John le Carré
The nicest thing I know about being working as an editorial photographer illustrating news stories is that every now and then I receive an amazing assignment – as was the case when I recently photographed David Cornwell, better known by the pen name John le Carré.
The assignment was for the culture section of Swedish Dagens Nyheter and the story was around that David had been awarded the Olof Palme Prize which he will be receiving at a ceremony in Stockholm.
We were to meet David at his home on the southern coast in Cornwall, I had prepared the photo shoot by finding locations a short drive from his home – a small fishing village that I thought would work well. Having picked up Journalist Per Svensson at Heathrow we drove down to Cornwall, arriving very late late we stayed in a hotel ready to meet David the following morning.
All my preparations were blown out the window excuse the pun as during the drive down storm Brendan approached the Cornish coast and the next day saw gusts of up to 80mph (35 m/s) with torrential rain, there is only so much you can ask an 89 year old man to do and the photo shoot would be confined to indoors.
We were greeted by his wife Jane and shown into the kitchen where David was waiting. They are a lovely friendly couple and tea was served together with fruit bread with jam & Cornish clotted cream – In Cornwall the jam is spread first then the cream – not like in the neighbouring county Devon where it is done the other way around. Whilst Per was interviewing David, Jane showed me around their beautiful home, we braved the elements and went outside and looked down at the raging sea.
Past experience has told me that when you are on an assignment and your plans fall through! Or there are very limited usable locations then it is just to concentrate on taking well lit portraits – which I did. An assignment will always work well if you can come away with a few nice portraits – despite any previous ambitions of how it should have been.
The image I like is the one when I stand in the lounge and David is standing in the conservatory – he is lit by an off camera Profoto B10 flash. It felt like that he is his own framed picture hanging on a wall.
I knew when I took the pictures that I would convert a few into black & white to give a more dramatic feel to the images – in part with the raging storm outside and in main with the fact that some of his novels are about espionage during the Cold War.
Fortunately for me there was a short lull between the torrential downpours and David was more than willing to step outside for 5 minutes and I quickly took some images & video footage.
Profoto’s B10 flash system is a wonderful piece of kit for on-location documentary photography and I also used them as lighting for the video that I shot.