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The Portrait Maker

joeMC2Joe McGorty is a portrait photographer extraordinaire. I got to know him over cups of tea in the drafty studio I shared with his lady and was instantly in awe of his craft: of the exquisite portraits he takes of everyone from John Hurt, to Richard Dawkins to Audrey Tautou to his shots of british mountaineers that can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery. Generally he uses a Wista 5×4 Rosewood Field Camera – think Victorian film camera complete with a black hood for disappearing into…Joe’s worked his way up the hard way, starting with making the tea and then grafting for years as an assistant before setting up on his own.

Before Joe photographs a celebrity he studies them, kind of learning their language and shaping his portraiture accordingly. So when he shot Vincent Cassel, he did it in a grainy black and white moving continuously mirroring the long single shot scenes Cassel is renowned for. Similarly when photographing the director John Hillcoat, knowing his obsession with film, Joe got him involved in the grading process as he shot, co-creating the image. I didn’t display the same sophistication when taking Joe’s picture for this, it was more- “er.. sit over there and smile…”

THIS YEAR’S LESSON:  Let go. I realised that I was too controlled. Everything was too planned. I wasn’t making enough of sponteniety. So I did a personal project about bikes, a kind of orchestrated reportage that helped me to free up my photography style, which I went on to test on the Vincent Cassell shoot. I was terrified. I had no idea whether the improvisational approach would work. The night before, I dreamt that the shoot had been cancelled. But in the end it went well, and this  more reactive way or working has completely changed my photography.

THIS YEAR’S MOST INSPIRING THING: How to Read Others’ Thoughts by Their Gestures by Alan Pease. It’s a body language book that I found on my Dad’s bookshelf and have since left on a train somewhere. It’s completely changed what I notice when I’m shooting. I’m much more aware of the details now, the subletites of how people are expressing themselves.  It has helped me understand how to break down people’s public personas.

THE BURNING QUESTION: How do I develop confidence and self-belief without a camera in my hand?

MAKING THE WHAT’S NEXT DECISION: That’s a really difficult question. It’s a combination I think. Sometimes, it’s a technical challenge, sometimes it’s a strategic thing, or sometimes it’s a project that will take me out of my comfort zone either in terms of environment or people.

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In Memory of Becky Tarbotton

beckellaThe first ever post on the Introductor was “the Queen of Campaigning”, Becky Tarbotton. To our shock and sadness, Becky passed away in an accident over Christmas. Her extraordinary life has been remembered in many places, from The Guardian, to Forbes, to the New York Times.

Re-reading her original post, made me so glad I’d started this blog, so glad to have this snapshot of her insights, questions and passion. It also reminded me of  the last time I saw Becky, a few months ago, when we drunk expensive cocktails in London’s Savoy hotel and cackled with laughter while the pianist played Sinatra.

We talked about work, about her Suzuki moment that she went on to describe so beautifully in her REVEL speech, about a pie-in-the-sky trip to India and about old age. Becky declared that when she retired she wanted to go into the movies, “I don’t mind starting with commercials,” she began, as if to prove her pragmatisim, “I’ll do bit parts at first. We could set up an acting company…”

I loved the thought of us as wrinkled old women, drinking expensive cocktails, exchanging wisdom and laughing until we cried. I said my final goodbye to Becky on a cold London night in Covent Garden, and walked away high on the contentment that comes from a treasured, enduring friendship that will last for life.

And then Becky’s life tragically ended, so much sooner than anyone could have imagined.

In the days following her death, I found myself slowly writing a list. I realised it was a list of Becky’s qualities that I wanted to embody, the elements of my  friend I wanted to live within me, a kind of existential bucket list. Now no-one, least of all the multifaceted Becky, can be reduced to bullet points, but well, whatever gets you through the night. Right? So here are some of the lessons I have learnt from the incredible, sorely missed, Becky Tarbotton.

1. Laugh loudly and often. Becky’s humanity and her humour, were what made her not only a brilliant friend, but also a brilliant leader. Her deeply strategic pragmatic idealism was accompanied by a winning levity, that in the words of Sungevity president Danny Kennedy, meant  “Disney execs danced for her and  timber tycoons ran from RAN because of her.”

2. Be yourselves – all of them. Becky was an incredible polymath, her breadth didn’t diminish her impact, it amplified it. The strategist, the fiddle player, the kayaker, the dancer, the protestor were all key to Becky sustaining a powerful life and not burning out.

3. Interdepend. Becky made and sustained deep connections with people wherever she went (despite being terrible at correspondence).  In the days since her death, this immense community has suddenly become visible, with her friends supporting each other across continents and tributes pouring in from tribal leaders in Indonesia, CEO’s in the US, activists in Britain and school-friends in Canada.

4. Stand. Take a stand. Take a stand.

5. Don’t leave your success to chance. I remember when Becky first took leadership roles she spoke of that familiar feeling of being an imposter. She continually made sure she got the professional support she needed to overcome this and any other obstacles. Becky took all that potential she had, and then ran with it.

6. Embrace living in different worlds. Becky was just as at home brandishing a placard in front of the White House, drinking cocktails with film stars at galas, sea kayaking in the wilderness, and playing the fiddle in Irish pubs.

7. Make everyone matter. Everyone. Whoever you were, wherever you came from, whatever you were doing, when you were talking to Becky, you felt like you could make a difference. Be present and generous in the way you listen to people

8. Spend more than you can afford on shoes. Becky was really good at doing this.

Becky. Rest In Peace.

The Flower Man

Himanshu Verma curates art, design, cities and rituals. For years he has been my antidote to work induced Delhi stress – he does a good line in temple dinners, decadent Holi parties and looks a lot better than I do in a sari. Via his organisation Red Earth, Himanshu juggles A LOT– from the annual Monsoon festival, to design fairs, to the 1100 walks projects (yes people, that means night walks, dawn flower market walks, sherbet walks, food walks, lake walks, buddhist walks… ). He’s all about building bridges between traditional practices and contemporary creative expression, tiddley-pom. Himanshu also goes by the name Genda Phool (marigold flower), he’s a man obsessed! Hang out with him and you’ll never look at those little orange flowers in the same way again…

THIS YEAR’S LESSON. Be wary of trying to do too many things. As a creative person, I can often be over-ambitious, but perhaps I am becoming a little wiser in managing affairs, and am learning to do less — as much as I can handle; learning to dream less (actually not sure if I will ever stop) about things I want to do but perhaps cannot; learning to be clever in knowing that perhaps I can’t do the million things I always want to; and learning to be super happy with the things I can do –always trying my best to do them with the utmost sincerity, passion and efficacy.

THE BURNING QUESTION. This is always the same – sustainability. I’m always trying to figure out how to keep afloat and make the numbers add up – not something I am intrinsically great at, but working on it…

THIS YEAR’S INSPIRATION: This year, I celebrated the festival of Holi in the lovely land of Vrindavan / Braj in the sacred geography associated with Lord Krishna. I am still mesmerised by the whole experience. I visit Vrindavan often, but this time I gave up all work (and play) to revel in the magic of the festival of colours where you can colour your mind, body and soul like nowhere else. Holi here carries on for more than 10 days and the site of festivities keeps changing everyday. Every day there was a new angle to this love, and I was dazzled every moment by the sheer beauty. This trip was a fantastic muse – I wrote some lyrics, poems, and the minute I think of being there, I can see creativity growing on me like a fungus….

THE DECISIONS: Deciding what project to do next is sometimes hard, sometimes easy. Hard because time and funding can be a bitch to manage, and easy because we have certain annual projects, which somehow automatically fall into place. Romantically speaking, it’s intuition, impulse, and the power of ideas that controls me, but then practically some other factors come into play as well. But still, the heart reigns over the mind in this matter, and this curator is open to the magic of the moment, mostly!

The VFXpert

Dan Lemmon is a visual effects guru, responsible for making the imaginary seem oh so real. Nominated for the Visual Effects Oscar this year for The Planet of the Apes, Dan was also pivotal in bringing Pandora to life in Avatar and has worked on A LOT of movies from King Kong to Lord of The Rings to yes, Titanic. When I first met Dan a few months ago, he was standing on his head – as part of my New Zealand welcoming committee!  Thanks to his role as my NYE host, I can vouch that in addition to making movie magic, he makes a damn fine bellini!

THE LESSON: I’ve learned that regardless of how busy I get professionally, I have to take care of my relationships with my friends and family. That may seem fairly obvious, but it’s been a hard lesson for me to learn as I’ve been sucked from one demanding project to another, year after year. This year, in particular, has been crazy – full of ups and downs that have included months of work overseas away from my family and being nominated for an Academy Award. The high point by far, though, was taking my kids surfing for the first time and watching their ecstatic faces as they stood up and rode their first waves.

THE QUESTION: Will I win an Oscar tonight?! Just being nominated has been a pretty amazing experience. Regardless of the result, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on a great movie with a great team and to see our work get recognized by our peers.

THE INSPIRATION: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I think he writes incredibly rich, believable characters who are wonderfully and tragically flawed. I love his portrait of a family full of love and ambition and disfunction, and I loved the idea that we are what we make of our freedom.

The Digitalista

The last time I actually saw Melissa Bell in person, was on a rooftop in Delhi in 2008, where we were both living at the time. But, thanks to the Lords of Social Media, I feel like I see her almost every day, as she anchors The Washington Post’s BlogPost. Hallelujah. A digital forensics wizard, last year she and her colleague Elizabeth Flock famously outed the gay girl in Damascus blogger as a 40-year-old American man from Georgia. She also does a good line in Star Wars nerdiness and snowboarding videos…

THE LESSON:That I am the adult in the room sometimes. That’s terrifying. And thrilling. 

THE QUESTION: How do we use all of this constant flow of information on the Internet to our advantage? How do we use it to better understand people, better entertain them, enlighten them, and inform them? I’ve become fascinated by crowdsourced projects: be it in getting aid to people like with Ushahidi; creating art like the Johnny Cash project; raising money for total strangers on social networks like Reddit, or – most close to home – watching news break on social media. So, how do we take of advantage of this amazing beast that is the Internet?

THE INSPIRATION: It goes back to my burning question. In general, the culture of the Internet and its focus on creativity has been the most inspiring thing I’ve seen. I really feel as if we’re in an age where creativity is rewarded and admired more than anything else. Offline, I am obsessed with Pieter Hugo’s photographs and films. All of Adam Ferguson‘s work (though I admit to a personal bias, as I adore him just as much as his work). All the war photography in general — making us look at the stories we want to ignore — as well as the work of war correspondents. I’ve been proud of strong female role models in journalism, women such as Lynsey Addario and Mona Eltahawy

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