Whenever we are introduced to new people, within a few minutes we seem to automatically ask each other, ‘what do you do?’
So in my case I sometimes find it awkward to say I am a photographer, simply because they so often say ‘do you do weddings?’ As soon as I mention the superstars I have photographed, people light up with almost a glazed look.
Yes I have had some very glamorous times and have some amazing stories to tell but the superstars I work with are still just people like you and me. They are ordinary but with an inner desire to be great at something, which indeed they have achieved in an extraordinary way, they are therefore are too often looked upon as super human.
However when you get behind the showbiz mask the stars still fill the kettle at the tap, squeeze tea bags and do all the things we do daily.
I remember knocking on Michael Caine’s door; and he said ‘Oh hello there, I guess you are Duncan, fancy a cupper and a bacon roll?‘
He was so normal; it was as if I had known him for years, we just sat there with mugs of tea and all he wanted to know about was my life, and where I bought my shoes; this acting genius was being himself and was so comfortable in his own skin.
Back in 1997 I felt celebrity photography had become so predictable, every magazine around the world featured beautifully posed pictures, gorgeous portraits of stars at home in a kitchen or by their pool. These pictures seemed manufactured with artists looking so perfect; who were these people behind the carefully manicured image?
When the British pop awards were on, I knew Elton and Madonna were appearing and I hoped I would get a chance to take a different style of picture.
I had recently bought a really funny toy, it was a talking parrot, when you spoke near it, the parrot would repeat what you said twice. It always made people laugh out loud so I put it in a sports bag with a vintage 1950s camera. Backstage at the awards there is security outside all of the artists dressing rooms so it is difficult to get to talk to them. I did not want to speak to a publicist so I waited until they were going to rehearsals and then nervously asked Madonna and Elton John if I could photograph them. Elton said 'well you have me for 60 seconds.' I posed them together then took out my talking parrot and within seconds had them both crying with laughter with this talking parrot. I then dared to ask Elton to open his shirt and these pictures were published all over the world, simply by taking a few props to the awards, and doing one thing we often don't do in life, ASK.
After I took these, a rather smooth looking man approached me and said ‘you seem to be a little different to the other photographers, I liked what you did there.’
His name was Roger Davis, Tina Turner's manager and he said that Tina Turner was launching a new album and asked if I had any ideas on how to photograph her in a different way? Off the cuff I suggested photographing her from dawn to dusk, a day in Tina's life in black and white, capturing the human side of this superstar.
The next day my mobile rang and it was Tina Turner's infamous publicist Bernard Docherty and he said 'Roger really likes your idea to photograph a day in the life of Tina.' Bernard then said to me, 'how much would your fee be?' and I said 'well, as this is a unique way to photograph I will give you my time for free on the understanding that if Tina likes the photographs, you will approve a selection of the pictures for worldwide publication.'
Bernard then said 'well that's really kind of you and a bit of a risk on your part. This is the first time a photographer has offered to do something for free!' However, I felt this was a golden opportunity for me to hopefully capture an artist in a different light and there was no guarantee this style of fly on the wall photography would work.
7am the next day, I was in a hotel suite in London having breakfast with Tina, she was in her dressing gown. We were going to Paris for the day on her jet!
I had never met Tina and here I was eating croissants in her room and like Michael Cain she was very ordinary but obviously extraordinary. I guess it is a confidence in who you are – you don’t have to put on an act – she was just herself; so natural.
Within 5 minutes of meeting her I began taking pictures, it was really quite surreal. I then shot a few pictures of her packing her case.
It was 8am and Tina’s driver was late so when we arrived at the private jet terminal we all had to run for the plane. It’s funny, there was no passport control just more coffee and croissants, then we were on Tina's plane.
On the plane, I was telling Tina a few jokes, here she is laughing and then she fell asleep. It was a strange feeling being next to her asleep but a rather beautiful picture.
Within 50 minutes we landed in Paris and again no passport control, we ran from the plane to a Mercedes and then zoomed into Paris with the French paparazzi racing next to us trying to shoot Tina through the car window. We arrived at the Ritz Hotel and Tina ran from the car as her security pushed away photographers.
At the hotel, Tina had around 25 pairs of shoes delivered and then she put some tracks on from her new album.
I asked her to dance and spin around as if on a catwalk, the light was really low so these pictures have a little blur, however, I do love these photographs.
FLASH BACK: Just to say that back in 1997 when I took these pictures I was having to use film as the world of digital did not really exist. You could not take endless pictures as you can today because a film only had 36 pictures on a roll. Can you imagine the frustration of having to stop and rewind the film, take it out of the camera, put in another roll of film plus you could not see your pictures on a rear screen. Also shooting indoors I had to use very low shutter speeds, which is why some of the pictures have a blur and a grainy feel.
In hindsight I prefer this to digital, there is something magical about film that digital lacks, also using film made you edit in the camera so we were more careful taking a picture and you thought more about the subject you were photographing. Today every one is so obsessed about the quality of images and the mega pixel size, this is not what makes a great photograph, it is the content in the photograph that makes a wonderful picture. As I advise so many, a great picture comes from your heart and personality, the camera is just your paintbrush and sadly no trendy camera will take the picture for you it still has to be painted and created.
Around 2 pm Tina suggested we go for a walk, or a Tina wander as she put it, meaning clothes shopping like all girls!
After an hour shopping Tina suggested we get something to eat. I was thinking of a posh restaurant, however, Tina wanted some ordinary food that you just can't get in top hotels. She went into a patisserie, bought French sticks and goats cheese and we went to a park to sit and relax. It was all a bit surreal but superstars are just like us, they all do ordinary things.
Later in the afternoon we went to visit a recording studio as Tina was recording a track for her new album and wow Tina's voice was just mesmerizing. I felt so privilaged to be in her company, it is when you are this close to a superstar that you realise they are one of those people that have practiced all their life to become extraordinary. Tina had a special aura, her presence, charisma and the 50 years of practice had made her become an iconic star. It was here I shot these candid portraits.
Back to London and Tina took us for a Chinese, or rather she rang someone and got a Knightsbridge restaurant to open for us, it was midnight! As we left I was asked if I would like to come to a few concerts over the next few days.
Just to say my risk to photograph this for free was well worth the effort as Tina's manager Roger and her publicist Bernard loved the picutures and approved a set for worldwide publication. The photographs appeared in glossy magazines around the world and were used in Tina's tour program. This led to photographing a day in the life of several other superstars including the Rolling Stones which again I shot for free. I think the lesson here is, sometimes it is good to do things for free as it is only time.
A few days later Tina was performing live where she lit up the crowd with a thundering performance, what a star! Looking back if I had not taken a talking toy parrot and an old camera to the awards I would never have got to spend 4 days with the incredible Miss Tina Turner.