[This article originally appeared on the Amy Johnson Festival 2016 blog, a day in the life of festival photographer Jerome Whittingham @photomoments]
A couple of Saturday mornings ago, I was sitting on the top deck of the number 66 bus making my way into town to Zebedee’s Yard to photograph ‘Altitude’ by the Urban Playground Team – more on them shortly. On the upstairs front seat of the bus – the best seat in my opinion – were two young children; a brother and sister and their dad. As we passed moth number 35 on Boothferry Road, ‘Red Letter Days’ by artist Isaac Acheampong, the children’s chatter quickly turned to excited pleas to dad for a day of moth hunting. In a single moment, two children had been switched on to the idea of learning through art about our city’s famous aviatrix. Even dad looked pleased.
That set me thinking – what makes a great Amy Johnson Festival for everyone?
Those moths are a good start. At last, I can begin to enjoy them as art. Several weeks ago, I confess, my feelings towards them were rather different. The ‘secret’ moth warehouse, or ‘moth central’ was the venue for a mammoth photo shoot, preparing all moth images for the festival literature. Over two days I photographed all 59 moths in all their shining shininess, some with added mirror-tiles too. Then, for the following two weeks I got to know each moth in pixel-by-pixel detail, slavishly switching between magnetic lasso and selection brush tools in photoshop, cutting around each bump, and eyelash, and ‘antler’. Can we have a festival of regular dull shapes next time, do you think?
The moths look great now they’ve taken flight and landed around the city. They’re an engaging way to introduce us to aspects of Amy Johnson’s life – and that’s what I see as my remit as festival photographer, to photograph the spirit of Amy herself.
The Urban Playground Team, an ensemble of ‘performance-parkour’ dancers, expressed something of the danger and thrill in Amy’s life with their show ‘Altitude’. I’m glad I saw this show more than once, perhaps the first time around I was too attracted to the parkour itself – the dangerous acrobatics and jumping off stuff. Photographing dance and theatre is a challenge I love, capturing moments when choreography and facial expressions collide to create a key frame in the story being told – a fraction of a second later and the meaning is lost. On my second viewing it was the moments of tenderness, and humour, and humanity in the story that had most poignancy. Amy’s life was not all thrills at altitude and champagne landings, there were deeply human personal struggles and anxieties too.
Capturing the character of a person in a photograph, not least when that person cannot be standing in front of you, is a seemingly impossible task for a portrait photographer. It helps to get close to objects that the subject used to own and love. Amy’s car, a 1933 Standard Avon adorned with every top-of-the-range addition available at the time of manufacture, was in the festival yard this last weekend. What a little beauty! There are memories in objects, and being a capable engineer herself, one could feel Amy’s presence in the whirr of the engine, the smell of oil, and well-worn racing-green leatherwork. A photo-collage seemed to me to be the best way of capturing this. I can only imagine what photographing Amy’s beloved plane, Jason, with this same collage technique would be like.
Perhaps I’ll write another festival blog entry in a month or so. For the moment we’re roughly halfway through our festival experiences. A sky full of kites, drone school, golden aeroplanes on sticks, musical journeys, 75 second films, flying machines, shiny moths, and a shiny metal ball that swings erratically under coloured light. Are these what make a great Amy Johnson Festival? Maybe.
Most days my work gets summarised in 1/250th of a second. I hope they’re sometimes the right 1/250th of a second for you, capturing moments that will help your festival memories last so much longer.
Amy is in these photographs.