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Lensman to the stars: Tony Buckingham

PUBLISHED: 11:50 23 October 2008 | UPDATED: 09:12 13 July 2010

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to photographer Tony Buckingham, who has snapped celebrities ranging from Phil Collins, Bryan Ferry and Michael Jackson, to Jerry Springer, Elliot Gould and Whoopi Goldberg.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to photographer Tony Buckingham, who has snapped celebrities ranging from Phil Collins, Bryan Ferry and Michael Jackson, to Jerry Springer, Elliot Gould and Whoopi Goldberg. But while he says his subjects have, on the whole, been keen on his ideas for props and backgrounds, one notoriously bad-tempered millionaire chef was not quite so impressed . . .

After leaving school, Tony, who hails from Dunstable, Bedfordshire, enrolled on a graphic design course, but left half way through his studies to take a job processing and printing film at a London art studio.

He spent 12 years working in various darkrooms in the city, before, tired of commuting to work every day, he decided to sell his house and set up home on a boat on Camden Lock.

Tony's photographic talents were spotted when, while working at The Independent newspaper as a typographic printer, he and his fellow darkroom staff decided to put up a display of their own work.

Impressed with his camera skills, the paper began sending him on picture assignments, and, as his reputation as a top-notch photographer grew, Tony started landing work from publications including The Daily Telegraph, London newspaper the Evening Standard and street magazine The Big Issue.

As well as producing pictures to accompany features on topics ranging from property to the countryside, Tony now regularly takes photos of celebrities in their homes, or on location.

Past subjects have included rock stars from Rod Stewart to Rolling Stone Charlie Watts, TV personalities from Jamie Oliver to Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, film stars from X-Files actress Gillian Anderson to Oscar-winner Rachel Weitsz and artists from Sir Peter Blake to Tracey Emin, while locations have ranged from the home of rock legend Sir Elton John to the Monaco Grand Prix.

Life snapping the rich and famous is not all glitz and glamour however, and while he says some celebrities have been a pleasure to work with, Tony, 46, admits others have made his job difficult.

He recalls being kept waiting for 3 hours by one British film actress; having another glamorous star turn up with a 12-strong entourage; being forced to share a bed with a journalist while on assignment at the MTV awards and, after painstakingly setting up a photo shoot for a hugely successful restaurateur and TV personality - whom he asked to pose on a sofa - being told to, “Think of something else, big boy.”

To see more of Tony Buckingham's work, visit www.tonybuckingham.com

What is the best thing about your job?

The huge variety; from photographing celebrities on location or in their homes, to taking pictures of vintage cars, or wading across marshes to meet nature wardens, anything is possible - and probable! And although I just see celebrities as ordinary people, the one time I was tongue-tied was when the 1970s war photographer Don McCullin walked into the darkroom at The Independent. I have always been in awe of him and I just sort of said, 'You're Don McCullin!'”

And the worst?

Time restraints - having ten, five or even fewer minutes to photograph someone, produce a variety of shots, and look like I know what I'm doing! Also, many assignments can be last-minute, so it is sometimes difficult to arrange family life around that.

If your house was on fire, what is the one possession you would save?

The obvious one really - pictures of my children growing up. I always take family pictures on film with prints as digital ones won't last. Most people rarely print their digital pictures and I can't imagine future generations gathering around Grandad's laptop!

Where do you go to unwind?

To the beach, maybe Mundesley or West Runton, crab fishing with my wife and children.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

Can I say the café at Overstrand, not architecturally - fine building that it is - just as a great place to be in, either on a sunny day or with the wind howling from the 'German' sea outside.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I can be a bit too laid-back and optimistic. Although I do sometimes get stressed-out, I usually think everything will work out, so perhaps I should be a bit more proactive.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Yes, but the polaroids were destroyed!

What is your greatest achievement?

That I do a job I love and still have family time.

And your proudest moment?

My children's births and every day with them.

Who do you most admire?

John Cage, an avant-garde composer who, in 1952, produced a piece that was 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. It was often taken as a joke at the time, but the idea was that you really listen to the sound in your environment and find that interesting and beautiful. If you apply that visually as well, then everything becomes interesting. Cage ploughed his own course and stuck to his principles, sometimes performing to near-riotous audiences. I also admire anyone who can safely identify wild mushrooms!

What makes you angry?

Intolerance and narrow-mindedness.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Books: anything by Henry Thoreau, particularly Walden, his reflection on simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, which was a major influence on Gandhi and his passive resistance. I'm not a film fan at all, but on TV, I like Flight of the Conchords or Peep Show for comedy, and I've finally kicked my Coronation Street habit!

How would you like to be remembered?

Just by my family as trying to do my best and listen to everyone.


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