Last week I started working for Camera Press, a venerable news agency which has been representing great photojournalists since 1947. I feel rather honoured that they've taken me on. I approached them as there was a photo call for a new exhibition at the V&A; I have covered them several times for Demotix and needed a new outlet. Camera Press then asked me to go on to the London Book Fair to photograph Jeffrey Archer and Julian Fellowes. I went back the following day to photograph another author, Tracey Chevalier (her new novel At The Edge of the Orchard is brilliant) and then a third time because I just absolutely had to see Judith Kerr, above.
Kerr is probably best known for her Mog the Cat books, given a new burst of publicity by being used in Sainsbury's Christmas adverts last year. I loved her book The Tiger Who Came to Tea, which I read regularly to my children when they were younger, and we even went to see the stage show. Being interviewed at the book fair she told of how her family fled Germany two days before Hitler was elected, having been warned by a family friend that their passports would be confiscated if they stayed. She wrote about this in her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, though she admitted that it was very much a child's view of things and she had not realised how stressful it was for her parents. Her life might have ended when she was 9 years old and she seems to have taken everything since then as a bonus. She is approaching her 93rd birthday, still writing despite recovering from recent hip replacement surgery. She just seemed like an utterly delightful woman and, I don't know if you can tell from this photo, but there was something of the genial look of the tiger about her -- it was most definitely a friendly, though magnificent, tiger.
She also told the story of how her father, before he was married, had rescued an orphaned seal pup in France and brought it home to Berlin in a box on the train. He arrived late at night so took it in a taxi to a restaurant so he could give it some milk. He tried to keep it on his balcony but it had grown fond of him and honked to be let in. Sadly the zoo couldn't take it and he couldn't feed it enough to keep it alive but apparently this story -- with a happier ending -- is what she is reworking for her next book. With the kind of parents who bring home a seal pup, perhaps having a tiger come to tea isn't so surprising.
Technical notes: I did a few shots of her with flash, right at the beginning. After about 10 shots I was tapped on the shoulder and asked not to use flash but I sat on the floor clicking away throughout her 30 minute interview. I upped my ISO to 800 and despite using a longish lens (200mm) managed to shoot at 1/80th of a second because I was balancing the lens on my knee, so managed to avoid camera shake. I uploaded the colour photos via my laptop at the fair but when I got home I converted a few to B&W, which I think gives a more timeless look. Its a bit of a shame about the microphone (I got one shot at the end when she'd taken it off) but then again it shows an elderly woman in a modern world and a public speaking role so there's no harm in that.
Anna Watson: photographer, parent, juggler