Derek Jarman, London 1985.


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.