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Femme Fierce by Tom Oldham

2015-03-09 Graffiti Portfilio Project, Waterloo, London

bannerThe challenge with constantly wanting to shoot new projects is that you have to go out and find them. This can take months of planning, permissions, rejections, access issues and gaining trust from people who may not even know who you are. I am duty-bound to tell you that this was not one of those occasions. The supported charity at this event, Plan UK, allowed us the most relaxed of permissions to pitch up at the Femme Fierce graffiti event on Leake Street, Waterloo (formerly known as Banksy’s Tunnel) on a wing and a prayer in hope of letting us shoot a series of new portraits. Femme Fierce is a celebration of female graffiti artists, congregating together in one space on one day to create a series of individual works to coincide with International Women’s Week. We, Brian (on lights and tech duties) and I, wanted to capture the wonderful array of famously reluctant characters involved, that being 150 female camera-shy graffiti artists! It felt right to give it a go and our guts were right.

Now in this situation one could easily procrastinate, deliberate, and dither, or you could get involved, hope for the best, walk confidently and quickly and approach the women with a smile. We did the latter, with my Hasselblad H5D-50c tethered in Phocus and of course accompanied by our trusty Broncolor Move pack and two heads on stands. We were ready to shoot.

‘Hellowe’refromPlanUKcanweshootyourportraitplease?’ I blurted, to be met with a smile and a ‘yes’. As the seasoned chancer will acknowledge, when one agrees, others soon notice and follow and then this thing is suddenly happening – we’re shooting portraits, they can see the work, everyone is into it! We shot 16 graffiti writers, some close ups and their works, proudly showing them the imagery on screen and meeting approval all round– the 35-90mm zoom being a staple choice for this kind of shooting. We timed our slot perfectly, knowing that the writers would wrap up at the last minute and boom – the whole thing was done in less than 2 hours.


A vital aspect of this was the looseness, the unplanned, unpredictability of it all. The spontaneity and rush of excitement that accompanies an experience like this is what makes it challenging and fun and ultimately rewarding. This brings real value to the work for me – we didn’t know what we would get (away with), though we hoped for what we might achieve, ie characterful portraits of the best female writers in London, showing the wonderful array of individuals this event attracts. Technically, for me what truly enables an in and out project like this to occur is the vital stability of the kit. Of course you need confidence, practice, a solid first assistant, sharp elbows and your wits about you, but true quality pictures can only occur when you connect with your subject and this can only happen when the camera is reliable and allows your ideas to flow. The Move kits were small and light but packed plenty of power to light both the portrait and the large expanse behind the subject. The H5D-50c and zoom lens were super-stable with the tether, which gave me and the subject the needed confidence.

What else could you possibly need?

Tom Oldham




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