by John Cogan ARPS
The venue is Sunderland’s National Glass Centre. Overlooking the River Wear, the wall of glass, allows for an uninterrupted view of traffic and the monstrous red-painted vessel at rest opposite. Stand still and sample the light. It fills every nook and cranny, adds lustre to the pale walls, and provides the perfectly balanced background for our portrait session. It is early morning and the Centre is opening, making ready for the first visitors. Peter Walton and I are there to photograph Marie Nixon. She is the CEO of Sunderland University Students’ Union, is on the board of Music, Arts and Culture Trust and was once member of the Indie Rock band Kenikie. Marie Is a Sunderland girl. She is the perfect subject; sitting with her coffee and listening while we explain the project. Occasionally, she asks a question or adds a comment. Our project has engaged her interest.
The contemporary backgrounds in the Centre are appropriate for this young woman. Fortunately, the bright sunlight of the morning is fading to a paler blue and a layer of fine cloud diffuses the light. Marie’s colouring and this softer light are combinations that provide an ideal photographic opportunity.
The shoot ends and Peter and I leave Newcastle, and travel along the A68 towards Haydon Bridge. Sited high on the valley side overlooking the town and the river is the home of one of the North East’s best loved comedians: Brendan Healy. To reach this eerie we snake our way along single-track lanes, through farmyards and pass solid, stone dwellings. There is something comforting in this raw, rural landscape.
To call Brendan just a comedian is the same as saying Woody Allen is just a stand-up. He started his life in entertainment as a musician with groups such as Lindisfarne. As an actor, Brendan Healy has appeared in many classic television programmes such as Auf Weidersehen Pet, Boon, Spender, Byker Grove, Coronation Street and the Catherine Cookson series, amongst so many others. His theatrical CV includes everything from Shakespeare to pantomime, musicals like West Side Story to comedy plays like Andy Capp. He has written, produced, directed and even composed the music for many more. For West Side Story he even orchestrated the fight scenes.
Performing with John Miles and two years on the road with Lindisfarne merely adds to this entertainment polymath’s biography. Generous, and another subject supportive of the project, Brendan takes us where he knows the lighting will be perfect, and it was. Evening light slopes in from the west, warm and subtle, only partially filtered by the leafless trees that surround us. Brendan shivers and assumes a role, mugging for the camera. The shoot eventually produces two distinct types of photographs: the comic mask and the intimately reflective.
A single day of photography made special by the subjects: their openness, their commitment and generosity brighten the winter gloom. Being a Yorkshireman Brendan found time to joke about a dyslexic Yorkshireman wearing his Cat Flap…. Ah, well! Even that failed to dampen feeling good
Pictured: Brendan Healy and Marie Nixon photographed by John Cogan