A roasting summer sun. An eye-popping colour palette. An opera singer diva. A ticking clock. This cover portrait shoot in Aix-en-Provence was a feisty one.
The assignment was for Finland’s number one women’s magazine, Kotiliesi. I’d been chosen as photographer to take the portrait of world-famous Finnish opera singer Karita Mattila during her South of France tour. In 2001, the New York Times pronounced the soprano “the best singer of the year” and, nearly 20 years later, she doesn’t seem to have lost it. Karita’s performance at the Aix Festival was being applauded by international press as a “late-career renaissance”.
You may not have heard of Keith Chapman, but the chances are that you’ve come across his creations. Known and loved by millions worldwide (admittedly, many of them under 5 years old), the characters from Chapman’s TV series have become international cultural icons in their own right. Yes, Bob the Builder and Paw Patrol are among the best known children’s animated TV shows of all time, and the man I was sent to photograph by German weekly business magazine Wirtschaftswoche, invented them both.
I had a trip planned last weekend, but as soon I got a call about this Saturday night assignment, I knew that I would move mountains to make it possible. It had it all: creativity, a giant laser, a middle of the night rendez-vous, an international space artist and a first of its kind event worldwide. How could a photographer possibly refuse? It would doubtless be the closest I’d ever get to space travel.
Not all the environmental portraits I take are set under the blue skies and palm trees of a quintessential French Riviera. France’s number one construction trade magazine, Paris-based ‘Le Moniteur du BTP’, regularly sends me as assignment photographer to take pictures of the industry’s regional leading lights in & around Nice, Grasse and Cannes. Instead of setting these portraits in recognisable South of France locations, I generally shoot them in factories and on building sites.
Back in the day, they were Finland’s premier power couple. He was a Formula One champion; she was a television presenter. Today they may be divorced, the “Flying Finn” Mikka Häkkinen is no longer a racing car driver and Erja’s TV days are over, but the press has not forgotten them. Very glossy ‘Gloria’, Finland’s number one fashion magazine, recently sent me as photographer to Monaco to shoot a lifestyle feature about Erja. It was a rather glamorous day-in-the-life piece, that required a lot of people, tasty (and not so tasty) morsels and champagne in its making…
Unlike their brethren in the US, here in Europe they live in the shadows. European law protects the identity of their sources of funding and their networks are closed. Their meetings are held behind unmarked doors and they have an aversion to the press. Linked to the rising wave of right-wing populism in Europe, their numbers are growing – and so too is their quiet influence in the corridors and sessions at the European Parliament. These scientists, retirees, engineers and farmers are by a great majority male. Meet the climate change sceptics.
Everyone held their breath – PR, assistants, journalists. In an uncharacteristic outburst, I had just barked an order at the kind of man who is not used to being told what to do (let alone by a photographer he has only just met). However, while I was up a ladder adjusting a light for this double portrait of a famous racing driver and ice hockey player, Nico Rosberg (2016 Formula One world champion) had quietly got up out of his position and picked up my camera. Suddenly, I had turned around to see him pressing buttons as he tried to take a peek at the first photo.
Wine and France. The two just go together. Le vin is of ultimate importance to the French economy, its way of life, history, gastronomy and, quite simply, to a sense of Frenchness. Yet the very nature of many established wines is under threat today. Global warming, and the slow increase in the temperature of the planet, is starting to make its presence felt in France’s vineyards. The impact on winemakers could shake the French wine industry to its core. This summer, Stern magazine, sent me as photographer, and journalist Marc, to the Languedoc and Rhône, two of France’s biggest – & hottest – wine-growing regions, to investigate.
Undeniably linked to the people and events that sparked the movement in the first place, the Cannes Film Festival found itself, earlier this year, under the spotlight of the globe-sweeping #metoo phenomenon. Cate Blanchett organised a women-only red carpet march to protest gender inequality among the film-makers historically honoured at Cannes (only 82 of the 1,727 films ever selected for the ultimate Palme d’Or prize have been directed by women). As a female photographer, it was a privilege to be assigned to take a portrait of Swiss female director Ursula Meier.
Every year, the Sunday Times Magazine devotes an entire edition to the Rich List, the definitive directory of the richest people in the world. This year was the guide’s 30th anniversary and the magazine’s picture editor had a billionaire’s portrait to assign to me in Monaco for a Rich List Interview special. I was to photograph Number 48, the founder of easyJet.