Monthly Archives: October 2014

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

North East MPs Part One …

John Cogan ARPS

We have a full set of portraits of Sunderland and Newcastle Members of Parliament; all six of them.  After so much negative press concerning salaries and expenses claims for this, that and the other; it has been refreshing to meet, and photograph, MPs who are generous with their time and seem genuinely committed to doing a good job, to making a difference.

 Of the six Members only one is male.  Of the six shoots the locations were sometimes “interesting”… Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central) was photographed outside Newcastle Civic Centre, under the barrel vaulting.  Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle South) sat in the garden of Victory House and stood amongst the tangle of rigging of a pirate ship in a children’s play park.

 With the exception of Nick Brown (born in Kent) the others are all very local, born and bred within sight of their constituency offices.  Perhaps one should not be surprised that, considering their urban constituencies, they are all members of the Labour Party.  Nor should we be surprised that their obvious talents have been rewarded with shadow ministerial posts.

Pictured, clockwise from top left: Sharon Hodgson, Bridget Phillipson, Catherine McKinnel, Nick Brown, Julie Elliott, Chi Onwurah

 Sharon Hodgson MP. jc Bridget Phillipson MP. jc Catherine McKinnell MP. jc

Chi Onwurah MP. jc Julie Elliott MP. tg Nick Brown MP. jc

Posted in Behind the Scenes