A slight break with convention from my Writers’ Interviews here… But keeping with the same creative vein, a photographer: Vanessa Champion.
I was fortunate enough to meet Vanessa (‘Ness’) back in mid-February for a headshot shoot for my acting portfolio (more images here) and was immediately taken by her charm, her easy-to-work-with professionalism, and her aura. It was like I had met a long lost soul and was catching up on old news. It seemed obvious that I should do an interview. Ness is a fascinating lady, a talented lady – with oodles of modesty thrown in for good measure (which is why I haven’t edited ANYTHING out!) – and I’m honoured that she is now one of my close friends.
Without further ado… Vanessa Champion, in her own words…
Technology has changed over the years, do you have a preference over digital or ‘old school’, and why?
I started life working with film cameras. My early sales were just with a little Olympus, and one could argue it’s the photographer not the camera which makes the image, but maybe I won’t bang on about that here (I can waffle and write for England!). I can’t stress enough the importance and value of having worked with a medium that MAKES you THINK before you press the shutter. With film, you have to think, frame, think, focus, think, expose, as every time you press the button, it costs money. When I started earning money as a “jobbing” photographer, I used to buy a 36 exposure film, shoot 24 for the client and keep the rest for me to shoot. I did a deal with my supplier and printer, so my client paid for 24 and wasn’t out of pocket I hasten to add (I didn’t shaft them!). I learnt in subsequent years, that Cartier-Bresson did just that, he would be commissioned by Life Magazine and shoot most of the rolls for them and keep some frames for himself to shoot. When I did make the move to digital, I still shot with that slow and considered way, and still do. I find myself firing off more during portrait sessions, but that’s more to put subject at ease than lack of framing. Am converting from slapper flapper Nikon (the loud “clack you hear when photographers press the shutter) to the silent Fuji mirrorless system, which is perfect for the theatre, opera and TV still work I do. Actually Fujifilm gave me a load of singleuse cameras (you know those throwaway ones you often get at weddings) to teach former street kids in Uganda how to document their lives. Was really interesting to see how they started thinking and framing, they REALLY understood the value of each photo. Am producing a book of their work to help raise money for much needed beds for the kids out there. Tough lives.
You have been described as a ‘documentary photographer’, can you expand on what this means to you?
I story-tell. When I shoot, I see stories. That might seem obvious when I’m shooting an opera or a theatrical piece, but I see the same when I’m shooting a corporate event, I watch interaction, reaction, timing, personality and try and capture the energy and rhythm of the moment. I shoot for NGOs in Africa and Asia, the same thing, I look and see the stories and time my capture with the heartbeat of the story unfolding infront of me. Sometimes I do feel like a sniper!
Do you have a ‘wish list’ of subjects you’d still like to shoot, and why?
Adam Ant, the former President of Uruguay… – the reason? Character, I love character. Also a road trip up South America, to document the music, food, people, artisans, workers. I’m working on some personal projects, WWI Ulysses (an installation piece of a soldier in a WWI trench, with music and soundscape), plus a series of sportspeople and well, there’s quite a bit in the pipeline I’m building!
You wear many hats, as you’re not just a photographer, you are editor of a newspaper, and do a lot of charity work. How did this all come about and how to you juggle so many things?
Not sure how it’s all happened. Have been very lucky, have put in some long hours (hate to think sometimes just how many!) and have been blessed with some terrific clients who have given me opportunities. Being an academic first, I think, makes you a solution finder, a researcher. I love solving problems and helping fix things. And really, that’s all business is about, having a “problem, product, idea” and needing a solution to “fix, sell, make happen”. I just utilise the years of research experience and deliver. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, am working on it though… Photography has always been there, it’s the creative thread that holds my world together.
If you were not able to do the things you do, what would do instead?
I love music, so I’d love to be Ray Charles with the voice of Aretha Franklin (fix it for me, Ant!).
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
Photograph, photograph, photograph. And then shoot some more. Find your genre, create your style and most importantly LOVE what you shoot.
I know you’ve recently returned from Mumbai, what else is on the horizon for the rest of 2015?
I was documenting the work of one of the NGOs I work with, “Born to be Beautiful” in Mumbai, which teaches impoverished women beauty skills they can then use to earn money and slowly gain value within their community and therefore try to stop the endless cycle of violence and fear. I am founder of PhotoAid Global, and we are running a course in extreme PhotoJournalism this year (theory and practical), plus sponsoring a photojournalism award with the Art Gemini Prize, with an exhibition at the Menier Gallery, London. To enter click here… Plus I’m writing three books, one of which is an entry level “how to photograph your crafts”, a book on British Heritage Artisans (coffee table photography book), plus a book on Cuthbert Orde who drew the pilots of Fighter Command in 1940. Am putting together another couple for the NGOs I work with, but that’s alongside the day job. Hoping to head into France, and maybe off to Ethiopia with the lovely NGO I work closely with, PENHA (Pastoralist and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa), it’s the 25th Anniversary this year, so watch out for an exhibition of the images I shot with the pastoralist nomads in Uganda as part of their Silver anniversary (some of the images have already been in Venice as part of the Biennale).
Unfortunately this article isn’t long enough to give Ness the words to say ALL she’d really like to say, but she’s very approachable, and doesn’t bite (hard!) so check out more of her wonderful work: Vanessa Champion Website.
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ANTHONY DONNELLYblogs about all things writing, inspirational, and motivational. He has published a number of books for children and adults. His latest book, a short, inspirational parable THE SHEPHERD is currently climbing up the Amazon charts, and is available in Kindle or paperback. When not sat at his keyboard writing, he can be found in Costa Rica, North America, or somewhere in Europe motivating and coaching individuals and groups in self-development techniques and life-balance. Most recently you can see him back on the sets of films and in front of the modelling camera again.
London is so vast, so fascinating, so full of life and things to observe. London is an experience. London is ever changing and evolving. In a way it’s like being at a cultural ‘all you can eat’ buffet…! Where do you start? Which bit do you see first? Well, having now experienced a Bullshit London Tour firsthand last night, I can safely say this would be a great appetizer for anyone new to London, AND anyone that’s lived here their whole life.
I arrived early at the front of St. Paul’s Cathedral where the tour kicks off every Thursday at 7pm, and just as the website says, the tour guide was VERY easy to spot. Quite a crowd had gathered for the first tour of their 2015 season – about 30+ ‘grown-ups’ looking for a good time and some serious BS. From what I could make out, the crowd consisted of a few couples and a large group of office workers adding a touch of originality to a leaving party. Many were already in quite high spirits, and adult beverages aren’t frowned upon (as long as you drink responsibly).
After a quick head count to ensure nobody will be left behind and the ‘legalities’ are taken care of (you’ll have to take a tour to find out what that’s all about!) the tour quickly jumps into high gear and the BS starts flowing like a Monsoon river in the rainy season! Some of the comedy is intellectual, but still very accessible to those without an Ox-bridge education, but mostly it is sharp, edgy, and downright silly, with the participants having to dodge the odd pun or two!
The tour trips along at quite a pace, and Reuben Williams (the creator of Bullshit London back in 2013 and the main tour guide) keeps the narrative lively and the group buzzing. Before you know it you are discovering ridiculous facts about The Roman Renaissance Movement of the 1800s… the new Russian Quarter of London… tales of the London Mermaid… and the spot where Queen Victoria exploded… amongst other things!
Taking about two hours to complete, it’s a good job for the drinkers that there’s a halfway stopping point and ‘toilet break’ location en route. This also allows the crowd to familiarize themselves with each other, chat about the jokes and gags, and generally allow their minds to soak in all the Bull.
For those readers that know nothing of Bullshit London Tours, I should add a little word of explanation at this stage before you get completely lost. These aren’t your average, boring city tours with a stuffy, old historian-type guide who knows it all and loves the sound of his own voice… no sir, no indeed… this is more a walk on the wild side… the type of tour of the cool kids on the block that want ‘in’ on what’s really going on. If you’re the kind of person that never gets invited to parties, or hear about things after the fact, you probably won’t even be reading this, let alone go on a tour! As their website (www.bullshitlondon.com) states they will show you “the kind of London that would have happened if Monty Python had been elected Queen.” The landmarks are real, but the facts about them are completely made up.
In three years, Williams has managed to grow quite a cult following, and the tours get bigger and bigger each year. The participants range from stag nights and office parties, to Australian tourists, along with locals just out for a bit of fun. When I asked him the largest group he’d ever taken round, he said it was close to 60 people for a special event. Confident, charismatic, and well versed in BS, Williams is the perfect host for a fun night out in London.
I certainly got my tenner’s worth of bullshit last night and have a thoroughly brilliant night.
How time flies! Four years ago today, a wonderful man – my Dad – passed away.
It was hard to be in a foreign land hearing the news. It was a shock, coming so close after my birthday – having just heard good news from him – and then, only a few days later, to hear the shocking announcement that he had passed away from a heart attack. The world became bigger that day… it became emptier… and I learned a lot about my Dad after he passed away. Thankfully I was lucky enough to have some wonderful friends around me at that troubling time.
I wasn’t the greatest son in the world. I probably never will be. I never tried to be, if I’m honest. I never thought I should, or had to be. In fact, the greatest gift my Dad gave me was to be able to be me. He probably could have said or done many things to try and make me somebody different – to live vicariously through me – but he didn’t.
Was Dad the greatest Dad in the world? He was the only one I had. He wasn’t perfect. He did the best he could, and I learned (the hard way) the sacrifices he made along the way. I know I’m not half the Dad he was. I probably never will be. I tried, if I’m honest, I tried to undo what I thought I missed out on.
I can only hope – one day – my boys will think back on my death and understand…
Thank you for being YOU, Dad. I love you! I miss you.