Photographs can take on different meanings and relevance with the passage of time. They can also be left with little purpose at all.
Little over a month ago I was commissioned to photograph Matt Hancock, who was, until around a couple of weeks ago Secretary for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport. The images were to accompany a cover piece of a publication promoting the Technology sector in the North East. An ongoing project I'm working on with Dynamo who champion the North East Tech cluster.
Matt Hancock was the keynote speaker at the Dynamo conference and I was due to photograph him directly after the speech. I was told by his people I had strictly 5 minutes to get what I needed. This in mind I set up some studio lighting directly outside the doors I knew he was due to exit from and blocked off the corridor with some office type partitions I found nearby in the building, effectively creating blockade to keep any curious delegates out and pen him in before he left! (sounds dreadful I know but needs must) This sort of shoot can be very stressful as there's little room for error and no chance of doing it again. That said it's absolutley the kind of pressure which I live for and one of my favourite aspects of the job.
He arrived slightly later than anticipated to the conference, a bit flustered and slightly bemused that the taxi driver had not known exactly where to bring him and his entourage to. He was nevertheless mic'd up and sent in to deliver his prepared words.
I waited until I heard a round of applause signalling the end and readied myself for action.
As he exited and was mic'd down (if thats a thing) I introduced myself, told him what the photos were for and tried to make a bit of small talk before starting the pictures whilst being very aware of the time constraints placed on the session. We started with some straightforward three quarter length shots with the lighting I'd set up but just as I was getting into it someone evaded my blockade and began a conversation with him. It was pretty infuriating as I was in the middle of the shoot but I guess he's a minister and people want to chat to him and he can hardly be anything other than cordial. Either way my time was stolen away somewhat but thankfully the conversation halted before I had to assert myself and risk looking petulant.
As we continued he remarked to an aide that this shoot was 'good practice for next week' and after asking it transpired - with him looking quite pleased with himself, as you would - that David Bailey would be photographing him. 'Nice.' I said 'Will David Bailey get more than 5 minutes?' as a last ditch attempt to regain his attention, in fact my comment made him and the entourage laugh loudly (of course he'd get longer) and I added in a 'what's so funny?' - passive aggressive? - certainly, but said with a spoonful of self deprecation to take the edge off.
I managed to get off a few more frames and push slightly beyond the 5 minute mark in to a different set up. I somewhat hurriedly used one of the partitions I had used to construct my politician trap come ministerial holding area as a kind of makeshift frame/backdrop behind him, in these his guard dropped a bit and I got something a bit more thoughtful perhaps insightful. I liked the way the partition seemed symbolic of the nature of the shoot, a barrier between subject and photographer - politician and public but also the chair provided the gift of his trousers riding up when seated to reveal his party political sock selection. I wrapped it just before the tap on the shoulder from his advisor, I said my thank yous and asked him to send my regards to Mr Bailey. LOLZ.
All in all I was fairly happy with what I got and felt it would make a good cover for the publication.
Then a couple of weeks on after a flurry of resignations and a cabinet reshuffle later I read the BBC News app notification that Matt Hancock is promoted to Heath Secretary. Effectively making the entire shoot unusable in the publication given that it was intended as an interview with the Secretary for Digital in a magazine about Tech in the North East. The Health Secretary talking about the region being a digital hotspot doesn't work particularly.
It does however give me an opportunity to share the pictures in a blog post and rattle on about how the shoot went down (If he'd been the Health Secretary then I probably would have only got 2 minutes instead of a laid back 5!) and it is interesting to me how photography and in particular portraits shift and morph in meaning and context as careers and lives do. Each turn or change in direction provides an altered perception or opinion ultimatley making the narrative more interesting. It also goes to show that this can take place over days, months or years.
They do say a week is a long time in politics but I'm fairly satisfied that now, even if only for a little while, I have the Secretary for Health in my portfolio. And so does David Bailey.
*all ministerial positions correct at time of publishing.