Stephen Mangan

As I walk into this North London studio where the shoot with Stephen Mangan was to take place I was struck by studio envy. The studio in question had been an old stable, right on the doorstep of Camden and Regents Park. We were met with was a sizeable reception. This led into two large studio spaces which we walked through to get to the last room, a snooker room on level 1, with an adjacent kitchen. Park Village Studios is the studio of Peter Webb. Evidence of his work with among others, The Rolling Stones, was exhibited on the walls. The studio was cool, had a roughness to it, character, but what made me jealous was the knowledge that this studio had been Peter Webb’s, and his alone for many years. Only in the last few years had he opened the doors for others to rent the space. It’s a photographer’s dream. Without devaluing the quality of Peter’s work I have to say that a space like this would only be available exclusively to one photographer today if he was born into money, won the lottery or is amongst a very few elite advertisement photographers. It was a different time and I am sure Peter Webb can point the finger at many advantageous things of being a photographer today, but space is something that we don’t own anymore.

After I had shrugged off the feeling of jealousy I focused on the shoot. I wanted to use the space but also create a cleaner space that would led itself better to a cover. I set up a nice green colorama and looked around the space for other options. Stephen is one of those actors/comedians in the UK that has a perfect balance on exposure. He selects his involvement perfectly and his humour is understated and poignant. If I ever met him at a party I imagine him in the kitchen with Armando Ianucci, Tamsin Greg, Steve Coogan and maybe Simon Amstell, half hanging out the kitchen window, sharing a bottle of red wine whilst unraveling world politics and conflicts with funny one liners.

Stephen has written and starred in the television sitcom Hang Ups, so having him ‘hung up’ by some helium filled balloons seemed appropriate. It would also give a little nod to his recent performance in the Harold Pinter play The Birthday Party. The balloons would also work as a good prop and a great way to inject colour into the set. The rest of the shoot I chose to use the room we were in, snooker table and all. Stephen was good to work with; understated but fun in real life, much like how you see him in his films. He contributed with the sets and ideas and helped make the shoot a collaborative one, just the way I like it. I’m now peaking into every kitchen when I go to parties, just in case Stephen and friends are hanging out sharing stories.

Shot for Sunday Times Culture

Toni Collette

Toni Collette is the lead in the newest must see horror film Hereditary. If you want to wind down off the coffee and still not sleep for a few days, then this is the film you should see. I am not big on horror films because I often find them to be a little too far fetched, tacky and often bad acting. They don’t tend to trigger into my own fear. However, this sounds like a film that will scare the living ‘bejesus’ out of me. The kind of film that plays with your psyche, the unknown, the things we don’t see. This is the film I’d bring a spare pair of pants to see. It’s the kind of film where I’d check the seat before I sit if it’s the second screening of the day.

The shoot with Toni was down in a basement room at Covent Garden Hotel. A room with a little too much character to carry off a whole shoot, so a backdrop was brought out. It was the last thing on Toni’s schedule of the day before being rushed off to the Graham Norton show. It was evident that she’d had a full day already, mixed with a heavy jet lag, so I tried to keep the conversation to trivial non-sense that demanded little in return. First an acknowledgement of her being only 8 days older than me, followed by my amusement that we were both able to mimic a horse trotting by clapping and snapping our fingers. The amazement on both our parts of how similar we therefor must be was undisputed and agreed to - over a laugh…

Often when people suffer from such a schedule and jet lag it is hard to hit the note. However, between the occasional yawn, her Australian, chilled and fun way of being, came shining through… I can only hope that I will one day work with Toni when she is full of energy and fully rested - if I can keep up?

Graham Norton

Graham Norton is definitely a national treasure. Or, as he’s Irish, international treasure. He is perhaps currently most known for The Graham Norton show. It’s the show where all the biggest names turn up for a chat with the man himself. Graham is that very likeable guy that everyone confides in and everyone drops their guard and allow themselves to have fun. Graham is able to relate to most people. You know that if you don’t get along with Graham, then that’s not due to him, but rather because there is something wrong with you.

Graham is also the presenter of the Eurovision Song contest. He’s the natural successor to the great Sir Terry Wogan. And much like Sir Terry, Graham is able to find the fun, bizarre and tacky in most of the acts and is able to comment on it freely.

The man I photographed was as warm and welcoming as the man we see on TV. He rocked upon at the studio on a chain-less bike. Maybe he was a little more modest than I had expected, but modesty is a character trait I think we should all have more of. Graham is also perhaps one of the few men who would allow us to go for a full red pallet on a shoot without batting an eye. A brave move some may say, but it is a colour that hides the modesty and suits the man.

Shot for The Observer Magazine

Bill Bailey

Some comedians should come with a warning sign and some come with a sign saying “does what is says on the tin”. Bill is the latter. Bill is a man that’s just naturally interested and inquisitive. He is smarter than Einstein on an Omega 3 overdose, funnier than a pie in the face, and has more musical talent than a Mozart with 4 hands. Unfair really that all the talents have gone to one man when so many people have nothing at all.

This shoot was at his office, a home converted into a make shift storage/office space. It's hard to miss the larger than life cardboard cutouts of Bill, books, paintings, a couple of birdcages that are big enough to hold an albatross, plenty of plastic flowers and plastic trees, instruments, staff taking bookings for his upcoming tour, bicycle and many more things. Bill is a true hoarder, but a hoarder of the weird and wonderful. The place was a good representation of what it must be like to be in Bill’s mind; busy, filled with plenty of knowledge about everything unusual and fun…. and birds.

Shot for The Observer Magazine

Russel Brand

Russell Brand is hard to summarise in one sentence. He is a comedian for sure, but his opinions, writings, podcasts extend far beyond the comedy. The issues he deals with often have a comedy angle to them but the undertone has a more serious message. He exposes his personal life, problems, addictions and fears along side his political views and social conscious.Never are the issues dealt with in a subtle and diplomatic way, but his opinions are blatantly clear and he gets his messages across using comedy.

I turned up to the shoot expecting a man who’s personality would make be hard to control during a shoot. Russell has a very big presence. Big hair, tall and a highly visible presence. I remember seeing him at an exhibition opening a few years ago and you could easily spot him across the room. Everyone looked around the room, and as they glanced towards where he was standing, everyone raised their head as if their glance was passing some speed bump (his head) towering over everybody else’s), to avoid glancing right at him, trying to pretend not to look in order to allow him his personal space.

The initial introduction was met with a firm handshake and a direct eye contact with a very polite and well mannered introduction, not forced, but a genuine ‘a pleasure to meet you’. The rest of the shoot I experienced a relaxed and fun Russell who seemed genuinely interested in everybody around him. It is not hard to see how this man can get everyone around him to feel relaxed.

Russell has a new book out now dealing with his addictions, ’Recovery, Freedom from our addictions’. I am sure this will be an honest, hard hitting read, using humour with a few words thrown in, that may be hard to digest for the faint hearted.

James Acaster

Hilarious comedian James Acaster is someone to watch out for. He maybe well known to many of you already, but if you haven’t heard of him then please check out Josh Widdicombe’s podcast where he has made several appearances telling many of his own embarrassing stories. Or, you could pick up his book “James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes”, (from which this cover shoot was for,) where he will reveal many of his most embarrassing moments and go into detail about his experience with a cabbage. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this slightly brown chord’esque photoshoot, aimed at capturing the more misfortunate James Acaster. (I have to admit that his colour palette as far as his clothes are concerned much resembles what I am myself wearing today. A firm favourite for many of us children of the 70’s, although I suspect that James is a little younger than that.)

 
 

Alan Davies

Alan Davies has been on the scene for a long time. Known for his comedy, acting and for his determination to get it right on the panel show QI. Yes, Alan Davies is not only a funny man but also smarty-pants! However, the chances of getting Alan to pose with his mouth full of smarties in a pair of pants, (that’s the English meaning of pants for all you Americans out there,) were relatively small, so we settled for clever-clogs.

 
 

Katherine Ryan

Katherine Ryan came into my consciousness as a guest on several UK panel shows. She supposedly came to the UK from Canada, to help set up a branch of Hooters in Nottingham. A one month trip turned out to be permanent and she’s now become a familiar face in the UK comedy scene and on British panel shows. She did a noticeable stint with ‘the Last Leg’ during the Paralympics in Brazil and the last thing I heard she was as a participant in ‘Fake News’ where she’d put out a false story about having had a Bum Lift that went wrong. The story was picked up by a few of the British tabloid newspapers which lead to her winning the Best Fake News story of the show.

Katherine is funny! There’s no ifs and butts about it (excuse the pun). Even her website serves as a simple but perfect gag for a comedienne. Check it out: http://www.katherineryan.co.uk

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer

I haven’t been in the UK long enough to have soaked up the joy of Vic and Bob’s early days. Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out was one of the milestones of British TV comedy that was the making of them both. The other big show that was loved by many was Shooting Stars.

The two guys turned up at the studio where the shoot was to take place. The story was under the banner 25 years of Vic and Bob, although the 25th anniversary was delayed due to illness so it was more like a 27 year anniversary, but who celebrates that. So, we took two away from 27 and made it 25 again. Yeah! Let’s celebrate!!!! Bob was the subdued, slightly quiet half of the duo. The one in the background sorting out his car insurance between setups and quietly and modestly partaking where he had to during the shoot. Vic however brought fireworks and set them all off, in his pants. He jumped off furniture like a teenager and pulled faces like someone with botox could only dream of. I may not have been there back in the days when their names were shining in bright lights, but I sure got a good dose of Vic and Bob in 2016 and I liked it….

Bill Bailey

With Bill Bailey, what you see is what you get. He is funny, has an expressive face, eyes that can at times look like they pop out of his head, musically talented and has a bunker in case someone should want to drop a bomb on Hammersmith. (Don’t all you paranoid Hammersmithians go flocking to Bill now to be his friend, I think the bunker will only hold about 3 people at the most.) Bill’s live shows have always been impressive in the way they are constructed, immensely funny, intellectual and wacky, so it was good to see that these characteristics are all represented in Bill as a person. His acts are in fact not really acts, but a projection of himself which is immensely reassuring. In fact, if I had to choose one item and one person to spend dooms day with in a small bunker then Bill and a keyboard would be good contenders. A touch of the ‘Cabin fever’ with Bill could actually work.

Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer is the hottest comedy act on the circuit at the moment. Her 10 minute acceptance speech at the Glamour awards caused belly aches from laughter and even saw Jennifer Saunders in the background cracking up. She sure doesn’t pull any punches as far as graphic content is concerned and sees no need to hold anything back or polish the truth in any way.  She comes across as completely genuine, as if it’s her uncensored mind that rambles on without quite knowing that her mouth is vocalising her thoughts. 

My shoot was a part of a press junket in Soho Hotel. She had back to back interviews and shoots for 2 days, promoting her new film Trainwreck. And that was only the UK part of the junket. I was looking forward to an uncensored Amy, giving me poses that would probably not be fit for publication. Any other day I am sure that would have been the case, but as she was in the middle of a row of shoots and interviews I had the feeling that she had had enough of striking poses or retorting with hard hitting comments during interviews.  I did however feel that her poses were struck in the same way as much of her humour. Her moves were somewhat unconscious and automatic, as if it was a move she had thought of but she was not quite aware of doing.  A few face expressions before gravity got hold of her and she again found herself lying the floor, (something she became known for having done on the red carpet in front of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian). She continued by crawling out of the room which left the whole room silent, but not shocked. With Amy we just have to expect the unexpected.