of these giant, looming screens running simultaneously, you really did feel tiny, standing in front of these instantly recognisable faces, who were in turn, staring back at you.
As always, I must show gratitude to the sponsors of the show, who were always there for me, in order to make this happen. Thank you to Canon, Creative & Cultural Skills, Backstage Academy and Live Nation, plus everyone at The Lowry theatre, and my usual gang of friends and colleagues.
If it feels as though there is less detailed information above, for the last two exhibitions, it is only because I personally feel as though it was generally covered in the notes about the first show. Unsurprisingly, there were still technical issues and other bits and pieces that had to be dealt with, but nothing that we as a team couldn’t figure out relatively quickly, having gone through the trauma of pre-production during the Londonewcastle Project Space exhibition. I can talk about all the shows very easily in person; however, writing really isn’t a strong point of mine, so I do find it hard to stress just how all-consuming it was, and how so many hurdles had to be overcome. I suppose it could be compared to assembling a car engine from scratch; by the end you’ll thoroughly know every single nut and bolt, and what they’re essential for! I hope by reading about the moving-portraits, and the production of the shows, you’ll have gained a greater insight and understanding as to why they have become so important to me.
The next exhibition will be #TheNvdesProject. A series of inclusive, body positive, nude moving-portraits, collaborating with like-minded individuals. If you would like to know more, there are definitive notes on this project in its entirety, on the appropriate section of this website.