Becoming a photographer:
At 19 years old, my dad died suddenly from cancer and my entire childhood came to a dead stop. I didn’t process it at all, and it was only a year later that the grief that I hadn’t let out was hitting me, and I was having this quite big mental collapse. I was at art school studying sculpture, and on one particular bleak day I walked out, and I bumped into Andy Warhol. I happened to have my dad’s camera round my neck and I was wanting to photograph things, but there was Andy Warhol! So, I took some pictures of him. That was what set me on what has become a 40-year journey of seeking out famous people that I wanted to meet, and explaining the situation, can I take their photo and use the photos to raise money for The Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital, which is where my dad died.
Everybody said ‘why are they going to come to your bedroom? You’re not a photographer, why are they going to sit in your bedroom with a camera?’ and they all said yes.
Why laughing is so important:
It occurred to me that these stories are quite interesting, so I now put them on YouTube and call it ‘Portraits for a Purpose’, and each week I tell a new story. But it also occurred to me that maybe I could get today’s contemporary famous faces, sound them out and see if they’d like to continue this project.
I was photographing Catherine Mayer, who started the Women’s Equality Party and she mentioned the Eve project. When I looked at the Eve project, I saw you, who’s hiding behind the camera here and thought you were really funny. It occurred to me that all the photography I have done has tried to make people laugh, because I suppose my ‘cancer message’ is that laughter is not going to cure you, but it’s a uniquely human, fantastic way to cope with all the oddities that life throws at you.
Getting over embarrassment:
What I like about all these projects, Eve especially, is that I think it actually does boil down to the fact that men have been intimidated, and have used their physical strength to overcome this intimidation they have, where they are scared of talking about things that affect women.
What would I say to a man who’s embarrassed or awkward talking about gynaecological things and all that, I’d say I’m one of those people because I get embarrassed really easily, I’m incredibly shy and awkward. It’s mainly because you don’t understand things, so the best thing is listening to comedy or illuminating talk about these issues so they become just every day topics. Karen, who’s hiding behind the camera is very good at ‘let’s all laugh together about these things, and let’s get as gross with our language as we possibly can’. We can then all come back to a level where we’ve said ‘oh yeah we did have a good laugh about that, but now we can all talk about it.’