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Jumbos Full of Mangoes
Cameraman Chris Morphet on the importance of Mangoes to his focus:
Yes I do love it when English asparagus starts to appear, and even go and pick my own at Copas Farms near Pinewood Studios, and the cherries that will arrive at my local farmers market in a month or so are absolutely stunning. And what’s not to like, as these are all home-grown and devoid of air miles. However from April to June – heralded by jumbos crammed full of boxes from Mumbai – there is the impossible-to-disregard arrival of maybe the tastiest and most luscious mangoes in the world, from India.
Alphonsos and Kesars. Both are brilliant. I have regularly gone to my favourite choice, Kingsbury Fruit and Veg, a few stops’ Freedom Pass journey on the Jubilee Line.
It’s a lively, bustling shop full of many varieties of fruit and veg (no problem with your 5 a day here) and during mango season boxes of mangos often head-high are piled up out on the pavement. Right now Alphonsos seem to be in decline, but Kesars are still perfect even though they look much greener.
If you buy 3 boxes they are about £7 a box with 12 mangoes in them. What all this has got to do with camerawork none can tell, but after a lifetime of shooting documentaries and many projects for Proudfoots, loving mangoes and appreciating the atmosphere at Kingsbury will somehow influence and improve what I shoot.
I could list and bore you with many other seemingly obscure places, things and activities that fuel my love of camerawork, but as the season comes to a close, I do recommend making the effort to taste some mangoes before the season ends. Are they art? Yes! These fruity still-lifes would inspire Matisse as they do an old cameraman.
Posted by Eddie on June 3rd 2013 at 6.02pm
Kite Flyers and the Hindu Kush
Jeremy Llewellyn-Jones and Mike James formed the very able team who filmed for us in Kabul in April. Below is Jeremy’s evocative account of the trip:
I’ve always wanted to go to Afghanistan. Mind you, I’ve always wanted to go to most places, an adventure bug inherited from my father. So in April 2013 cameraman Mike James and I found ourselves wallowing in the almost empty rear section of a giant Emirates Airbus on our way to Kabul via Dubai. After a long and sleepless day and night with a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’, we were transported into the early morning rush hour of Kabul, driven by Hoshang with Idriss as our fixer. We didn’t know it until the day before we left but Hoshang weaved through the dusty madness after what must have been a sleepless night for him too – he’d just become a father.
The drive in was like a strange science fiction film that confuses time. Everywhere there were soldiers, militia, private security men all bundled up in helmets and body amour, all toting AK-47s. In a radical design development since my last trip to a war zone, they no longer tape their spare magazines together for a quick swap – their body armour comes with five magazine sized pouches. Mr. Toyota must be rubbing his hands as the queues of steel we were stuck in seemed to come from one of his factories.
Getting in to the inner sanctum of our hotel, the poshest in town, was like processing through a system of airlocks with giant steel barriers that blocked off escape. First barrier, check the vehicle reg and the number of occupants. Next: a mirror inspection under the car and a poke under the bonnet. Third: all out, leave the doors open to allow a giant dog to sniff for explosives. Back in the car, through a massive steel door and once the door was closed, we all bailed out again, took our kit and went through airport-style security. Mike’s new camera was spared a zapping – he just had to show it worked. Mike found this reassuring, me less so. Not once did I see the men and women at the final check look at the screen and examine their X-ray image and three of the gun toting guards at the barriers were so severely cross eyed they’d never have known what to aim at if it all kicked off.
The hotel was quiet, wi-fi everywhere, suited security men with earpieces posted in all corners and the occasional flurry of government ministers and senior military. Once in we couldn’t get out without our local team – strangely isolating like an anechoic chamber.
When we left to go filming, we always took a different route. Kidnapping is on the increase and Idriss our fixer was sensibly cautious. I spent a year-and-a-half filming in Sarajevo during the siege in 1994-95 and the war there was all around us. Shelling, bullets pinging in the dust at my feet, pitched battle almost every night about 50 metres away. My hearing has never fully recovered from a mortar explosion. In Kabul, we didn’t once hear the chatter of a Kalashnikov, there were no explosions during our stay, we occasionally saw military helicopters. But there are concrete blast walls everywhere, armed guards and razor wire surround every building and there are constant reminders of IEDs and suicide bombs. The city seems to be living on paranoia, fear and suspicion, in many ways more scary.
In the middle of all this we filmed Selene Biffi’s school and her wonderful students; mostly young women, who make the long and often dangerous journey to come and learn. They all want to be doctors or engineers or work in the media, and maybe they will, but a big memory for me was the constant laughing and joking, probably at our expense. Strong, handsome faces with a determination to be Afghanistan’s future. Hats off to Selene too, a determined, brave and passionate woman who wants to make a difference and who has witnessed personal tragedy during her time in Afghanistan.
Friday was our last day of filming and in the afternoon, after the people of Kabul had been to the mosque, Idriss and Hoshang took us to a hilltop overlooking the city. On one side the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, on the other the kite flyers of Kabul. Once banned, the kite flyers are back, jousting high in the sky trying to cut the lines of their fellow pilots. Occasionally one of the flimsy kites tumbles to earth, only to be gathered up by street kids, repaired then hauled back into the sky. Magical.
I was desperate to ask to fly one but didn’t. I’ll just have to go back, fly a kite and head into the mountains.
Posted by Eddie on May 20th 2013 at 10.51am
A View From Kabul
The following post is brought to you by Mike James, cameraman extraordinaire, who filmed for us in Afghanistan in early April:
Recently returned from a Proudfoot shoot in Kabul, Afghanistan, I felt moved to put pen to paper and hijack the Proudblog for a bit.
The country itself is in a mess. Everywhere you look there are heavily armed police and army units sitting in their Toyota pickups in tin hats and body armour. The public buildings resemble fortresses surrounded by five-metre-high concrete blast walls and watch towers. Our Hotel was much the same; guarded by men in body armour and Kalashnikovs. Each evening we would drive through a checkpoint, get out of the car to let the sniffer dog look for bombs, go through another huge gate in the wall, through the X-ray machine and finally switch my camera on and off to prove it was real – tedious but somewhat reassuring.
Apart from all the military presence and constant risk of kidnap, I didn’t come across a single person who did not seem friendly. Granted, we got a few strange looks from bearded men in felt hats, but hey, have you seen me with Jeremy! They were curious but always ended up smiling, either practicing their English on us, or saying “Salam”.
The school that we were there to film and the woman who ran it held the biggest surprise for me. The students ranged from 16 to 30 years old and they were an inspiration; some of them having to travel for over an hour and a half to get there. They arrived in dribs and drabs, most of them soaked to the skin because of the rain, but all of them with smiling, shy faces and a hunger for knowledge. Most were students at university fitting this school into their spare time. They aspired to become Doctors, Engineers and Politicians, and these were just the young women. The more we filmed, the more confident they became. They learnt about setting out CVs, did some drama exercises and practised their English. Some of them were confident enough to sit in front of the camera and tell us some traditional Afghan stories, which is one of the main points to the school.
This is the next generation in Afghanistan, and despite all the problems they are having now (and next year when we pull out) it gave me hope that maybe one day…
Posted by Eddie on April 23rd 2013 at 1.08pm
Music in every sound
Since beginning work at Proudfoot I have found myself much more aware of background noise, wondering where it could come in handy. For example, the ringing echo in the ginnel near the office chimes out a pitch bend of three semitones, up or down depending if you’re walking to or from the station. I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to shoehorn an alleyway glissando into a Proudfoot film, but it serenades me whenever I walk to work in high heels.
I was lucky enough to film at Ironbridge recently, capturing a snapshot of the vibrant and fascinating Blist’s Hill Victorian Town museum. Quite apart from the visual spectacle – costumed actor/interpreters and faithfully-reproduced shopfronts and dwellings – what really struck me was the soundtrack of the place. The pit-head lift was driven by a steam engine, which clanked and whirred in a solid, dependable sort of way until the steam was let off with a whoosh like percolating a whole vat of coffee in an echo chamber. A policeman’s bicycle bell and the whirr of the wheels evoked the ‘friendly village life’ establishers of every rural murder mystery ever written, and the potently nostalgic ticking of the hand-wound Singer sewing machine is reputed to have reduced grown men to tears. The carousel organ at the fairground and the singalong at the Victorian pub were accompanied by birdsong, and the whole place seemed acutely alive.
What we hear often fades into the background of our lives; increasingly, we block it out with the playlist of our own choosing. But as I begin to listen more carefully, I am astonished to find music in the most ordinary of sounds.
Posted by Eddie on April 15th 2013 at 10.12am
Mr Wright and Mr Wright
Absence from the blog means I’ve been busy distracted by other things – here we are in 2013 and the company is very nearly ten years old. Highlights from the end of 2012 involved me visiting Taiwan to film the lovely Mr Lin Hwai Min and his wonderful Cloud Gate dancers, filming the amazing Nanopatch inventor, Mark Kendall, in Brisbane (‘I lived the dream, mate’) and almost being shipwrecked off the coast of California in shark-infested waters. Yes, it’s an eventful life of fun and creativity, seeing the world and being a long way from home sometimes. Last week I went home, my original home, a small village twelve miles north of Lincoln, on the way back from getting a couple of shots for our upcoming BBC4 doc on Nic Jones. I was driving right past the turn-off to my village and just had to go and look at the place that formed me before I was formed. There are three turn-offs, as if you needed to re-think the decision and pass on to somewhere more interesting. The village is pretty much the same – crumbling a bit and behind the familiar old facades are some new builds, but it remains essentially the same – no pub, no shop, the one-bus-a-day place it was in the sixties.
I stopped the car on Chapel Lane to take a picture of the crumbling barn I walked or pedalled past every day from the age of about four to fifteen. Then I turned around to see the workshop of Mr Wright and his son Mr Wright, and was reminded of myself aged four. Mr Wright’s workshop hasn’t changed at all, a two-story orangey-red brick building stretching back into the nettles. In days of my childhood, a four year-old could wave goodbye to his mum in the morning and rove free until lunchtime, when he would return home for baked beans on toast. Mr Wright was one of my ‘friends’ along with Mrs Cash, an old lady whose son never returned from the Great War. Mrs Cash used to have me round for tea in her tiny cottage, she cooked lovely cakes on a proper coal-fired range.
Mr Wright was probably a bit impatient with me and worried about me getting too close to his circular saw, no danger of that as I was scared stiff of it even when it was switched off. I remember this one day in particular, I wandered down to the Wright’s workshop and both Mr Wrights were outside putting the final touches to what looked, to a four year-old, like a boat with a blunt bow. I said “Is that a boat you are building Mr Wright?” The old silver-haired Mr Wright continued to plane the craft and said, “Yes, kind of”. The young Mr Wright, a handsome, tall chap with jet-black hair never spoke as far as I remember. “It’s a funny-looking boat Mr Wright” said I. “It’s a special kind of boat” said old Mr Wright turning to his son, I think I saw him wink. “Where will you sail your boat Mr Wright?” I said, walking a little closer and thinking it would be just right for one or two people my size, “will you sail it on the lake…?” Mr Wright stopped planing and looked back at me “This boat is special because it’s made to sink.” “Oh, like a submarine,” I said. “Kind of,” said Mr Wright returning to his work. I wasn’t really satisfied with Mr Wright’s answer, I probably begged some off-cuts and got out of his hair.
It took a few years for me to realise that they were making a coffin. In those days the local carpenter was also the undertaker and it was just part of his everyday business to knock up a coffin when needed. One other interesting thing about Mr Wright’s workshop was that it had a loft with a wobbly ladder that led to it.
From the ground floor you could just see the spindles and carved curves of old cartwheels. Mr Wright’s family had been there for many generations; in a previous life they had made wagon wheels and presumably wagons (also useful for funerals).
Our newest recruit is Miss Helena Wright who is very efficient and speaks French and Russian. Like Mr Wright and Mr Wright she quietly gets on with the task in hand, unruffled by the banter and bad language that sometimes surrounds her quiet planing.
Posted by Eddie on February 15th 2013 at 6.26pm