Sunday, 19 February 2012 Today is the anniversary of the death of painter and film maker Derek Jarman. He died from an Aids related illness exactly 18 years ago. He was 52.
I photographed Derek three times and I certainly wish it had been more. He was a wonderful, sweet man and truly an inspiration.
When I first met him, he lived very simply. First in a small flat opposite Central Saint Martins in Charing Cross Road, London. Then, in later years, in a small cottage next to the nuclear power station in Dungeness, where he rather famously took up gardening.
The first time I was commissioned to photograph him, I had this rather crackpot notion that fire should somehow be involved in the photograph. It was during the years when I still thought it important to have a very specific idea for every photograph and fire was a motif which, I'd noticed, often cropped up in Derek Jarman's films. So I sketched out a few ideas and took them with me to show him.
Unlike, I suspect, many a famous painter or film maker, he was very enthusiastic. One idea was for me to photograph him reading a book with flames arising from the pages. I planned to go and buy an old book from one of the many second hand bookstores nearby but I didn't need to. Derek Jarman pulled one out from his own shelves and, with a tin of lighter fuel which he also had handy, he pretty much set up the whole thing for me (detail shown above).
A few days later, we drove down to a bit of waste ground in the docklands area (it was in the days when it was still fairly desolate down there) and I did another shot of him standing in a ring of fire. I made a circle of crumpled newspaper about six feet in diameter, he stood in the middle of it and a colleague set light to it. He was a real trooper. I guess it wasn't particularly dangerous. He could probably have stamped out the flames if he'd wanted to. But it was fantastic to have a photographic subject that was prepared to go to some lengths to help me get an interesting shot.
If I'm honest, I don't think either photograph was as successful as I'd hoped but I was certainly right about one thing. Derek Jarman certainly did seem to quite enjoy a good fire.
He's sadly missed.