Thursday, December 21, 2006

My best shot / Gregory Crewdson / The woman was an alcoholic

The woman was an alcoholic
Pittsfield, Massachusettsby Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson's best shot

'The house belonged to an alcoholic who drank herself to sleep every night.'

Thursday 21 December 2006 

his photograph isn't particularly well known, and it's very ordinary in many respects, but it defined my interests as an artist. I made it when I was 25, between my first and second years at graduate school at Yale, when I was starting to try to find a language of photography that would create a sense of mystery in everyday life.

The picture was made in a house near a baseball field in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The stadium wasn't particularly important in terms of the meaning of the picture, I was just drawn to that location because I loved the way the light illuminated the nocturnal setting.

I would wander around the area taking pictures at night, and I found this house and knocked on the door. A middle-aged woman answered, and it turned out she lived there alone. I asked her if I could photograph around her house, and she agreed. The woman was an alcoholic, and I had complete licence to wander round her house at night while she drank herself to sleep. Usually by the end of the night she'd be passed out on the couch and I'd be on the roof watching the baseball game. It was very sad.
The picture was done on a very modest scale, with none of the large production values I have now. It was taken with a 6x7cm medium format camera. The lighting is a combination of the light from the baseball field and my own lights, set up in the interior of the house to give a blueish cast. I brought the curtains with me, so that was an embellishment on my part. It makes it that bit more theatrical and that bit more domestic.
When I was making the picture I felt very alive, very directed. I had a longing for that place, so I went back a couple of years ago and the house had been torn down. It makes this image even more of a figment of my imagination.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

My best shot / Alec Soth / Melissa

Photo by Alec Soth

Alec Soth's best shot

Thursday 7 December 2006 

his was part of a project I did over the course of a couple of years at Niagara Falls, the former honeymoon capital of the world. I had an agreement with this particular wedding chapel, attached to a motel called the Flamingo Inn, that I could approach newlyweds after their ceremonies.

The woman was called Melissa. I took her photograph just after she was married, right outside the room she was staying in. You'll notice that her husband isn't in the picture - it's such a difficult thing photographing a couple, because the power of a portrait is that you get to have a relationship with a person by staring into their eyes. When there are two people, it's kind of complicated - you don't know who to look at. So I realised I could separate out the couple and photograph them individually, which gives the picture a different kind of poignancy.

That quiet, expressionless expression is something that has come into a lot of my photographs. I use an 8in-by-10in view camera and I put a dark cloth over my head, so it's a very slow process, and people have to be still. I like this because I prefer the subject to be quiet and move inside themselves, so they are in a reflective state. That's part of the power of this picture, I think: she's neither happy nor sad. She's reflective, and she has this new life ahead of her.
Technically, there's nothing fancy about it; there aren't five assistants standing around me with lighting equipment. But one of the things I like to do with portraits is use the depth of field to almost carve the person out of the space. So the way the focus falls away in the background means Melissa just pops out, giving something unusually life-like to the image - in some ways you need to see an actual print to have this happen.
There's always one little detail that makes an image work, and for me it's that water in the lower left. It was raining out, and it feels like the Falls are creeping in, tugging at her dress. There's also that thing about rain on your wedding day, which is supposed to be good luck. It rained on my wedding day, and Melissa sort of reminds me of my wife, so I have this funny relationship to the image that way - one that doesn't matter to anyone else.
Curriculum Vitae Born Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1969 Studied Sarah Lawrence College, New York Career high Going into a library and seeing my book on the shelf Career low The summer I assisted a born-again product photographer Inspirations My work is often compared to the colour photographers who emerged in the 1970s. They're an obvious infl uence, but I'm equally inspired by a wide range of photographers. My answer for today is Josef Koudelka Pet hate Fish-eye lenses Ambition To produce a great book of photographs Dream subject Hermits, Scarlett Johansson, happy people, the Amazon, unusually tall people, Welsh countryside, and on and on . . .
Interview by Leo Benedictus

Thursday, November 30, 2006

My best shot / Martine Franck / The bird on the monk's head

The bird on the monk's head
Nepal, 1996
Photo by Martine Franck

Martine Franck's best shot

'I never imagined for a second that the bird would perch on the monk's head'. Belgian photographer Martine talks about one of her favourite shots.

Leo Benedictus
Thursday 30 November 2006 16.26 GMT

I don't look at my photographs very often, but this picture always makes me happy. It was just such a perfect moment.
I was in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal in 1996, photographing these reincarnated children, each of whom gets an education from one main teacher. The master usually knew the person the child is supposed to have been reincarnated from - often it was his own master - so they have very close, almost motherly relationships.
The children have to work very hard, because they will one day be passing on the Buddhist teachings themselves. The little boy was having slight problems reciting all the mantras he had to remember. The pigeon was already in the room, just sort of flitting around. Buddhists love animals, so they were all over the monastery.
I was there for an hour, just sitting quietly in a corner, observing. I never imagined for a second that the bird would perch on the monk's head. That's the wonder of photography - you try and capture the surprises.

I was in the right place at the right time, with the right lens on. If I'd had a zoom lens on, I wouldn't have had time to set it at the correct distance. In fact, I had two Leicas, a 35mm and a 50mm, both already adjusted for the light, and the 35mm did the job.

The picture is somehow a symbol of peace, and of young people getting on with old people. Although I certainly didn't think that at the time - in the moment, it's just instinctive. Afterwards, maybe, you realise what the photograph means.
When I came back, I showed it to a very close friend of mine, the photographer Josef Koudelka, and he said: "Martine, if you brought only this one picture back from India your trip was worthwhile."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Portrait of the artist / Marin Alsop / It's still unusual to see a woman conducting an orchestra

Portrait of the artist

Marin Alsop


'Classical music is pretty hip right now - young people have much more eclectic taste'

'It's still unusual to see a woman conducting an orchestra.'

Interview by Natalie Hanman

Tuesday 28 November 2006 00.03 GMT

What got you started?
The first piece of music I remember feeling moved by was a string sextet in B flat major by Brahms. I was about 11.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
Not being able to be at home that much, because I travel six months of the year. One has to make compromises in terms of personal life.
Is your work fashionable?
It can be. Classical music goes from being seen as elitist and stuffy to being hip and happening. It's pretty hip right now - there are a lot of exciting things happening in terms of digital music.
Is the internet good for art?
Fantastic, especially for classical music. Young people today are "echo boomers" rather than baby boomers. They have a much more eclectic taste in art, and that translates into classical music being part of their menu.
If someone saw one of your performances in 1,000 years' time, what would it tell them about the year 2006?
It's still unusual to see a woman conducting an orchestra. I hope in 1,000 years it won't seem that unusual - and hopefully it won't take that long.
Vinyl or MP3?
MP3, although I seem unable to get rid of my vinyl.
Classical or contemporary?

It's 50/50 for me. I love to look at the masterpieces juxtaposed with contemporary art, because one informs the other.
What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?
My Way by Frank Sinatra.
Favourite film?
Witness for the Prosecution, with Charles Laughton. It's an old-style thriller with great acting and intrigue.
Favourite museum?
The Rodin museum in Paris. I love sculpture and three-dimensional art.

What's the greatest threat to art today?
The greatest threat to the world today, and this translates to art, is fanatical monotheism. And maybe that also translates into extreme conservatism.
What work of art would you most like to own?
My favourite painter is Kandinsky, but I couldn't pick from among his work. The way he uses colour is so inspiring.
Complete this sentence: At heart I'm just a frustrated ...
Carpenter and cook.
What do you know that no one else does?
That the only person who can really affect who I am and what I achieve is myself. You can choose to be your own best friend or your own worst enemy - that was a hard lesson to learn for me.
In the film of your life, who plays you?

A cross between Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Leonard Bernstein said to me, in essence: "Don't try to be anyone else except yourself."
In short
Born: New York City, 1956.
Lives: Denver, Colorado.
Career: Became principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2002. Recently appointed music director of the Baltimore Symphony, starting in 2007.
High point: "At the Tanglewood Music Center, in Massachusetts, when I conducted a concert with Leonard Bernstein."
Low point: "Getting started. You can't even practice - you have to have 40 people come round to your apartment."


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Portrait of the artist / Thea Sharrock / 'Bureaucracy is the greatest threat to art today'

Portrait of the artist

Thea Sharrock


'Bureaucracy is the greatest threat to art today - we're such a box-ticking society'

Interview by Natalie Hanman

Tuesday 21 November 2006 00.09 GMT

What got you started?
A play called The Suit, directed by Barney Simon.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Winning the James Menzies-Kitchin award for young directors in 2000, which enabled me to direct Top Girls by Caryl Churchill.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
What one song would you choose as the soundtrack to your life?
Ain't Nobody by Chaka Khan.
What's your favourite film and why?
Fletch with Chevy Chase, because the Moon River part still makes me laugh.
What cultural tip would you give a tourist about Britain's arts scene?
Save up.
Vinyl or MP3?
Vinyl, every time. Some bits of history are worth preserving, and vinyl is going to be wiped out pretty soon - so someone's got to stand up for it.
What's the greatest threat to art today?
Bureaucracy. It's an extension of political correctness - the world we now live in is such a box-ticking society. Surely the arts should be the most important thing.

What work of art would you most like to own?
Any late Matisse.
Best thing on TV at the moment?
The Sopranos.
Complete this sentence: At heart I'm just a frustrated ...
Midfield playmaker.
What do you know that no one else does?
How much I love my husband.
In the movie of your life, who plays you?
Natalie Portman.
Who do you envy?
People who work nine till five.
Who would you most like to work with?
Paul Newman. He's one of the greatest actors we've ever been lucky enough to have, and to work with him on stage would be amazing.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
When I was assisting, the director Dominic Cooke told me: "Always try to work with people who are better than you." I will always remember that.
In short
Born London, 1976
Lives London
Career Directed Top Girls at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2000. Artistic director of the Southwark Playhouse, 2001-2004; artistic director of the Gate Theatre, London. Currently directing Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs at the Gate until December 16.
High point "I hope I haven't had it yet"
Low point "Fringe theatre wages"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My best shot / Mario Testino / Eva Herzigova

Mario Testino's best shot

Interview by Leo Benedictus
Thursday 16 November 2006 12.01 GMT

t the time, Eva Herzigova represented Wonderbra, which stood for exuberance, glamour, excess. But just because she could do glamour well didn't mean she couldn't do anything else. My reaction was: let's make her look the extreme opposite of what she is meant to look like. People were also seeing me as the person who had done Gucci, which is sexy, and this picture is completely the opposite. So it's saying: don't limit me.

The shoot took place one day at a studio in Paris. We bought a lot of blood from the butcher down the road - and we kept on bringing more. It was a disgusting experience, because of the stench, but Eva was a total sport. Blood also goes brown pretty quickly, so we had to work quite fast. We did eight pages with Eva as a butcher, but this image always grabbed my attention - I don't know why.

It's a daylight picture, with all natural light. I used a Pentax 67. I can't remember the film - probably a Kodak 400 ASA colour negative. In this case, the picture had to be as raw as possible, so it probably had no retouching.
The photograph represents a period in my fashion work I am very attached to. It was one of a series of pictures I did in 1997 with Carine Roitfeld, now editor-in-chief of French Vogue, which wasn't about the photography itself, so much as the content.

There are never any absolutes in the fashion business: one day you may like black and the next day you like colour. I think it's a good lesson that we should never believe too much in any one thing - because the next day it's out, and if we're stuck to it, we're out, too.
005 My best shot / Anne Hardy / Untitled VI
006 My best shot / Rankin / Beautyfull
007 Margaret Salmon's best shot / María
008 Hannah Starkey's best shot / Two Girls
009 Gered Mankowitz's best shot / The Rolling Stones
010 Don McCullin's best shot
011 Chuck Close's best shot / A Couple of Ways of Doing Something

Jurgen Schadeberg's best shot / Nelson Mandela  XLINK 2007

My best shot / Peter Dench's best photograph / Drunks kiss and throw up at the Epsom Derby
Nino Migliori's best photograph / A gravity-defying Italian diver
My best photograph / Mars rover Curiosity's shot of the hill she'll never climb


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Portrait of the artist / Will Alsop / 'I've learned never to trust anyone with big feet and a small head'

 'I'd like to do a gap year' ... Alsop painting in his studio
 Photograph by Sarah Lee

Portrait of the artist

Will Alsop
'I've learned never to trust anyone with big feet and a small head'

Interview by Natalie Hanman
Tuesday 24 October 2006 12.03 BST

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Thursday October 26 2006
The architect who gave Will Alsop the advice that Alsop quoted in the interview below, was Cedric (not Sedrick) Price.

In 1,000 years' time, what will your buildings tell us about the year 2006?
I'd be very surprised if they were still standing. That very fact would tell you how much society decided to spend on their buildings at that time.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Winning the Hôtel du Départment building in Marseille, where it came down to two architects, and the other was Norman Foster.
If you weren't an architect, what would you be?

A sculptor. I seriously considered doing that when I was younger, and it's something I adore.
What would you most like to forget?
2004, because that was the year the Fourth Grace [the 'Cloud Building', planned for Liverpool's waterfront] I was working on was abandoned, and it would have been a great building. I felt a deep loss.
What tip would you give to a tourist about Britain's arts scene?
Find out where people meet to eat and drink, and go there. Museums and galleries don't reflect what is going on in the arts scene in Britain today.

What song would feature on the soundtrack to your life?
Bob Dylan's Girl From the North Country.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
My wife.
Are you fashionable?
No, neither in myself nor my work. Fashionability is not a consideration for architects.
Who would you most like to work with?
The French architect Jean Lavallée.
What cultural form leaves you cold or confused?
Rap. It all sounds the same unless you spend the time trying to listen. When I do, I don't understand what they are talking about.
What would you do with £1m?
I lust after one of those two-seater Bentleys. I'd like to do a gap year - go round the world, in the Bentley, with my wife.
Who's the next you?
Possibly Sean Griffiths of FAT [Fashion Architecture Taste].
Is the internet good for art?
I think so. Art becomes more accessible to a larger number of people, but there is no substitute for actually going to a building.
What are you doing tonight?

Sitting in the garden, drinking like mad.
What work of art would you most like to own?
The Endless Column by Brancusi.
What's holding you back?
In the UK, a general lack of clients with true architectural ambition.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Cedric Price, who I used to work with, told me: "You should never trust anyone with big feet and a small head." I always thought it was a funny thing to say, but I've found it to be true.
In brief

1947, Northampton




Creator of modernist buildings, distinguished by their use of bright colours and unusual forms. Established Alsop & Lyall with John Lyall in 1981

High point

Peckham library in south London

Low point

Plans for the 'Cloud Building' on Liverpool's waterfront were cancelled two years ago due to rising costs and unrealistic design. Soon after, his practice went into receivership

Portrait of the artist / Siri Hustvedt / 'I don't read reviews'

Portrait of the artist / Michael Rosen / 'Kids don't get the chance to enjoy poetry'