Author Archives: PftNE

One busy week on the Portraits from the North East Project

by Peter Walton

Whilst we wait with patient optimism for the outcome of our Arts Council grant application, life goes on, or should I say… the shutter keeps moving, and we push on researching and photographing subjects for this project.

Last week was as diverse and exciting as it gets.

On Monday John Cogan and I met the incredible Dr Hari Shukla, OBE who has devoted his life to Race Relations. He takes a keen interest in inter faith relationships and is involved with the coordination of a faith leaders group in Newcastle upon Tyne. Hari is a man you can listen to for ages, his enthusiasm and twinkle in his eye made great photography for a man in his 80’s.

Monday afternoon saw John and I photographing Tom Capeling, a local lad done good, after leaving Bede School Sunderland at 16 he rose to the dizzy heights as Chief Fire Officer for Tyne and Wear.

Tom was easy going and good to chat too, this always makes portraiture a lot easier if the subject is relaxed with you and you can bring out their character and a natural smile.

Wednesday took John Clarke and John Cogan to Northumbria Police Headquarters to photograph Chief Constable Sue Sim who was apparently a dream to work with. The two John’s still had smiles on their faces when we met again a couple of days later!

Thursday was the turn of Steve Howey, who as a schoolboy at St Cuthbert’s Primary School in Sunderland was spotted by football scouts that led to a career with Newcastle United, Manchester United and England. Steve now works for the Premier League and the British Council teaching football coaching all over the world. Julie Ferry and I caught up with Steve at his home and enjoyed coffee and a good chat. A really nice guy who was good to work with.

Friday was the day that the two John’s, Jed Wee and I visited Baroness Tanni Grey- Thompson at her home in Eaglescliffe. Tanni spends four days a week in the House of Lords and thanks to the persuasive skills of our leader John Cogan she agreed to see us on Friday. This was such a pleasure and experience to photograph a really nice person who was so easy to get on with.

If you think that was a full week well we’re not finished yet!

On Friday I had a call from Malcolm Gerrie, the man behind the TV shows The Tube, The Brits and the Baftas. He was responding to my letter and was in Tyneside at the weekend. Ian Stafford and I met Malcolm on Saturday at the Dog Leap stairs in Newcastle at his request as that is where The Animals were photographed when they rose to fame in the 1960’s although none of you will remember the 60’s!?

Malcolm used to be a teacher at Ryhope Grammar School, did a stage production of the Rock Opera Tommy at the school, and David Puttnam came to see it, the rest is history.

Malcolm is really interested in the project and has asked to be kept informed. He is a busy man who spends most of his time in London but managed to squeeze us in between meetings with Bob Geldof and Robert Plant. Now how’s that for name dropping!

Things are getting really busy behind the scenes and ‘on stage’ with this project. We do appreciate the work the team is doing to pull this together and especially John Cogan who spends many hours researching subjects and getting in touch with them.

It will all be worth it, I am convinced of that.

Clockwise from top left: Hari Shulka, Steve Howie, Malcolm Gerrie, Tom Capeling, Tanni Grey-Thompson photographed by Peter Walton

   peterwalton Hari Shulka171114_05peterwalton Steve Howey201114_02peterwalton Malcolm Gerrie221114_09

          peterwalton TanniGThompson211114_04peterwalton Tom Capeling171114_05

Posted in Behind the Scenes

The Story So Far … reviewed 22nd November

After a very busy week we have added several very significant people to the exhibition portfolio. The latest additions include: Dr Hari Shukla OBE, Tom Capeling Chief Fire Officer for Tyne & Wear, Sue Sim Chief Constable of Northumbria Police Force and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE. Photographed by John Cogan ARPS

Hari being questioningTom TWFS mono imperious

Sue Sim-8Tanni in profile

Posted in Web Site Updates

A Visit to the Medical School

by John Clarke ARPS

On Friday 31st October the team, Peter Walton, Julie Ferry, Ian Stafford and myself were invited to Newcastle Medical School to photograph Professor Doug Turnbull. He is the leader of the Mitochondrial Research Unit based there. This is currently in the news, due to the exciting work they are doing on some rare but devastating hereditary diseases that are carried by the mitochondria, which are the bits of genetic material outside the nucleus of the cell. Permission for human trials is now being sought in Parliament. The research gives hope to couples who, until now, have been unable to have babies unaffected by devastating genetic disease, usually incompatible with survival.

Professor Turnbull had helpfully arranged a reserved disabled parking space, so we all piled into my car. On arrival we made our way to the unit, where we were made comfortable by the staff. The Prof arrived before our booked time, and had given considerable thought to suitable backgrounds, offering a choice of three. We chose the laboratory and a large poster showing the Departments name with illustrations of the work they do.

The whole experience was made very pleasant by his friendly attitude, and being able to photograph in his laboratory was a real bonus. Microscopes seem a lot bigger than I remember at my medical school. He comes across as modest and self-effacing in spite of his achievements – he certainly tolerated us for as long as we needed and was also able to arrange introductions to photograph other important figures in the North East medical world.

In need of refreshments after our efforts we repaired to the students’ cafe, safe in the knowledge that we didn’t have to tie an absent fellow member, renowned for his old world charm, to his chair to avoid a diplomatic incident with the mainly female medical student population.

Pictured: Professor Doug Turnbull photographed by John Clarke

      Doug Turnbull 3 by John ClarkeDoug Turnbull 1 by John Clarke

Posted in Behind the Scenes

Darwin and the Self-selection of Good People…..

by John Cogan ARPS

An often asked question is: “How do we select our subjects?” Taken at face value this is an interesting question and one that lies at the heart of our Project. However, there is sometimes the implicit suggestion that we are either unfair in who we have chosen or are being unrepresentative. To be fair to those who ask the question we must concede that there will, inevitably, be unfairness in any project such as this. On a practical level, there is a finite amount of exhibition space wherever we display the final “product”. And should we try and be careful and even-handed in how we select our subjects then the project would come to lack the fresh spontaneity it has developed over the months. Besides, many of those we seek to photograph are suggestions from those we have already photographed. And this is where Darwinian evolution takes a hand and an element of self-selection surfaces to dot “I’s” and cross “T’s”.

Ah, I can almost hear you asking (with a justifiable degree of scepticism), is there some biological and evolutionary imperative at work guiding the Project’s hand, advising our collective consciousness? An interesting thought but the self-selection comes not from our practices but from the practices of our subjects. Comparing the number of invitations we’ve dispatched against the positive responses, our “hit” rate is quite high.

Of those who have agreed to sit/stand or generally do something whilst we click away capturing their light on our sensors, there are certain common factors. At this point Darwin raises his bearded head…..

….. take, for example, Jonathan Ruffer, new owner of Bishop Auckland Castle and saviour of the art collection therein. This man is very busy… he has a City business to run, several projects in the Bishop Auckland area to oversee. How can a man with such pressures upon him have time for a quartet of photographers, regardless of what they might profess to be doing? Yet, some of his precious time is offered, and not only time but access to the state rooms of the Castle.

The time between the invitation sent and the acceptance received was but a few days. A time and date promptly agreed and the quartet arrived to be welcomed with smiles from everyone at the Castle… Jonathan’s PA, Michelle, is efficient and excellent in every way. It was she who listened to our submission, evaluated it and passed on our request to her boss. People like Michelle are indicators of the health of the organisation and invariably herald an acceptance. The PA-cum-Secretaries are always our first point of contact. Those bosses who have “Big Hearts” pick PAs with similar attributes… Generosity is infectious and those who possess it generate a positive approach amongst their staff. Every staff member at Auckland Castle we met was clearly involved and committed. The crackle of efficient co-operation, a sense of a shared direction and the pleasure of working within a humane and caring environment was tangible… and that comes from the top!

Jonathan Ruffer is just one of the many who have made this project such a joy to be part of. When we come to collating the images and printing them up for the exhibition I hope the warmth of each and every one of our subjects can be sensed by those who come to view what we have experience.

Pictured: Jonathon Rufferat Bishop Auckland Castle

Dr John ~ Jonathan Ruffer and one of the saved  paintings eTony ~ three of the team sitting with Jonathan Ruffer eDr John ~ Jonathan Ruffer _1 e

Posted in Essays

The Story so Far, 8th November

Latest additions include Professor Douglas Turnbull, Professor of Neurology Newcastle Medical School, Ian Mearns MP, Paul Morrison, Senior RSPB Warden Coquet Island, and Stephen Fitch, Helmsman of RNLI Inshore Lifeboat, bringing the total Portraits from the North East subjects during 2014 to 63

Pictured: clockwise from top left: Stephen Fitch, Douglas Turnbull, Paul Morrison and Ian Mearns

RNLI Blyth Steve Fitch helmsman Doug Turnbull in lab by microscope

Ian Mearns MP Paul Morrison RSPB 1

Posted in Web Site Updates

A Trip to Coquet Island and more …

John Cogan ARPS

Busy, busy…. After the photo shoot with Steve Cram the Project hasn’t had much of a rest. John Clarke (whose silent motorised wheel chair makes him a photographic equivalent of Carlos the Jackal) took a small group to photograph Professor, Dr Douglas Turnbull, top man in the field of neurological and genetic research.

A trip to the closed Coquet Island for Joe Grabham and yours truly meant a boat ride across calm waters, in powerful sunshine, surrounded by male Eider Ducks eyeing up the female Eiders…. The return trip was rougher… The wind had suddenly backed from the North and that made a considerable difference. We were there to photograph the senior RSPB warden… Paul Morrison. This 65 year old bundle of humour and generosity has worked hard with his small team to create an environment that is safe and welcoming to many endangered species of birds… and he was wearing shorts!

Back on dry land, Joe and I travelled to meet Stephen Fitch, helmsman of the D-type RNLI inshore lifeboat. Blyth’s RNLI station covers a stretch of difficult coastline between the all-weather boats up at Amble and down the coast at Tynemouth. Along with the helicopters at Boulmer RAF station, it’s indicative of just how dangerous this stretch of coastline can be.

 The final shoot of this hectic week was the Gateshead MP Ian Mearns. Affable and generous, an MP of some standing. Ian proved not only a willing subject but a willing supporter of the project and gladly provided names and contacts for future portrait sessions.

Once again, a great “Thank You” to everyone concerned.

Pictured clockwise from top left: Ian Mearns, Joe with Stephen Fitch, Coquet Island, Joe with Paul Morrison, Doug Turnbull

Ian Mearns MP 3 Joe and Steve at RNLI Blyth 2 Coquet Island lighthouse

    Doug Turnbull by sign Joe and Paul Morrison 1

Posted in Behind the Scenes

Steve Cram and a Sunny Morning in Chollerford

by John Cogan ARPS

The North Tyne ambles by whilst a couple of fishermen cast their lines in the hope of a salmon. These monumental-sized fish occasionally leap and ruffle the midday calm.

Stephen Cram, in his youth known as “The Jarrow Arrow”, leans against the fragile railings and talks about Africa and the changing life of the Masai people of Kenya. He is animated and knowledgeable. He’s been there and gone beyond the normal tourist spots. We listen carefully. He has the easy authority of an intelligent man committed to his subject… and is as slim and loose-limbed as he was back in the day when he was a world class runner. His mobile face switches from serious to laughter and back with the ease of the practiced raconteur. It is one of those easy photo shoots when the subject is relaxed and enjoying the practiced banter of the photographers.

His status as a solid, committed and serious Sunderland AFC supporter has led him into the occasional dangerous situation. He’s an icon of the region and therefore an easy target. Peter talks to him of a time when he (Peter) shared a patrol with Steve’s policeman dad.

There is obvious pride in his voice when the subject turns to his role as Chancellor of Sunderland University. Over the past few years the University has grown into a dominant force in the region ; perhaps not with the same “name” as a couple of its near neighbours but a growing reputation for quality and care. It was and still is the country’s top University for Pharmacy.

Salmon continue to make ripples on the silk-smooth surface of the Tyne. Foam bergs float along; alien species from some intrusive industrial process, agitated by the threshing of a weir up river. The sun is strong and time glides by like the flow of the river and soon the session ends. Steve has other commitments and we four decide it is time to find a suitable place for a meal… we go to Corbridge and eat at the rather aptly named Angel… With my girth this could well be a scene from Pickwick Papers but, thankfully, not recorded photographically.

Pictured: in conversation with Steve Cram, and Steve Cram photographed by John Cogan  

20141029 066 In conversation with Steve Cram Steve Cram. Photo John Cogan

Posted in Behind the Scenes

An Afternoon at Bessie Surtees House

by John Cogan ARPS

English Heritage’s Bessie Surtees House, on Newcastle’s Quayside, is a remarkable house and not only because it was built in the mid-1600s. Granted, it has all the necessary attributes: the half-timbering; the hidden jetty structure; the small mullion windows and heavy oak doors strengthened by a miscellany of hand-forged metal nails. What makes it extra remarkable is its size. This, by Jacobean standards, is a sky-scraper! There is a sense that its current position, so close to bars and past nights of inebriation, has given it a somewhat intoxicated tilt, but that’s not Newcastle Brown… it’s just the penalty of being old. Standing quayside for 400 plus years there is little wonder it’s settled into a comfortable shape but these houses were built to last, they were the apotheosis of wealth and stability, the mercantile class advertising their respectability and status.

 Back to the photo shoot where we were made most welcome. Graham Saunders, the regional director, along with Nicola and Michelle, his assistants, patiently answered our questions. Initially, Graham stood by the window but the room is dominated by a fireplace that is so spectacular that it demands your attention. Ignore it at your peril. Drawn like a piece of metal to a magnet Graham drifts over to stand by the fireplace knowing that it is impossible to compete with its carvings and plasterwork.

 Outside, with the vast bulk of the house as a backdrop, Graham generously posed in the bitter wind that assailed us. Gratefully, his short hair and lack of a reddening nose, made making those pictures easier than anticipated. We were able to spend nearly an hour, a somewhat magical hour, in these pleasant, post-medieval surroundings… There is a certain, subtle quality of light coming through the old, floated-glass windows. There is a mellow light emanating from deep within the highly polished floorboards. From the hand-crafted furniture comes the smell of oak.

 Entry to the property is free and for an investment of time, say half an hour, you can experience a sense of times past and people whose lives have been lived. These sensations are palpable… Just look up and marvel at the plaster ceiling with its Tudor roses, Fleur de Lise and entwined flora. The walls are covered in oak panels. There are sections decorated with linen-fold carvings, where you can sense the hand of a craftsman. From the architrave, cherubs look down with their puffed-out cheeks and tight wings. It is a marvel! Yet, once you learn that the ceiling was not originally worked on site, though it is contemporary to Bessie’s house, but removed from a building further down the Quayside, the skill of, and care taken by, English Heritage is humbling.

Fortunately for us, groups like English Heritage and the National Trust work hard on our behalf. To afford us a wee segment of their busy day is an honour and a validation if the Portraits Project. We must be doing something right.

 Pictured: Graham Saunders, Jacobean Cherub and date plaque in the fireplace. Photos John Cogan

Date plaque on the fireplaceGraham Saunders inside Bessie Surtees HouseGraham Saunders inside Bessie Surtees House Date plaque on the fireplaceone of the jacobean cherubs

Posted in Behind the Scenes

The Story So Far … 18th October

The Story So Far listing of Portraits from the North East subjects has just been reviewed and updated and can be found on the About page of this web site here

Latest additions include author and broadcaster Kate Adie, Paralympic Gold Medal winner Stephen Miller, High Sherriff of County Durham Gerry Osborne and businessman and philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer bringing the total Portraits from the North East subjects in to 58

A new member of the PftNE photography team has been added to the Team page here

Pictured:  Stephen Miller photographed by Joanne Coates and Kate Adie photographed by Peter Walton

Stephen Miller-1 by Joanne Coatespeterwalton Kate Adie151014 08

Posted in Web Site Updates

Stephen Miller and Gold Medals at the Sage

John Cogan ARPS

There is a casual assortment of Olympic Gold Medals scattered across the restaurant table. They cover Olympics from Atlanta, Athens, Sydney and Beijing. As people walk past they pause to take in the spectacle. Some even divert their passage to come close to us. The problem for them is who to attribute the medals to. Looking closely at the group at the table it should be clear… Stephen Miller stands out as the athlete though our own Joanne Coates qualifies. As this procession passes by Stephen is more interested in discussing motorized wheelchairs with Dr John. They’re like two petrol-heads swapping performance data about a twin-carb version of a Renault Clio. By some interference from the weird of photo-shoots they both have the same model and make of wheelchair. Stephen’s, however, has a beanstalk seat which, at the press of a button, raises him a further four feet off the ground. Challenged by some competitive little devil, Stephen proceeds to do a wheelie much to Dr John’s obvious delight which is leavened by a modicum of envy. When we move outside the two of them race across the Sage, and once outside there is no stopping them!

The banter is warm and Stephen a good source of dry one-liners. Rachel, his wife, is concerned Dr John’s wheelchair shines from energetic polishing whilst Stephen’s still has field dirt. There is never any problem with the taking of photographs and Joanne, new to our team, soon finds her initial reserve disappears as the Canon 5D Mark III, with BIG lens goes about its business and she takes picture after picture. Eventually, after over an hour, they leave us all the better for sharing time with them. Stephen is a modest, humorous and gentle man. Even the medals are kept in nothing more glamorous than an old Co-operative Bank cash bag. He is modest about his fame and when people approach him he is gracious and patient.

But, it is his eyes that you will remember… his intense gaze, the way they are intent upon knowing who you are. His eyes and the easy way he laughs these are part of the special person that he undoubtedly is. If you have a chance, the photo exhibition of his training regime, called 100%, is worth a visit… it’s in the Sports Centre of Northumbria University.

Throughout this project we have met, and are meeting, so many wonderful people. To Joanne and Dr John I say “Thanks” for being there and making the shoot a pleasure… and to Rachel and Stephan Miller a great big thanks for their generosity and kindness. This photo is Joanne’s first for the Project and it’s a beauty…

Pictured: the black and white portrait of Stephen Miller is by Joanne Coates, the other by John Cogan

 See also Dr John Clarke’s article, ‘A Different Point of View’ below

Stephen Miller by John Cogan Stephen Miller-1 by Joanne Coates

Posted in Behind the Scenes

A Different Point of View

John A Clarke ARPS

Even a beginner in the dark art of photography will have been told that finding higher or lower viewpoints can add interest to photographs. The standard position is erect with the camera to the eye, so sitting or climbing to a convenient high point can alter the feel of an image.

 However sometimes human frailty of one sort or another can dictate a forced sedentary lifestyle. In such a case achieving a normal viewpoint becomes a problem, and an elevated one more so, requiring a convenient mound accessible by wheelchair.

 At least one has the advantage of a lower approach to the subject. When I did a lot of environmental portraiture, I often used to squat to achieve this. Squatting now would require a sturdy minder to hoick me up again, but as I am already low down this is not necessary. I’m in good company too. Sebastio Salgado frequently uses a low view point to make his subjects, be they slaves or menial workers, look more dignified. The twin lens Rolleiflex, beloved of so many photographers, had a waist level finder, and had a similar effect. Tom Stoddart uses one for portraiture instead of his Leica.

 There are portrait subjects that do not lend themselves to this approach, especially people with large chins or wrinkly necks, which benefit from a high viewpoint, but the balding will benefit greatly!

 I still have my Rolleiflex….perhaps an even lower angle would work well, or alternatively I could always use it upside down above my head to get that normal viewpoint. Many of us now have cameras with articulated screens, and these are ideal for varying one’s viewpoint. In fact I shall ensure my next camera, available when finances allow, will have just such a feature.

 In summary, being confined to a wheelchair is absolutely no excuse for not taking photographs of the same quality as the able-bodied; although I must admit to some frustration when it comes to landscape work, where most viewpoints can be inaccessible. But, hey, who wants those tripod-hole shots anyway!

 Pictured: portraits of sculptor Ray Lonsdale and the Right Reverend Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, by John Clarke

           Sculpture and sculptor, Ray Lonsdale-1 by John Clarke    Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham-1 by John Clarke

Posted in Essays

The Story So Far …

The Story So Far … 4th October

The Story So Far listing of Portraits from the North East subjects has just been updated and can be found on the About page of this web site here

20141003 053 Chi Onwurrah MP, Newcastle 

Pictured: Chi Onwurah MP

Posted in Web Site Updates