Letter to Lester: portrait of Russell Occomore, 2017

Russell Occomore is an impresario, poet, philosopher and environmentalist and founder and director of the award winning Jazzlive at The Crypt, a renowned jazz venue and art space in Camberwell, South East London. 24 years ago, his twin brother, Lester died at the tender age of 27 and he cites him as his main influence; “I do it all to keep his memory alive and kicking.”

This photograph was shot at The Crypt in almost complete darkness (at a low ISO and a smallish aperture) using an iPhone as a light source and requiring an 80 second exposure – 40 seconds with Russell sitting at a table and 40 seconds with him sitting on the stage. The long exposures, forcing Russell to stay very still (as was necessary in early photography), gives him an expression of thoughtful concentration.

I could have easily photographed the two positions separately and combined them in Photoshop, but doing them as a kind of choreographed 80 second collaborative dance, which we repeated several times over a period of two hours before getting it right, gave us a sense of complicity and collaboration.

The digital image was printed on film as a negative and then contact printed on photographic paper in the darkroom. The final image is a digital image combining the original digital image with a scan of the silver gelatine print. The long exposure and the protracted process – shifting from digital to analog and back to digital – slows down the picture making, giving me a more intimate relationship with the subject.



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