50. Nick Park, Animator & Director
The 50th photo in my series turned out to be a very special one, Nick Park being something of a legend. At Aardman Animations he created Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and Creature Comforts (the latter of which I often think about when I’m lying on the sofa and picture its cat doing the same).
He also animated one of the scenes in Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ video, which blew my tiny mind when I saw it on TV as a kid, and still remains one of my favourites of its kind.
I saw Nick at the premiere of his film ‘Early Man’ at the BFI in London in Jan 2018 where he presented a Q&A. There lay, tantalisingly, a number of flight cases in front of him for this talk, which he eventually opened to many excited gasps to reveal some of the models of the characters from the film.
While waiting to get this shot of him later, I had grand plans to do a special stop motion animation of his hands, but as the number of people wishing to meet him was so large, I only had a small amount of time and he didn’t have much of a chance to think of an interesting pose. Despite my limited time with him, he was a very polite and sweet guy.
49. Richard Sandler, Photographer and Filmmaker
I met Richard at Miami Street Photography Festival in 2017 where I also bought a copy of his book ‘The Eyes of the City’. This shows sometimes gritty, down-to-earth photos of New York City and Boston, from 1977 to a few weeks before September 11, 2001, with the Twin Towers featuring as a frequent subject.
Perhaps his best-known shot can be found here, along with many of the other black and white photos from this book, all of which are well worth taking a look at.
48. Daniel Harding, Conductor
While at school, those kids a few years older than you can somehow hold a grown-upness and knowledge that seems stratospheres above your own. The older you become, the smaller these differences feel. But not, in my case, with Daniel Harding. I only have fleeting memories of him at our Oxford comprehensive, him being a prodigy at the trumpet in the National Youth Orchestra, while I scraped along at the back of the 2nd violins in the school hall.
In later years I’d see his name alongside that of Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and see his face in the London Underground on posters the size of a London bus.
When I moved to Vienna, I feared that my lack of knowledge of (living) Austrians may mean an end to my Hands Down project, but thanks to Alastair, Daniel’s brother, I didn’t have to wait long for this to be allayed.
In October 2017, Daniel was in town conducting ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’ at the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) the brothers kindly arranged for me and my girlfriend to attend. After discovering someone had stolen our tickets, and ending up with an even better deal (sitting with the Director of the opera house in his private box), we watched Daniel’s world-class work before a vast stage that at one point featured people rowing across an actual lake.
Afterwards, I met him at the stage door for this photograph. Requesting a pose from him with his conducting baton led to a view inside his mysterious baton case. This held around 20 of these magical wands, the most notable of which was only about 3 centimetres long, leading me to imagine some particularly furious waving causing it to grind down. Daniel described the baton featured here as his most reliable.
47. John Power, Musician
Just before moving to Vienna in Sept 2017, fearing for this series I’d never recognise a celebrity again, I crossed my fingers I’d bump into the plentiful supply of them in Stoke Newington. John Power was top of my list (you’ll no doubt know his work as the frontman of Cast, and also as the bassist for the La’s), and I always knew that Summer had begun when I heard him trying to start his VW camper van in time for festival season.
I bumped into him in the street a few days before my move, and explained that, as neighbours, I’d been meaning to say hello to him for the past 7 years. He said I should do so quicker next time. He was busy when I spotted him, but I told him my address as he said he’d pop round for a photo. I then spent the next hour checking out of the window every few seconds and failing to pack my things. Sure enough, he came over and I had to apologise for the mess (visible in the background here).
46. David McKee, Illustrator and Writer
Although Mr McKee is known for a variety of his children’s book and TV work, such as Elmer the Patchwork Elephant and King Rollo, for me and many others of my generation, Mr Benn is his masterpiece. For those who don’t know of his mysterious and mildly-psychedelic 1970s animated TV series, Mr Benn is a smartly dressed, bowler-hatted gentleman with a penchant for walking down Festive Road and visiting his local fancy dress shop. While deciding which costume to try on, a mysterious shopkeeper appears to help him, and each episode sees him visit the changing room, walk through a door at the back of it, and emerge into that costume’s world (e.g. a pirate’s outfit leads him onto a pirate’s ship, etc. You get the idea).
As with Fawlty Towers, it’s one of those series where you can’t quite believe so few episodes were made (in this case 14), as they were of such a high quality that you didn’t notice they were being constantly repeated.
In August 2017, the Illustration Cupboard Gallery in London hosted an event celebrating David McKee’s work, with an exhibition of illustrations and animation cells from Mr Benn, as well as his other work. It was attended by several other founding members of King Rollo Films, who were on hand to regale the crowd with tales of the making of some of their favourite childhood TV programmes. Mr McKee was in high demand at a signing desk, which is where I took this photo (as well as getting him to sign a DVD which I then lost minutes later). As you can see, he still appears to be in the same high spirits one images he has been in for the past several decades.
45. Russell Tovey, Actor
The opening of the V.I.P. rope and ditching of my Bags for Life mentioned in the previous hand portrait (Mark Gatiss) also granted me access to another ridiculously talented actor: Russell Tovey. As with Mr Gatiss, he too has played a huge number of great roles in TV and film. A particular favourite for me is Him & Her, where his character Steve, along with girlfriend Becky, made spending most of the day in bed feel socially acceptable. Also his role as werewolf George Sands in Being Human (the UK original of course) as well as The History Boys, Sherlock, Looking, Quantico, and Legends of Tomorrow (the last three of which I haven’t seen to be honest, but seem be very successful).
He can add to the list More Anger, a monologue in which he portrays gay actor Phil and his experience of AIDS in the 1980s. I was lucky enough to see his performance of this at the Old Vic theatre before the studio version appeared on the BBC, which is also well worth checking out and stars other greats such as Ben Wishaw, Rebecca Front and Alan Cumming.
If you missed it when it aired, you can buy Queers on DVD at vendors such as this one.
44. Mark Gatiss, Actor, Screenwriter, Novelist, Comedian
Thanks to having some very talented friends, I occasionally get invited to the kind of event I would otherwise have never have been allowed within a 10 mile radius of. On this occasion, the very talented friend was Michael Dennis, the writer of one of the monologues for Queers, a BBC series produced to mark the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act. It included a ridiculous number of A-grade actors, such as Ben Wishaw, Rebecca Front and Alan Cumming, and was curated and directed by Mark Gatiss.
Michael’s monologue, the humorous and moving ‘A Grand Day Out’, starred Fionn Whitehead, the lead role in the film Dunkirk. (Incidentally, after I snapped a photo of the two of them together and posted it on Twitter, I’ve never had so many retweets in Japan).
As well as appearing on TV, the monologues were also performed for a very brief period at the Old Vic theatre and it was at this event that my friend allowed me and my Sainsbury’s Bags for Life past the red velvet V.I.P. rope at the after party.
Mr Gatiss has been a bit of a hero of mine, ever since The League of Gentlemen first appeared on TV, which frequently caused me and my Dad to burst out with laughter. Since then, as I'm sure you know, he’s written and starred in Dr Who, Sherlock, and about a million other great things.
So when I saw him at the event, I shoved my Bags for Life behind some friends and went over to ask him if he minded me photographing his hands. Perhaps having performed in a troupe where using a Curly Wurly bar as a ladder is the norm, he didn’t bat an eyelid at my request, and was most accommodating.
I had thought at the time he’d alluded to the chosen pose being a subtle Doctor Who reference but, thanks to my star-studded lines of communication, I recently got the photo back to him and it may have been too subtle as he can’t work out what it might have been!
In hindsight I should have asked him to perform the hand gesture that appears in his novel The Vesuvius Club, but that only occurred to me several months too late.
You can now buy Queers on DVD at vendors such as this one.
43. Carl Barât, Musician
Back in June 2017, a mysterious parcel arrived at my address. Mysterious because, despite having my address on it, it had been sent to a ‘Carl Barât’. While I couldn’t quite believe that one of The Libertines could have been a former occupant of my building, it wouldn’t have been the biggest surprise seeing as Stoke Newington has been home to many a well-known musician. Aphex Twin, Tjinder Singh of Cornershop, John Power of Cast/the La’s, and Bobbie Gillespie of Primal Scream, are just some of those who have graced the N16 postcode.
Still, I’d never seen him around so I googled him + my address. An old article appeared saying that him and Pete Doherty had indeed lived somewhere on my road, but that appeared to have been over 10 years ago and in a squat. I couldn’t quite (or didn’t want to) believe that my address had once been a squat. Or that someone still had posted something to such an old address for him. So I did what any sane person would, and left the parcel in a corner of my living room, not knowing what to do with it.
The temptation to open it was huge, particularly because it had arrived in a half-open state anyway. I somehow resisted, and decided to contact the delivery company to pick it up (seeing as it had a return address on it). But they refused, saying they’d done their job in delivering it.
After a couple of weeks of it taunting me from the corner of the room, I took a photo of the sender’s name and address and planned to google this person once I was on the bus to work. I headed over to the bus stop and, bleary-eyed, spotted a familiar sight on the other side of the road. I did a Google image search for ‘Carl Barât’ and looked up at the man and down at my phone a few times until I decided to risk running across the road shouting “Is your name Carl?”. He responded in the affirmative, so I told him “I think I have something of yours” before leading him to my flat.
After handing the parcel over to him I thought I'd push my luck and ask him if he’d mind posing for a hand portrait, and he kindly agreed to this pose.
42. Miles Young, Warden, New College Oxford
I met Miles at the opening of a photography exhibition in Oxford in May 2017. He’s the warden (aka principal) of New College in Oxford, and has had an interesting career that includes having been Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, as well as having run the IBM account in Europe. But I mostly wanted to photograph him as he has interesting hands.
41. Kay Browning, Actor
In March 2017 I was fortunate enough to be asked to photograph actor Kay Browning in film rehearsals. The main scene while I was there involved him having to be fairly vicious, and I was impressed at his energy at being able to do this repeatedly and calm down after each take. In hindsight, I’m not sure how my brand new camera at the time didn’t get whacked!
Noticing his interesting tattoos, and sensing a potential future Oscar-winner, I asked whether I could take his hand portrait. Unlike the violent scenes being acted only moments earlier, he was one of the kindest participants yet for my project, and was happy to spare some time for it. Here’s hoping he goes on to great things very soon.
40. David Gibson, Street Photographer
While on a street photography walk around Brick Lane with various other great photographers back in February 2017, who should we bump into but the street photography maestro himself, David Gibson.
It was thanks to an afternoon class and walk led by Gibson in the very same location in 2011 that I became addicted to street photography. There I took what is still one of my favourite photos, Trois Garcons, which I felt would have only looked even less likely if the full name of the street sign had been visible (‘Chance Street’).
To be honest, I can’t remember whether the letter he’s formed with his fingers is a ‘D’ for ‘David’, a ‘P’ for ‘Photography’, or something else entirely, but I can be sure it’s thanks to him that I got into what is still my main passion. I recommend taking one of his workshops as it may change your life! Keep an eye out on his website for those.
39. Rahima, Tailor, Stitch by Stitch Tailoring
Based near Newington Green, Rhahima has repaired a fair number of my clothes (unrelated question: why do moths only seem to go for the expensive stuff?). She’s been in the business for 35 years this year and started out in denim and wedding dress factories in Cyprus. She then continued tailoring in Chelsea, Hammersmith, and Essex Road, before moving to her current location, where’s she’s been for the last 4 years.
Despite tales of her often stitching her fingers when she was young, I’m glad to say I couldn’t see any evidence of this still being the case. The bear on the other hand is a different matter...
38. Matt Stuart, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Matt has created some of the most iconic street photos of London in the last decade (Everyone knows his shot of the pigeon, right?) and was awarded the ultimate accolade of being made a member of Magnum Photos last year.
I’ve met Matt several times, and it’s normally a highly embarrassing sunburn incident that jogs his memory as to who I am. I’ve also witnessed a fan approach him (looking almost identical to Matt), humbly wax lyrical about his work and what an inspiration it was to his own photography, then introduce himself as “Derren” (at which point I realised it was Derren Brown).
See more of Matt’s excellent work here.
37. Georgina, Dominoes Player
On a trip to Miami in Dec 2016, I ventured into the Cuban area, Little Havana. This contains Maximo Gomez Park, a.k.a. Domino Park. As its popular nickname suggests, this is full of people playing dominoes. It was here I met Georgina, who was more than happy to have her hands photographed. Many of those playing there were aged 60+, with some looking more in their 80s, brought there by families/carers. In their colourful clothing, enjoying themselves in the Miami sunshine, I couldn’t help but wish there was a similar setup for older people back in England.
36. Alex Webb, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Married to another excellent photographer, Rebecca Norris Webb (whose hands are shown consecutively here), Alex is a master at using colour & shape. He likes to play with a large number of elements in a given scene, which really give his photos an exhilarating feel. I particularly like artworks such as his where there is so much going on that they deserve repeated viewings. Doing a Google Image search on him just makes me want to hit a ‘Like’ button on every single one of his photos.
You can see more of Alex’s work on the site he shares with his wife.
35. Rebecca Norris Webb, Photographer
Married to another excellent photographer, Alex Webb (whose hands are shown consecutively here), I first saw Rebecca’s work at an exhibition of a joint project of theirs, ‘Violet Isle’, in Miami last year. The beautiful photos began as separate projects based in Cuba; hers on its culture of animals, and his on its streets. The project also has elements of poetry (apt, as Rebecca was originally a poet), and its title came from a poem by Cuban poet Reina Maria Rodriguez. A warning to anyone searching for the book on Amazon (which originally came out in 2009) that I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the price!
You can see more of Rebecca’s work on the site she shares with her husband.
34. Lucy Sparrow, Artist
I first heard about Lucy’s work when, in 2014, she opened an East-London corner shop where every item was made of felt. It wasn’t until a year later that I got to see her amazing felt madness with my own eyes, when she opened Madame Roxy’s Erotic Emporium, a Soho sex shop where softcore took on a whole new meaning (my sort-of-NSFW photos of the shop here). The amount of work involved in this was mind-blowing, with every porn mag having a different design, and the felt-based items not only included DVDs, dildos, lubricants and ball gags, but even the condom machine and the cash register.
One delightful moment came when a greasy-looking gentleman entered the shop and, seemingly oblivious to its contents, shouted to the proprietor “Do you have a peep show?”, to which she replied “Yes, but it’s a stop motion animation. You may prefer the place across the street”. Seemingly undeterred, a few moments after exiting the shop, he came back in and shouted to her from one end of the store to the other, “Do you sell tissues?”.
I bumped into Lucy again in Dec 2016 at an art fair in Miami, where she was exhibiting a takeaway outlet, which is where I took this photo.
Most of her works are for sale, and I recommend taking a look at them on her site.
33. Dougie Wallace, Photographer
I’d been aware of Dougie’s work for a number of years, but it was when I saw his Harrodsburg series (a study of the people in and around Harrods department store) I realised just how exceptional his photos are. He’s since released Road Wallah, a series on the now banned Premier Padmini taxis of Mumbai and Well Heeled, best summed up as being about spoilt dogs. I took this photo at the launch of the latter project and, along with the quirky and well-dressed East-Londoners you’d expect at this kind of event, several of the dogs from the series were also in attendance. I highly recommend taking a look at his work.
32. Krzysztof Ratkowski aka 'Kris Juggling', Juggler & Magician
I saw Kris sat on the grass during a film premiere in Leicester Square, doing that thing David Bowie does in Labyrinth with the balls (not to be confused with what his trousers are doing in that film). I’ve since had a look at his Facebook page, which has videos of Kris doing close-up magic, and am not sure how on earth he manages to appear to dance while making things appear, disappear, and defy gravity all at once, when I can’t do any of those things. I recommend the ‘Where Is My Mind’ video in particular.
31. Simon Garfield, Author
I first heard of Simon Garfield on the release of his book ‘Just My Type’; not a rom-com novel, but an amusing and fascinating collection of stories about the history of fonts. Each chapter is about a different font, and there were items in there that really made me gasp and laugh out loud (particularly the man who was so incensed at the idea of his ex-wife getting hold of the printing letters of the font he’d designed in the divorce settlement, that he took a few from work each day and disposed of them on the way home until none were left).
It turns out he specialises in books about seemingly quite different subjects, some of which are fairly obscure (e.g. an entire book about the colour mauve), and describing their fascinating histories. They often have very nice cover designs too.
I can also recommend ‘On the Map’ which is, you guessed it, on the subject of maps. And the next book on my shelf to read is his latest book, on the subject of time; ‘Timekeepers’. I took this photo after hearing him give a talk about this latter book and there happened to be a time machine prop nearby, which he was more than happy to play with.
30. Harry Gruyaert, Photographer, Magnum Photos
I saw Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert talking about ‘Photography and Cinema’, which was apt for someone known for his series of TV shots taken in the 70s, including those of the 1972 Olympics as well as the first Apollo flights. I recommend taking a look at the rest of his work, to see his use of colour and shape in whatever he photographs.
29. Tabea Rude, Horologist
Tabea, as well as being an expert at clock restoration, also happens to be a very fine girlfriend. After telling me about the terrible kinds of injuries that can happen while repairing a clock (e.g. springs firing out of them and lodging themselves into your skin), I decided to wait until she had some of these injuries before photographing her hands. The black mark visible isn’t a bruise, but oil from these springs.
28. Derren Brown, Illusionist
Spending much of my free time as a street photographer I was very happy to wangle myself an invitation to the launch of an exhibition by one of the greats, Bruce Gilden (and also subject number 11 below), in Sept 2016. There I got chatting Derren Brown, who I was surprised to learn was also a keen street photographer (although perhaps I shouldn’t have been, given I already knew he was an accomplished portrait artist). It took me most of the evening to build up the courage to ask him whether he’d take part in this project, and he turned out to be one of the best and most enthusiastic people I’ve ever shot (*insert 'Russian Roulette' joke here*). Thanks to his knowledge of photography, he was keen to make sure I was happy with the lighting and angle, and made the perfect subject.
Seeing his street photos (which he often shoots on Leicas) as well as reading on his website that he dislikes mushrooms and blue cheese) has given me a new found respect for the man!
27. Mr Bingo, Illustrator
Illustrator and occasional rapper Mr Bingo has a career many Media graduates would sell their caffeine-saturated souls for. Not only has he created a signature style of line work, colouring and text that work together in perfect harmony, but he somehow gets away with persuading people to part with cold hard cash to be insulted by him, and comes across as a bloody good bloke at the end of it.
His first big hit was his series of hair portraits (instantly recognisable characters drawn showing their hair alone), but it was his Hate Mail project that really sent him into the stratosphere. This allowed people to pay him to send them a vintage postcard with a beautifully illustrated yet highly insulting message inscribed by him on the back. I bought two. And somehow persuaded him to let me buy another for my sister using a €500 note I’d drawn (the results of which nearly caused a bust-up between my sister and a builder she’d hired).
If you ever get a chance to hear one of his talks, I highly recommend it as he’s also very funny.
When Mr B kindly let me visit his Shoreditch studio to shoot his hand portrait, I also interviewed him. At some point I’ll get around to putting that online too, so watch this space.
26. Alec Soth, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Alec became a photographic hero to me after I saw his ‘Gathered Leaves’ exhibition at the Science Museum, London, in early 2016. The large prints of his images really made them come to life, and I highly recommend trying to see his work in this way if you can.
Heroes can sometimes disappoint, but not this guy (who had been running a ping pong tournament at Magnum’s AGM where I took this photo).
He tried rubbing the ‘Magnum photos’ stamp off his hand and, not completely succeeding, was pleased nonetheless at the smudge left on his hand.
I caught him again later outside on his own standing by a puddle. I somehow then convinced him to take photos on my phone of me leaping over the puddle in a ‘Cartier Bresson’ style.
View his photos here
25. Peter van Agtmael, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Peter explained to me while I took this photo that he has a dodgy finger due to falling off a wall. His work focusses on human and natural disaster. I first heard about him thanks to his book ‘Disco Night Sept. 11’ about America's wars from 2006-2013, which everyone with an interest in photo books was recommending to me.
View more of his work here
24. Thomas Hoepker, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Doing a Google Image search on Thomas Hoepker’s photos will lead you through a wormhole of a ridiculous amount of amazing work. His decades of subjects have included Andy Warhol and Muhammad Ali, but for me personally, it’s the photos he took in New York during 9/11 that are the most iconic, including this one in particular.
23. Cristina García Rodero, Photographer, Magnum Photos
I was unfamiliar with the work of Spanish photographer Cristina García Rodero when I met her, but have found it fascinating learning more about it. Before photography she studied painting, which I think comes through in her photos of rural traditions in modern life.
22. Richard Kalvar, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Raised in New York and living in Paris since the 1960s, Richard has been taking iconic street photos for decades. I was lucky enough to speak to him more fully a few months after I took this photo, at the Miami Street Photography Festival. He was very generous with his time, and we talked about a variety of things, including our Jewish surnames that had lost various letters over the generations. He had given a talk there earlier and decided to do the actual slideshow of his photos without commentary. The audience reactions, from sounds of sympathy and sadness, to eruptions of laughter, showed just how powerful his work is.
21. David Hurn, Photographer, Magnum Photos
David was wearing a striking beanie hat when I met him. As well as starting out as a photojournalist, he photographed many cult stars of the 60s and 70s sometimes on their film sets, including the Beatles, Michael Caine, Sean Connery and Jane Fonda.
View his work here
20. Jacob Aue Sobol, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Jacob is a Danish photographer who shoots very raw portraits in black and white. He’s worked on projects around the world, with a 2 year stint in East Greenland also seeing him living as a fisherman and hunter.
View his work here
19. Bruno Barbey, Photographer, Magnum Photos
As one of the longer-standing members of Magnum (he joined in 1964), Mr Barbey has the aura of someone with a life lived.
I think this comes across in his photos, some of which are shown here.
18. Christopher Anderson, Photographer, Magnum Photos
While at Magnum’s AGM, I asked some of their photographers to sign my copy of their excellent ‘Magnum Contact Sheets’ book. Unfortunately, Christopher ripped part of one of the pages! There were no hard feelings however, and it left an interesting mark on one of the pages of his own work.
Christopher produces amazing portraits and I particularly like his recent one of artist Chuck Close.
See more of his work here.
17. Jim Goldberg, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Jim Goldberg is known for his mixed-media work, for example incorporating handwriting alongside or within his photography (sometimes the writing is by the subjects themselves). I like the cheeky pose he decided to opt for in this photo. You can see some of his work here.
16. Chris Steele-Perkins, Photographer, Magnum Photos
I've seen Chris talking a few times recently, and he always seems to be wearing an excellent shirt. When I asked if I could take this photo he decided to remove the 'Magnum Photo' stamp from his hand given to him at their AGM.
He's currently working on an excellent series (you may have seen in the Guardian) called New British, where he's photographing families who live in London, and come from every country in the world.
He's also just re-released his book The Teds, showing his documentation of the Teddy Boy movement over three decades, which is well worth a look.
15. Larry Towell, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Easily recognisable from his distinctive hat and round glasses, Larry Towell was another honour to meet at the Magnum Photos AGM earlier this year. You can see some of his photos here.
14. Patrick Zachmann, Photographer, Magnum Photos
I briefly met Patrick Zachmann during Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia, Italy in 2014 where I joined him and some other photographers for dinner in a pizza restaurant. He’s been a member of Magnum Photos since 1985 and you can see some of his work here. I met him again at Magnum’s 2016 AGM where I took this photo.
13. Mark Power, Photographer, Magnum Photos
I first met Mark in 2015 in Hamburg on a course he taught on photo books. The sequencing of these is something I’d not thought about too much previously, but now every time I look at a photography book or exhibition I realise how much thought has gone into this side of things.
We all had some time to talk to him about our own projects. I already had the idea for Hands Down and showed him the first ever photo for it (of Ben Eine - see the bottom of this page) to get his thoughts. He suggested I keep a black jumper on me that I make all of my subjects wear, given what a good backdrop it made. I liked the idea and, despite the practical reasons for me not going for it, I think it would have resulted in a good series of photos.
I took this photo more recently at the Magnum Photos AGM on 23 June 2016 and was on his team for the quiz there. Like many of us, he was in an anxious mood due to the vote on Brexit being announced the following day. He has since released a collaborative project with poet Daniel Cockrill on this subject, which he’d begun back in 2006, called ‘Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment’.
12. Professor Green, Rapper and Songwriter
I spotted Pro Green at Dinerama, a street food event in East London. I used to work in a school where his producer was one of the Music teachers, so used this conversation as a segway to ask whether I could photograph his hands. He was very friendly and totally happy to have this photo taken. I showed it to him on my camera and he said he was annoyed his full tattoo couldn’t be seen. I like the very bling ring with the Hackney Council logo!
11. Bruce Gilden, Photographer, Magnum Photos
Bruce is a bolshie, straight-talking New York street photographer. His methods may come across as a tad more in your face than most other street photographers but, with portraits as stunning as his, I think the world is a better place because of them.
After his interview with Martin Parr (see previous portrait), I was the first to put my hand up to ask a question. Mr Parr encouraged me to give my name, so I told them I was Michael. A couple of questions later a Mike asked something and Bruce commented that it must be the same Mike as before. He later made a joke about the mic that was being passed around for the questions as being yet another Mike.
After the Q&A had finished, I approached him on the stage and told him my name. “Everyone here seems to be called Michael!”, he exclaimed. I explained that I was just the Michael from before.
Later on I decided to buy his excellent and beautifully bound book ‘A Complete Examination of Middlesex’ and asked him if he would sign it. When I told him my name, he couldn’t believe it; “Another Michael”!
10. Martin Parr, Photographer, Magnum Photos
For me, as for many street photographers, there don’t come many greater influences than Martin Parr. He’s been shooting since the 1970s, and a lot of his work involves capturing human nature at just the the right spot on the spectrum between laughing at and laughing with. His photos have been a big influence on mine. I saw him interviewing Bruce Gilden in March 2016 and asked to take this photo of him afterwards. He comes across a bit like a school teacher you respect but are slightly scared of. Embarrassingly, due to the fact the room was dark and I was panicking at trying to take a photo of one of my greatest photographic idols (who was commenting on my attempts), this photo didn’t come out that well.
9. David Alan Harvey, Photographer, Magnum Photos
I discovered during my Miami trip last December that I was also staying in the same hotel as another photography legend with ‘Harvey’ in his name, that of David Alan Harvey. He is a member of Magnum Photos, the world-famous photography cooperative many photographers would give a limb or two to be good enough to join, and was there showing his excellent Beach Games series. I spotted him several times during the course of the Miami Street Photography Festival, normally with a glamorous assistant or model in tow, but when I took this while I was waiting outside my hotel for a bus to the Everglades he was alone, wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a cigarette. He not only seemed ridiculously cool, but also very affable and was more than happy to take part in my series.
8. Harvey Stein, Photographer
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Harvey before attending the Miami Street Photography Festival last year. But I’m glad to have been cured of my ignorance as he’s taken some amazing shots of NYC and Coney Island over the past 40 or so years. After discovering he was staying in the same hotel as me, I got chatting to him about photography and I offered my business card. I was rather embarrassed that he then chose to display it when I asked if he’d take part in Hands Down, but there you go! Be sure to take a look at his wonderful photos.
7. Jimmy Cauty, Artist and Musician, The KLF
Jimmy was half of music duo The KLF, co-founder of The Orb and now focusses on creating art. With the KLF’s Bill Drummond he formed the K Foundation, most famous for burning one million pounds.
In 2015 he exhibited his Aftermath Dislocation Principle project, a huge model village showing apocalyptic scenes of chaos, riots and humour. This was shown first at Banksy’s Dismaland and later at a venue near London Bridge, which is where I met him.
Often when I take these photos I ease my subject in by asking if I can take a portrait of their face before I say “I know this might sound weird but…” and then ask to take a photo of their hands. In this Case, Jimmy didn’t want a photo taken of his face but seemed far happier when I asked for the latter.
Next to the main exhibition, extra scenes were being worked on by a team of modellers to be added during the show’s run, and this was taken at one of these scenes.
Aftermath Dislocation Principle continued to tour the UK in a shipping container throughout 2016.
6. Dee, My Granny
My Granny, who lived to the age of 96, died last month (in April 2016). Her name was Bridget, but to almost everyone who knew her she was Dee.
As a young woman, she moved with her husband from Killiney in Ireland, to Bletchley. She had various jobs, but the one that entertained me to hear about as a child the most (and an adult, to be honest) was working in a factory that made toy farting pigs to be sold in joke shops.
She was an excellent Irish dancer (and could still do all the moves well into her 90s), loved gin (was once told by a doctor it seemed to be doing her good and to keep drinking it), and had an amazing grip (she always seemed to win at Christmas crackers, and could stop her grandchildren in their tracks with her affectionate grip of their arms).
I took this photo around a month before she died, and thought she had among the most interesting hands I know.
5. John Waters, Film Director, Screenwriter, Author & Actor
Despite having only seen Hairspray (written and directed by Waters), I was intrigued enough by his kooky back catalogue & trademark pencil moustache to go and see him talking about his films at BFI Southbank in September 2015.
He immediately came across as an affable character, talking humorously about his career and showing clips of some of the eclectic actors he’s used over the years. These have included Johnny Depp, Ricki Lake, porn star Traci Lords and drag queen Divine. And there aren’t many people who can pull off wearing a fluorescent orange suit.
After the event I went to his signing and took this photo, along with a portrait of his face, which was one of my favourite shots that year. And the title of that photo, "Not so close, Diane Arbus!" (which is what he exclaimed when I took it), adds a great deal to my enjoyment of it!
4. Martyn Ware, Musician and Producer, The Human League / Heaven 17
One of the founding members of The Human League and Heaven 17, Ware also produced Terence Trent D’Arby’s debut ‘Introducing the Hardline According to…’, as well as albums for Tina Turner and Erasure.
My meeting with him was brief, having been introduced by Mark Jones (owner of the previous pair of hands) and told about my project by him. He was a very willing participant and chose this pose almost immediately.
3. Mark Jones, Record Label Founder, Wall of Sound
I spotted Mark at Festival No. 6 in Sept 2015 and I’m fairly sure I’d have recognised him even if he hadn’t been wearing a t-shirt bearing the name of the record label he founded in 1994, ‘Wall of Sound’. During the late ‘90s, a large amount of my student loan went on buying CD promos of his label’s releases from Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, and seeing its artists at big beat night ‘Molotov Pop’.
His label was the first to sign artists such as Röyksopp, Propellerheads, The Wiseguys and, most importantly for me, Les Rythmes Digitales. The latter’s album ‘Darkdancer’ was one of the most listened to among me and my friends during the university years, and it’s creator Stuart Price has since gone on to produce people such as Madonna, Seal, The Killers, New Order, Pet Shop Boys and Everything Everything.
After reminiscing with Mark about all of this on the Village Green in Portmeirion (where the festival takes place), he told me that he’d got married there years earlier and that the festival may well have ended up with that as its location after he'd introduced certain people to it.
Wall of Sound continue to release albums and have more recently done so for artists such as Grace Jones and The Human League.
Mark also introduced me to pair of hands number 4...
2. Jonathan Higgs, Singer and Musician, Everything Everything
I spotted Jonathan on his own watching Dutch Uncles at Festival No. 6 in September 2015 and went over to ask him if I could take a portrait of his face, which he kindly obliged me with. A random guy next to us then asked if I'd like a photo of me with the Everything Everything singer, which again he was happy with, so we posed for that. I decided now was the time to start my Hands Down project and asked “I know this might sound weird but… do you mind if I take a photo of your hands?”. This didn't seem to phase him and he held both hands out, palms down, and explained that the tip of the middle finger of his right hand had once been sliced off and then put back on again.
As I wandered away, I eagerly checked my photos and realised that the focus of my camera had slipped and all of them were blurry.
Despite the fact that others had now noticed Jonathan, I thought I'd kick myself if I didn't try again so I sheepishly returned, explained what had happened, and asked “Do you mind if we just run through all of those again?”. He obliged again, this time slightly more begrudgingly. We started first with the shot of his face (which was far better this time as he pulled a silly face), then the random guy next to him took our photo, and finally I took this shot of his hands. Maybe because he was weary of all of this, he flipped the bird. This left me wondering whether from now on I should always pretend my first batch of photos hasn't worked.
1. Ben Eine, Graffiti Artist
I photographed Eine in June 2015 while he was preparing a work in his trademark giant lettering at the Macmillan office on York Way, King's Cross, London.
He hit the headlines in 2010 when David Cameron gave one of his works as a gift to Barack Obama. His lettering has been used on album covers, in music videos, and he created early hand pulled screen prints on behalf of Banksy, Modern Toss and David Shrigley.
Of the shots I took, this one in particular was my favourite as it seemed to capture his character very well, just from his hands. The black jumper he’s wearing helped frame them, and led me to the idea of starting a series of hand portraits of interesting people.