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Taylor-Bramley moments

Photo call in
photographer David Taylor-Bramley next generation
text Shalini Seth photographs David Taylor-Bramley


When he first came to Dubai, commercial

everyone in national dress was a prince. A couple of years later, he is concerned with keeping up with the fast changing skyline as well as the rise of the

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ricardo Cinalli: Alexandra Palace 1986 “A grumpy, eccentric but very talented painter from Argentina commissioned me to do this at Ally Pally. I met him through a friend. I went down with a film cameraman to watch his installation in Alexandra Palace. He was up on the scaffolding. He didn’t seem to like the constraints that the commercial world placed on him.”

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hotography is not a hobby for David TaylorBramley. “i am the only one who turns up without a camera at any [family] event,” he says. Unless, of course, he can make eye contact (via his camera) with Shirley maclaine on the very first professional shoot of his life, even as he is being physically escorted out of the room. “it was my very first job after college, the press call for her one-woman show in [london’s] West End. i was working for a press agency and all the other photographers were with daily national papers. There was very little space, so after a few minutes her [public relations] people started removing anyone not with

the dailies. i kept taking photos, so they grabbed both my arms to escort me out. While i was being physically ejected, i called her name, saying: ‘Here, Shirley’. and she looked straight at me,” Taylor-Bramley says, rather proudly, showing a photograph that seems almost staged with the star looking straight at you from the midst of a host of paparazzi. “needless to say, that frame never went to the press agency! i clipped it out and kept it for myself. it is something you have to do sometimes,” he says. That first frame illustrates Taylor-Bramley’s technique. “Photography is about problem solving,” he says. “it is about

Cave People: UK 1988 “I recreated one of the scenes from ‘War Requiem’ based on the drawings by the sculptor Henry Moore of refugees sheltering in the underground during the Blitz.”

He met a ScotSman in a pub, liked tHe way He looked, and perSuaded Him to come to tHe Studio tHe next day to be SHot in full ScotS regalia

making something happen in front of the camera, to organise and create and lay it out.” For one advertisement, Taylor-Bramley shot more than a hundred takes to get it just right. “it was an ad for Canon digital cameras – shot on a Fuji! – for which we set up a small trampoline down at the [Jumeirah] Beach Park for the model to jump on. it required a 20-pace run-up on soft sand and he did it 120 times with me directing him to lift his right foot higher or raise his chin the next time. i must say, he was very patient and very fit!” When it comes to style, even though he believes true originality is a very rare commodity, irving Penn, he says, >


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Taylor-Bramley at work shooting for an airline in the UAE

is one of the most influential photographers of all time. “i had a chance to ‘do an irving Penn’ in the photo that i call new Guinea Tribesmen: london 1988. The guys were on a cultural visit to England and were taking part in a documentary about body piercing and cicatrices [tribal scarring]. There were about 15 of them and they arrived by mini-bus exactly as they are seen in the shot except that they had their head-dresses in their laps. They were also demonstrating their cooking technique, which is basically: dig a hole, throw in some hot coals, throw in a dead pig, cover with palm leaves, fill in hole and come back tomorrow. it did taste good though,” he says. making sure that you create situations “just so” might be a matter of style. Even so, a horse on its coffee break might become an ideal ad hoc subject and part of his personal portfolio. He calls it Yawning Horse. “at the end of a long day under the lights for an ad shoot, this horse wanted his trailer,” Taylor-Bramley says. as a commercial photographer, his work speaks to us every day,

from a billboard advertising a luxury airline or a fast car. But when he is on holiday, the camera and the rest of the equipment does not necessarily travel with him. “i am not much for pulling out the camera for every available opportunity. You have to make a decision, say i want to do shots of a beautiful hotel. i would get up early and treat it like any other job. otherwise, i would be just wandering around. i wouldn’t really want to take photos while on holiday. That is what i do every day,” he says. That does not stop him from thinking about it, even in a pub. He narrates how he met a Scotsman in a pub, liked the way he looked, and persuaded him to come to the studio the next day to be shot in full Scots regalia. While he confesses to a fondness for photographing people, Taylor-Bramley has an eye for royalty, even if they are not present. “When i first came [to Dubai], i thought everyone looked like a prince. From the outside, it is hard to imagine – when you see local people in local dress doing business – just how world-class

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Shirley MacLaine: Dorchester Hotel 1982

it is. it is both, dignified and intimidating, in a way. There is a certain gravitas,” he says. Taylor-Bramley came to Dubai when he decided that london was getting too crowded. “in london, it was becoming a very crowded industry. a friend of mine suggested i come here and take a look at the market after he had heard me whine on the phone. i came with my wife. She went to the beach and i went out with my portfolio. i was so surprised! in london, you cannot get past the voicemail. You could do six months of just going and meeting people. Here, when they say come in for a meeting, they mean in an hour’s time. So i came back and made arrangements to start a company,” he says. it is interesting to see a city from a photographer’s eye. While the professional in him admires the pace of work, the photographer’s eye tries to keep up with it. “People still cannot believe that a place like Dubai is so fully high tech, compared to london, which is sort of crumbling. i think Dubai is a far more technological city than london is. a lot of photographers >

Girl Portrait: Morocco 1981 “This portrait was shot in a tiny ‘studio’ in a remote village in the mountains south of Tangier during a month of travel in 1980. We were taken there on a donkey cart from Asilah by the son of the local chemist, whose task it was to photograph the local schoolchildren.”


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Sir Lawrence Olivier: UK 1988 “This was shot in a makeshift studio on location at a derelict lunatic asylum in Kent during the filming of ‘War Requiem’ by Derek Jarman. “I was brought in to do photography on the sets. As a personal project, I asked to be allowed to set up a studio. “Olivier had come out of retirement for the part and died a few years after. The BBC had heard he was working and sent a crew down to the set whilst I was shooting the portrait – directing Sir Larry while being filmed is one of the more stressful jobs I’ve undertaken, but my mum was very proud when it was shown on TV. “He was absolutely charming. He was old and frail, and he was not wheelchair-bound – that was part of the character he played in the movie. “The other people in the photograph are quite famous now. Tilda Swinton played the White Witch in ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and also starred in ‘The Beach’ with Leonardo DiCaprio.

“from tHe outSide, it iS Hard to imagine – wHen you See local people in local dreSS in buSineSS – juSt How worldclaSS it iS. it iS intimidating, in a way. tHere iS a certain gravitaS”

come to Dubai for the architecture. it is a common destination for some stock photo libraries. But you have to keep up with the skyline. There are so many ongoing projects, and in two weeks’ time it is transformed again,” he says, speaking of his current project of creating panoramic images of the city. What he wants to recreate next is a collection of portraits of Dubai and its heirs. “i have done my camels-and-sand bit. i am planning a project on the inheritors of the new Dubai. i want to photograph people of both generations together, as one generation gives way to the next – essentially a collection of portraits of fathers and sons or daughters shot in a stylised and contemporary way. i want to know what their passions are – houses, cars, wildlife, farming in the desert… it all began when it occurred to me that the pace of change in Dubai is so rapid. Within the space of a generation, the whole country is transformed. The lives of the old generation would have started out so differently.”

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