not so oddie

In a strange twist of events. MIKE BROWNE finds himself at the home of TV presenter, twitcher and ex-Goodie, Bill Oddie having a chat and capturing the man behind the binoculars Bill Oddie and I have the same agent, David Foster, and this project all began during a hurried meeting in November when David suggested putting me forward for a slot on the Gadget Show. As the least gadgety photographer on planet Earth, I couldnhelp but let out a bit of a groan. David assumed that as a photographer I d be into technology, but the truth is I can hardly tell you what a pixel is, never mind rave passionately about one. So he asked me what I considered my strengths to be. Over the years Iphotographed hundreds of weddings for clients from all ends of the social spectrum and if thereone thing weddings can teach you about its people. Whether you live on a council estate or in a castle there are certain fundamental issues and concerns going on for the rich, the poor and the famous alike. If ever therea time when you need to be able to get inside someone elsehead and help them feel good about themselves itgoing to be on a wedding shoot, and Ifound itsomething I have a talent for. So the idea for a possible TV format was born. For the broadcast proposal I was to visit a celebrity in their own home and literally have a chat with them and get them to show themselves to me in a new and different light, all whilst being filmed by my TV producer partner Jayne Whitelock. Bill was an obvious choice because apart from him being an easy contact, his persona is already fixed in the public eye. The idea was to see if that persona was real. On top of that our agent has got plenty of pictures of Bill with binoculars round his neck, and he wanted something a little different too. The shoot was to be a ’camera approach, shot in a documentary style with available light and no staged shots. Ibeen told Billhouse is a bit dark and this was adding to the butterflies I always have before a shoot. What if I stuff up the pictures? What if therea camera malfunction? What if Billa pain in the butt and doesnwant to play ball? What if? What if? When I was learning the ropes my mentor said the day thereno fear is the day to give up being a photographer —and I agree with him. The nervous energy gives me a shot of adrenalin which carries me through the initial stages of a shoot and as I find my feet confidence sweeps in and I start to enjoy it. Saying Billhouse is a bit dark is rather like saying Bemie Ecclestone can spare a Fiver! It was a very dark, overcast day and as I photographed Bill searching for (and having trouble finding) tea bags, shutter speeds were often around l/25sec and f/2.8, despite ISO 2000. Jayne was having similar problems with her Canon XF300 video camera. My biggest problem was multitasking —I am a man after all! There were all the usual issues an on-the-fly shoot throws up, and I was trying to do a Piers Morgan-style interview at the same time. My images had to match Jaynefootage or the two couldnbe edited together. Setting up staged shots after the filming would have lost the spontaneity. I also had to avoid getting Jayne in the images. Luckily I didnhave to ask Bill many questions, because once he was rolling he just kept going. He offered to show us around his home which is packed with memorabilia from show biz and from his personal life. Passing through a passageway he pointed out drawings on a wall made by his daughters when they were 10 or 12 years old, explaining that has kept them up there for years”. I was so busy trying to capture the look of pride and love on his face that I wasnlistening properly and didnthink to ask who Laura was for the film. Interestingly, Bill hardly ever looked at me when I had the camera up to my eye which I found strange for someone whospent a life in show business. The only way to get him to look at me was to take the camera away from my eye. I got the feeling that hea very private man despite being surprisingly open about some aspects of his life, such as the fact that he has suffered from depression. Music is a massive part of Billlife. Hebest known for his comedy songs, such as Ooh Ooh Ooh —The Funky Gibbon, but this is only his public persona. Whenever therea pause Bill disappears into a world of American blues and jazz and within seconds hehumming softly or singing quietly under his breath. He played the drums and harmonica for us and instantly he was transported to only he knows where. Billtiny garden is another passion which has evolved over many years. And I do mean evolved. Thereno design to it, just a lifetime of collecting odds and ends that take his fancy, crammed together in a kind of organized chaos. Each lantern, garden gnome and bird box has Bill s identity stamped indelibly into it and is a memory of some time or place of importance to him. These are the things I wanted to capture because as photographers itvery easy for us to turn people into something other than who they are. Ialways very careful about deliberately posing people and have found that left to their own devices they often do something much more interesting than anything I could have come up with. Even when shooting a portrait, I prefer to direct rather than pose by first moving them into position, then getting them relaxed and off-guard by having a conversation with them. For me, the buzz is in capturing a little piece of someone frozen in a moment of time. So were my fears realised? When it came to the light they most definitely were and I lost a lot of potential images to camera shake. Inever comfortable until the raws are processed, and even then often have to revisit them a couple of times before Isatisfied. We only had an hour and a half to get to know a complete stranger. I would have liked to have had more time to get to know Bill better and capture more of the fun, mischievous side he displayed whilst we were getting set up. Jayne and I learned a lot on this shoot and if we do it again webe setting up in the car first. It also brought home to me the importance of having equipment that can cope with anything that a professional can throw at it, from bad weather to slightly reluctant TV personalities in very dark houses. But, most importantly, I need to ask one question: did I manage to capture a bit of the ’Bill Oddie in his home environment? Yes, I believe I did.

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