Ask any photographer what the most important thing they can have is, and they will answer, “access”. Access is everything. Without it there is no story; there are no pictures. The best will employ guile and a cheeky smile and honest intentions to brazen it out and get what they want. Whether it is Grace Robertson putting on a white coat and posing as a doctor to get into a hospital and get her pictures, or Joel Meyerowitz employing the vaudeville schtick of his father to “accidentally” sit in the lap of a police captain at Ground Zero after 9/11 and gain their favour, the ends are often deemed to justify the means.
The fact is, we live in an overly controlled and regulated world, and the authorities and PR people like to believe that they know what photographers need. Sorry guys – you don’t. If you are not a photographer, you will never know where we want to stand, how important the direction of the light is, what it is that we wish to convey with our images. We know you mean well, but by and large you get it wrong and rub all photographers up the wrong way.
Nowhere is this more true than with the rich and famous. In the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, even the 70s, the rich and famous knew that their very existence depended on a symbiosis with the media. And media moguls knew that sales of magazines were (and still are) hugely influenced by who appeared on their pages. As a result, there was a golden age of access, when photographers were often accorded long, uncontrolled periods with their subjects, enabling the public to have a deeper understanding of who these familiar faces really were: what they thought and felt. Some of the most memorable images of the stars of those eras are a direct result of that easy relationship. Somewhere, though, it faded to dust.
Now the rich and famous want to control every aspect of how they appear in and to the public. Photoshoots are almost always stage managed by PR people – usually with ridiculous demands. My own worst experience was at a studio shoot being told by a PR manager to a Hollywood star that I had 60 seconds to get the photograph – and she was serious. I got what I needed and the picture was published – but it could have been so much better without the intimidation. The point is, it is rare these days to see images of these people that have more than just a veneer of authenticity, and recently I came across some work which has exactly that.
Lorraine Goddard has produced a charming, but compelling body of work depicting household names doing things that make them happy: Christian Slater watching Star Trek; Lord Lloyd Webber swimming in his pool; Vivienne Westwood embracing her husband. All this is done with the aim of raising awareness of, and money for, mental health charities. There is little suggestion that any of these celebrities suffers or has suffered from mental illness, but the effect is stark: it makes you look at these people again and ask, “I wonder if…?” If it can happen to them, it can happen to me. There is such a stigma attached to mental illness, and there should not be, and that is the point that Goddard wants to convey.
She has called the project, Out of Context. An apt title in more ways than one, as I would be lying if I claimed that these were remarkable photographs. Of themselves, they are not. But the fact that she got them, and their effect as a body of work, does, in this day and age, make them significant and worthy of discussion.
So the inevitable question: how did she get the access? Answer: that other favoured method of photographers, and the only one these days which really counts: she knew them. Perhaps not all of them, but she was married to Adam Ant and her experience of his manic depression gave her the impetus to begin the project. She was also (ironically) a PR person for Vivienne Westwood for a year.
No doubt these two facts opened many doors at the time that have only later become tremendously important in helping her realise her project. Of course there has to be more to it than this. Knowing people may open doors, but to keep them open and gain access to new ones relies on being open, honest, loving and trustworthy. Lamentably it was the closeting of these traits that ended that golden age, and made so many view photographers as a whole with a suspicion bordering on contempt. Goddard, clearly, has substance.
Apart from a splash screen of some of the images as tear-sheets from the Sunday Times Magazine, there is nothing more of the work on her website, a pity as I would like to see more. Both the cause and the images are worthy of greater reflection.