Portrait of Britain Winner

I am very excited to announce that my photograph of my dear friend Michael has been selected as a winning entry in 2019’s Portrait of Britain. Shot to celebrate Michael’s 80th birthday, we secured the rather grand Palm Court in The Ritz London to ourselves for a memorable 30 minute portrait session.

Organised by the British Journal of Photography, the winners are published into a book by Hoxton Mini Press and distributed worldwide and then displayed via JCDecaux screens across the United Kingdom throughout September. So please look out for Michael in airports, rail stations, shopping malls, bus shelters and roadside billboards.

To be included in October 2019’s edition of the British Journal of Photography’s superb monthly magazine is an additional bonus!

#portraitofbritain @emileholbaphoto @bjp1854  

Conserving Heritage

With society firmly immersed in a wireless period of music streaming and playlist hype, it was fascinating to travel back to the 1880’s - a time when Edison’s mechanical phonograph cylinder permitted reliable audio recordings, and communities across the U.K. had formed a passion for experiencing live music - to photograph newly restored treasures from the Incorporated Society of Musicians’s archive.

Spanning 136 years, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has been a constant presence representing the needs of professional musicians. From its inception, ISM has endeavoured to keep physical records and noteworthy artefacts that reflect their growth in membership and change in fashion and members’ needs, however misfortune struck with some of the earliest parts of the archive being damaged in flood water in one of their storage facilities. The damage effected books, annual reports, financial ledgers and some of the original membership enrolment records, and due to their importance, the decision was made to restore as best as possible.

The books were sent first to Graham Bignell’s studio in London, where the paper surfaces and photographs were expertly cleaned and revived. Next, they were consigned to Elizabeth Neville’s PZ Conservation studio in Cornwall, where the individual folios were painstakingly rebound to a new spine and the photographs were interleaved with specialist paper to protect them. The studio commissioned hand-dyed covers from leather technicians in Scotland to replace the warped originals. I was then asked to photograph them to ensure high quality digital records were available for printed reproduction and prosperity.

To ensure best reproduction in terms of faithful colour reproduction and changes in texture, I set up a mini ‘floor’ studio on black paper with 3 lights - 2 soft boxes for super even shadow fill and a gridded reflector to offer a light contrast and ‘bite’ to the very flat paper and original photographs. Although it was sad that the books had been water damaged, their mis-colour, fading and uneven texture provided a wonderful photographic opportunity to make an ultra detailed series of photographs.

The following images highlight some of pages from the Monthly Journal of the ISM from 1897; the Register of Members from 1898; the Account books beginning in 1914 of the Manchester and Ulster sections; and the Official Seal Book, which includes the signature of the ISM’s first General Secretary, Edward Chadfield. To learn more about the restoration project, please read this article featured in ISM’s Music Journal on ISSUU.

Power of Ownership

Since 2015 I have worked regularly with Dimensions, one the UK’s largest not-for-profit organisations providing support for people with learning disabilities, autism, challenging behaviour and complex needs. Visiting numerous locations across the UK, I have documented many case studies and created principle photography for their marketing and communications. I have found working with the Dimensions team particularly rewarding, as the richness of the personalities of the people they support (a full spectrum of support services from assisted independent living through to 2-1 intensive 24hr care) is not only very diverse but inspiring and enlightening in ample measure. It has also been heart warming to witness high quality and attentive care of the more vulnerable members of our society.

Earlier this summer, Dimensions Cymru invited me to collaborate on a project exploring how seemingly prosaic objects can be vitally important to people with autism and learning disabilities, because they often arrive in Dimensions’s services without many or no possessions at all. So objects that appear uninteresting or quotidian become vitally important to improving their chances of developing secure and stable lives. And, like anyone seeking a stable and healthy live force, they can begin to gather belongings and build a narrative to their lives, helping them shape their stories, experiences and self empowerment. 

The portraits were shot over a couple of hours in a corner of a municipal leisure centre’s badminton court in Cardiff. The accompanying vibe was buzzing with excitement and anticipation, with great care and understanding on hand from the numerous support workers - many of which have a long standing and trusting relationship with the person(s) they support. I photographed 26 people and the range of objects presented was immense - from car keys, darts, a Race for Life medal and cuddly toys to some fabulous green plastic hands, a trusted pocket radio, puzzles, baseball caps, a fellow house mate and a glittering selection of West End Musical souvenir brochures. 

The resulting exhibition *Power of Ownership* showcased 26 people with their meaningful object and was launched in Cardiff’s esteemed Chapter arts venue, before moving onto the fabulous space Temple of Peace. ITV News made a lovely report and you can watch it on ITV’s catch up player (skip through to 14:30 for the coverage). Most unfortunately, I could attend either the launch or locations as I was working abroad - though I hear the photographs were well received with many selfies of the participants next to their prints!

A huge thank you to Russ Kennedy, Adele Carter, Emma Jenkinson, Charlie Snell, Nicola Toon and Duncan Bell for all your organisational skills and passion. 

If you would like to learn more about supporting Dimensions with their volunteer programme, please look at their programme page highlighting the opportunities.

Due to my absence, I thank Tessa Holly for capturing the prints looking rather stately in the Temple of Peace.

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