I recently had the privilege of encountering (and attempting to capture) the many faces of Lenny Henry. Growing up with Lenny being a household name, it was an honour to be asked by Birmingham City University to photograph him as part of their announcment of him becoming the university's new chancellor.
It is my responsibility as a portrait photographer to endeavour to document honesty above anything else. Personally, my journey into commercial photography came via the means of technical intrigue - at heart I had always been a technical photographer, striving for perfection in all that I do. I soon realised that this was not enough and my journey has changed course over the last few years, as I redirect to prioritise honesty and authenticity in my work. Naturally, however, the technical side of things has to be a given, so it's not ignoring that - just a change in priorities and adding a new layer to the work I produce.
My biggest challenge with Lenny on this shoot was that he initially didn't want to be there (he is right in the middle of a PhD!). This is not uncommon, I spend a lot of time photographing various VIPs for whom a photoshoot is an interruption to their day, and they would really rather be doing something else, somewhere else. Being a true professional and having posed for 100s of shoots through his career, Lenny quickly gave me his professional persona - which could have easily been more than fine for the job I was commissioned to do. However, it struck me that he didn't want to let me in, and that I always see as a challenge. Portrait photography is as much about rapport, reading situations and people skills as it is about a camera - I feel the majority of the work is done without looking through the viewfinder. I wasn't simply able to settle for showing the comedic, instant, professional side of Lenny as this is something that's been seen over and over - I needed to get an honest reaction out of him, to catch him off guard. Not in a manipulative way, but in a way which was real - I simply being ready to capture whatever came of that.
I'm pretty sure he left the room slightly happier than he arrived and I feel like the shot highlighted above was a snapshot into the personality beyond the methodical and professional wall that naturally needs to be there for someone in his position. Lenny is an institution and he fully deserves to be able to put up any front he likes - I just can't resist trying to peak over the wall from time to time!