Five pictures that charted my career. By Damien Lovegrove 2010 (Updated camera info 2017)
Have you ever sat down and written a title for an essay with absolutely no idea how to complete the task? I perhaps stupidly suggested to Terry Hope, the editor of PhotoPro magazine that it would be fun to write a piece about just a few pictures that became stepping stones in my life. Then perhaps he could invite other photographers to write the same essay. He wrote back and said okay get the job done. So here is the start of what might be an interesting chain of personal stories loosely strung around photographs.
I struggled to choose 50 shots from 2009 so how could I ever choose just 5 shots to chart my career. I wanted to tell the narrative and use the pictures as punctuation, not just choose my favourite shots.
From the age of 19 to 34 I was trapped in a parallel universe called the BBC. I had no idea what real work was like, I never needed to write, use a computer or perform even basic tasks like thinking. I was told where to be, what to do, and at what time. The time bit was freaky, everything at the BBC is to the second and every clock throughout the corporation is driven by an electronic pulse generated in Broadcasting House or by a Radio pulse from Rugby.
In 1986, just two years into my career I started to take pictures for the Science Photo Library in London. SPL as it is called consisted of a couple of people and a dog in a first floor flat in Notting Hill. Now the SPL is a vast organisation with influence on a global scale. I’d like to think I had something to do with it’s exponential growth curve but I know for sure that they’d be where they are now without me. Not the other way round though, because the SPL was my ticket into photography.
Within a year of starting to shoot stock pictures I was earning. The money started to roll in and with just one day a month dedicated to photo library work I was already adding thousands of pounds to my annual income. The SPL asked me to shoot medium format and get a decent camera so I bought a Hasselblad 500CM. I shot everything on Fuji Velvia and I never looked back.
In 1994 I teamed up with Gareth, a GP friend of mine, formed a company called Saturn Stills and started shooting medical stock. We used SPL as our agents and with just one shoot every two months we soon generated an income that was to pay for all our holidays. It was on one such holiday that I shot the first image at the top of this post, of a mirage in the western desert in Egypt. This is just one of my 330 or so personal stock images that continue to sell to this day. We were returning to Aswan from Abu Simbel in a coach. It stopped in the desert to allow the nomads with their camels to sell us trinkets. As I stepped off the coach it was like walking into an oven, it was certainly over 40 degrees and probably nearer 50 degrees. I had a minute or two at the most to get the shot and I used a monopod to support the lens.
Shot number two is from my first ever portrait shoot. It was taken in 1997 for OJ Lynch, an actor, TV presenter, stand up comedian and all round great guy. I took him to the Bristol waterfront for a shoot by the industrial museum and it is a location I continue to use to this day. After this session I decided I could make it as a pro photographer and I handed my notice in at the BBC. Incidentally OJ is currently starring in the Full Monty stage show in Frankfurt.
This shot of a cottage taken in 1999 won me the 2000 Ilford black and white photographer of the year. I shot it on Konica 720 medium format black and white infra red film. The 720 stands for the threshold of sensitivity at 720nM. I used my Hasselblad SWCM with it’s wonderful 38mm Biogon lens, a Hoya R72 filter and my Minolta spot meter. At that time I was using the zone system as created by Ansel Adams. I metered every significant tone in the scene and mapped out the contrast and my mid point. I then processed the film using two developers, one to process the midtones and highlights with a high actuance and one for the shadow detail. It all sounds like a bit of a pain and it was. The resulting print made in my own darkroom on Ilford Galerie fibre based paper was sublime. The product of about 2 days work and it earned me nothing bar a glass trophy and a certificate. I had been driving past this cottage for several years on my daily commute into the BBC and I had worked out the right time of day to get the shot. One of the problems I had was with a tree. It was in the wrong place growing right up against the building and obscured the cottage from the angle I wanted to shoot. So I went up there with a bow saw and after half an hour of hard work it was gone. The cottage has since been restored and I’m sure the new owners were thankful for not having to cut down the tree themselves.
Here is a list of the cameras I’ve owned:
Film Era 1984 – 2000
- Pentax SP1, 50mm Takumar
- Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm, 50mm, 105mm and 135mm Super Takumars
- Pentax ES, 35mm, 50mm, 105mm and 135mm Super Takumars
- Pentax ES11, 17mm (Tamron SP), 35mm, 50mm, 135mm Super Takumars and a 200mm Soligor
- Mamiya C330, 60mm, 80mm, 105mm and 180mm Compur Secors
- Nikon FA, 35mm, 50mm and 135mm Nikkors
- Rolleiflex twin lens reflex 80mm f/2.8 Planar
- Hasselblad 500CM, 60mm Distagon, 80mm Planar, and a 150mm Sonar
- Nikon F801s, 20mm, 35mm, 50mm and 135mm Nikkors Not a joy to use after the solid FA
- Hasselblad SWCM with a built in 38mm Biogon and separate finder
- Nikon F90, 20mm, 35-70mm, 80-200mm Nikkors
- Nikon F100, 20mm, 35-70mm, 80-200mm Nikkors. This was my favourite 35mm film camera
- Mamiya 645Pro, 35mm, 55-110 zoom, 110-220 zoom, 300mm Secors -Lasted 1 season before switching to…
- Rollei 6008, & 6006, 40mm Distagon, 60mm Distagon, 80mm Planar, 75mm-150mm Schneider zoom, 200mm
- Hasselblad Xpan, 45mm, 90mm lenses. I won this camera in a photography competition
Digital Era 2001 onwards
- Fujifilm S1, 17-35mm, 28-70mm and 80-200mm Nikkors
- Fujifilm S2, 17-35mm, 28-70mm and 80-200mm Nikkors
- Nikon D200, 17-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm Nikkors
- Hasselblad H1 with Phase One P25 back, 35mm, 80mm, 100mm, 120mm macro and 210mm Fujinon lenses
- Canon 5D, 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm
- Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm Nikkors
- Canon 5Dmk2, 21mm Zeiss, 24-70mm and 135mm Canons
- Canon 5D IR, with Nikon 14-24mm via an adapter
- Fuji X100 black
- Fuji X-Pro1 with 18mm, 35mm, 60mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses
- Fuji X-E2 with 14mm, 23mm, 35mm, 60mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses
- Fuji X-T1 with 14mm, 23mm, 35mm, 56mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses plus Fuji X-100T
- Fuji X-Pro2 with 14mm, 16mm, 23mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 56mm, 90mm, 50-140mm, 100-400mm lenses
- Fuji X-T2 with 14mm, 16mm, 23mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 56mm, 90mm, 100-400mm lenses
- Fujifilm GFX50s with 23mm, 32-64mm, 63mm, 110mm lenses
Julie and I had been shooting weddings for a few years by 2001 and it was on a commercial shoot for a hair stylist that I got to try out the then new Hasselblad H1 camera. Digital backs were still tethered at that point so I shot on Kodak Tri x Pan and developed in D76 before scanning the negs on my Linotype flat bed scanner. We had a great location to shot in in the Cotswolds and borrowed a MK1 Etype for the shoot. This shot of Mike was one of the frames I took on the H1 camera and it wasn’t long before I’d own an H1 myself.
The best bit about an Etype is it’s curvy body shape and the only way to do it justice was to get on the ground and shoot low angle. I got Mike down there too and just the process of changing the viewpoint made a masterpiece that won me the title of MPA Portrait Photographer of the Year. As a wedding and commercial photographer I took that as a compliment. Julie had won the coveted MPA Wedding Photographer or the Year the year before and that was enough of competitions for us. Done that and been there. From then on it was our customers who were going to be our judges and we stopped entering the comps and started to earn money. Shooting for customers with the same gusto and determination that I had shot for the competitions was a sure fire route to our success. From then on our shots were never going to win awards but the mortgage would get paid off.
My last picture in this feature is from a wedding Julie and I shot back in 2005. This was the height of our wedding career and the shot is typical of the Lovegrove style. If in doubt leave it out was my motto. We shot simple near minimalist images and loved every minute of it. This picture is simple and yet so strong. The ornate Ogee mouldings on the plinth and the yellow ashlar stonework are perfect elements to ‘say’ fantastic venue. I placed the couple against the dark background to split the shot in two. I then directed them to touch foreheads and it took a bit of shuffling around to set up the perfect shadow. All I needed to do then was use a high viewpoint so I held the camera over my head to take the shot after pre-focusing it first.
With so many of my best shots having been taken in the past few years, it has been hard not to be drawn to current times to choose the pictures. All throughout my career in photography I’ve pushed myself out of the comfort zone and into the path of danger. My resolve and determination to succeed have then kicked in to rescue me. In the process I’ve learned just about everything I know and I am well on the way to realising my potential.
2010 is shaping up to be my best year yet in pursuit of new challenges in photography. It kicks off for real in March after Focus on Imaging and never really stops until Christmas Eve. Why not join me on a shooting workshop, a creative day, or for a 1:1 session this year to realise your potential.
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