Lord Snowdon by Koto Bolofo
Published by Steidl, February, 2012
The Sunday Times Magazine, 50th Anniversary
Saatchi Gallery, London, UK. 31st January – 19th February, 2012. Closed 11-14th February
The Steidl press release for Koto Bolofo’s photographic portrayal of Antony Armstrong-Jones, Lord Snowdon, arrived in my inbox almost simultaneously with an invitation to a party for the opening of an exhibition at London’s prestigious Saatchi Gallery, celebrating 50 years of The Sunday Times Magazine.
In July 1979, when I arrived as a freelance designer at The Sunday Times Magazine – The Magazine – as everyone who worked on it called it, Snowdon’s name – like Bailey, like Donovan, like even Parkinson, who all had names consisting only of a single word – was never used with ‘Lord’ in front of it. Those on familiar terms with him called him Tony. He’d had some sort of contractual agreement with The Magazine from the 1960s up until 1990 and had had a studio built to his specifications on the flat roof of The Sunday Times building in Gray’s Inn Road. There was a complex, sculpted bronze balustrade at the top of the stairs that faced the lift doors that he had, apparently, produced.
Donald McCullin, sometimes called simply McCullin, was Don to everyone in the office. He was on staff and every so often, between trips to any one of the world’s hazardous war zones came in to show Michael Rand, the magazine’s legendary art director, a new set of contact prints. There was a tradition that every few years the magazine staff would be gathered together for a big group portrait. Some time in the mid-80s Snowdon was asked to shoot one of these and Don became its unwitting star.
I had, a few years before, been taken on to the staff myself which had expanded so much that the party that trekked across town from Wapping – where the magazine had been relocated – to the studio Snowdon was using at Chelsea Wharf, was restricted to only members of the art department and picture desk. With the shoot in mind and the idea of our being captured for posterity, although none of us were particularly dressed up, we’d all I think, nevertheless made a bit of an effort that day. The photographer, dressed almost exactly as he appears in Bolofo’s portrait, above, was smaller than I had expected, quite jolly and had a relaxed demeanour, greeting our group in the manner of a kindly schoolmaster at a parents’ meeting. An enormous piece of rather grubby-looking fabric had been spread out on the floor. We stepped on to it, arranged ourselves on the assortment of white boxes that had been put there for us to sit on or stand beside, and were gently and politely re-arranged, asked to look at the camera and not to smile. With little other fuss a few rolls of film were shot off. Group shots being notoriously difficult to get right or be creative with, most photogrpahers would have been satisfied just to have got something decent. But now we were asked – this time with an impish little smirk – to reach down and grab the cloth and to haul it over ourselves in such a way that only our heads were visible. The fabric smelled as ugly as it looked but, good sports all, albeit with some apprehension, we gritted our teeth and did as we were bidden. A little necessary tweaking and re-arranging was done, a few more pictures taken and we returned to the office.
A week or so later Gunn Brinson, then deputy picture editor, walked from one desk to another handing each of us a stiffened brown envelope with Please Do Not Bend printed on it. Inside each were two nicely-printed, black and white photographs slightly tinted brown, one of us with, one without the smelly tarpaulin wrapping. In the cleverly composed and second picture – easily the most interesting – stood Don resembling, as each of us did, an ancient Roman statue. I like to think this was uncontrived but eerily, he had what appeared to be a bullet hole in the chest area of his rumpled toga and another in the thigh.
Images, top: The photograph is put through the chemical baths under a red light so as not to affect the photo-sensitive paper, 13th November 2009.
Snowdon sits before his prized tool cupboard in his London home, 28th January 2010.
The first floor toilet, stained glass window designed by Snowdon. The walls are papered with the proofs of his book A View of Venice.
All taken from Lord Snowdon by Koto Bolofo published by Steidl/www.steidlville.com
Group above, left to right, back row: James Danziger, Ian Denning, Gunn Brinson, Kate Crook (nee Newman), picture desk secretary (name to come), Don McCullen. Middle row: Vincent page, John Tennant, Michael Rand’s secretary Jane (surname forgotten). Front row: Lucy Sisman, Michael Rand, Gilvrie Mistear, Pedro Silmon. Photograph by Snowdon, circa 1985
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