Wish You Were At Topshop

Whilst the iPad 2 is probably one of the bluntest photographic tools imaginable (even my out-of-date iPhone fares better in terms of image quality), I have always believed the quality of a photograph depends not on the lens itself, but what happens in front of it. And of course the light.

One of the joys of the sorely-missed Polaroid era was its instant gratification appeal; where friends could see the image straight away, burst out laughing, and take another. As a photographer who adored working with Polaroid SLR, it makes my heart flutter just thinking about it.

Even just working with a single model, Polaroid SLR created this incredible synthesis between photographer and subject that has so far not been recreated even in the digital age we now live in. Just take a look at the excellent work of Lou O’ Bedlam, one of the superstars of Polaroid for example. Or take a look through my own little love affair with Polaroid.

This week I’m photographing for Topshop in Dublin, and next week the same in the Broadway store in New York. It’s for Topshop’s “Wish You Were Here” promotion. This is one of those inspired ideas of the digital age which you only really ‘get’ once you see it in action. But within a matter of minutes of greeting shoppers who agree to step-in to the studio, they are induced into fits of giggles and delight – and handed a gorgeous postcard print-out of their shot. With their permission, the photo may optionally be uploaded to their Facebook profile as well.

The concept features an interactive style of photography using an iPad 2 connected wirelessly to a nearby table of iMacs.

Mat Smith Photography - Topshop Dublin Floor Setup

Topshop Dublin Floor Setup

Shoppers are invited into the mini-studio which has been set up on the shop floor, and they are allowed to dress up using a rail of clothing and accessories. Promotional staff, personal shoppers, and stylists are on-hand to help out. Mirrors and a makeup station are provided. In special cases where shoppers have their eye on a particular outfit they have seen in the store, they can change into it and come for the shoot.

We then work with the models to get the very best out of them for the few minutes they have in front of the lighting, suggesting poses and offering encouraging words. The studio lighting is adjusted for each model so as to get the best catchlight in the eyes and offer the best level of diffusion for the skin tones. This takes a matter of seconds during which time models can get themselves ready in front of the lights and prepare.

A couple of test shots are taken on the iPad which allow the models to check they are happy with their poses and expressions.

Then we hand over the iPad 2, and let models choose their preferred Instagram filter.

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Choosing Clothes


Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Taking the Shot

Taking the shot

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Girl in Pink

Taking the shot

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Previewing the shot

Previewing the shot

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Instagram - Choosing the Filter

Choosing the Instagram Filter

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Instagram - Choosing a Filter

Choosing the photo style

In many cases, we have a filter in mind when we take the shot. Sometimes you see a face and you just know what works…

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Shoppers - Models

The Instagram Result - Day 2 @ Topshop Dublin

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Instagram Girl with Hat

The Instagram Result - Day 2 @ Dublin Topshop

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Instagram Girl with Blue Dress

The Instagram Result - Day 2 @ Dublin Topshop

Mat Smith Photography - Dublin Topshop - Instagram Girl with Head Scarf

The Instagram Result - Day 2 @ Dublin Topshop

Mat Smith Photography - Fresh Networks - Dublin Topshop - Dancing in Red Dress

The Instagram Result - Day 1 @ Dublin Topshop

Mat Smith Photography - Fresh Networks - Dublin Topshop - Girl in Hat

The Instagram Result - Day 2 @ Dublin Topshop

Mat Smith Photography - Fresh Networks - Dublin Topshop - Girl in Stripey Dress

The Instagram Result - Day 1 @ Dublin Topshop

Even after the first two days of shooting – as I write – the overall concept of the ‘Wish You Were At Topshop’ promotion has been a huge success. For me it somehow captures that same cult spirit of Polaroid.

It’s one of those projects where the technology becomes a little bit transparent, allowing the visual and kinesthetic pleasures of making photographs to take the stage again. This is mostly thanks to the great system design by FreshNetworks which automates the entire process and packages it beautifully.

And the concept itself? The combination of the grabbable iPad, the playable Instagram, the ubiquitous Facebook, the gleaming iMacs, and plain-old good quality 6×4 instant printing is clearly one that has already won a number of hearts.

I’d be surprised if the whole thing didn’t turn into a craze in itself.

In fact, at times, it makes you want to throw away your 5D and use an iPhone to take photos for the rest of your life.

Okay – maybe I’m not ready for that quite yet …

Lawson Piano Trio shoot near Tate Modern

On Monday I met the three talented individuals who make up the Lawson Trio (http://www.lawsontrio.com) for a morning session of photography, starting outside Tate Modern then moving over the river to a variety of scenes around St Paul’s, Barbican, and Liverpool Street.

Annabelle Lawson: Piano
Fenella Humphreys: Violin
Rebecca Knight: Cello

Well – in the UK we are not used to such wonderful bright days at this time of the year (I recall last year at this time it was … snowing?) but it was the wind that was the real show-stopper.

Annabelle Lawson - Lawson Trio - Mat Smith Photography

Annabelle Lawson - Pianist for Lawson Trio - Mat Smith Photography

We had a lovely shot idea in mind but it was rendered impossible because of the direct sunlight (and the fact we didn’t have an entourage of 10 helpers to who can hold up flags / sun blockers / reflectors). Nevertheless, it’s always possible to run for shade, which is what we did for the first scene.

Oh and that brisk North Sea wind? Wind is never a major problem as long as it’s up and down. In fact I love the movement it creates, the expression on the face it causes, and the pressure it puts you under to click the shutter at the precise moment!

Rebecca Knight - Lawson Trio - Mat Smith Photography

Rebecca Knight - Cellist for Lawson Trio - Mat Smith Photography


These photos were lit with a single umbrella in the shade, camera right. The first umbrella died a death in the strong gusts, luckily I had a standby brolly…


Fenella Humphreys - Lawson Trio - Mat Smith Photography

Fenella Humphreys - Violinist for Lawson Trio - Mat Smith Photography


Best of the Polo Calendar shoots 2010-2011

Here are a few of my favourite shots from the two Polo Club Calendars photographed by Mat Smith Photography over the last year or so.

The unauthorised publishing, copying, or distributing of the below images is prohibited. Copyright Mat Smith Photography.

Hannah and Mini, Nottingham Polo Club Calendar 2010



Rosie and Horse, RVC Polo Club Calendar 2011


Five Bar Gate, RVC Polo Club Calendar 2011


Emily with Boots in Hay, Nottingham Polo Club Calendar 2010


Horse in River at Sunset, RVC Polo Club Calendar 2011



Horse Trailer, RVC Polo Club Calendar 2011

Champagne and Puppies, RVC Polo Club Calendar 2011


Eloise on Horse, Nottingham Polo Club Calendar 2010


Beth in Hay, Nottingham Polo Club Calendar 2010







Sector7 Launch Gig – Portraits at 606 Club

When I asked Sarah Ellen Hughes, lead singer for Sector7 – a vocal quartet plus supporting piano trio – what style of music the quartet sang, the answer was a little vague.

“Kind of souly, funky, a mixture of our own stuff, with lots of different influences”.

“Well, okay. What kind of tunes will you be performing tonight?”

… “You’ll see”.

Photo of Sector7 vocal group outside 606 Club, London

From left to right: Emma Smith, Shakka Philip, Kwabena Adjepong, Sarah Ellen Hughes

I know to expect great things from Sarah.

Praised highly by the likes of leading jazz vocalists Claire Martin and Ian Shaw, as well as having sung as the principal vocalist for NYJO, Sarah is known for her superb arrangements of jazz tunes, especially in the vocalese style. After a really successful year in 2010 during which she recorded her new album with Jim Hart, Dave O’Higgins and Ian Shaw, Sarah is now leading a vocal group, Sector7.

I was invited to photograph Sector7’s launch gig at 606 Club in Chelsea, London, which was a sell-out success.

Sarah Ellen Hughes and Sector7 at 606 Club

Each of the singers has such enormously different voices in terms of timbre and style, not to mention strong, individual on-stage personalities, but they have such a fabulous chemistry between them and their voices gel really beautifully as a quartet. The audience was clearly bowled-over for the majority of both sets by the sheer joy and talent they were presented with.

As for the styles of music, they ranged from the inspired choice of a Bjork cover to Chick Corea’s Spain; it’s almost a discredit to the impressive fusion of styles to label it merely ‘soul’, ‘funk’, or ‘jazz’.

You can hear their music and learn more about Sector7 on Sarah’s website here: http://www.sarahellenhughes.co.uk/fr_home.cfm

I managed to snatch 5 minutes outside with the group before their soundcheck to grab a quick group shot. (See first shot above.)

And some shots with shoot-through umbrella positioned slightly to camera-left during sound check and rehearsals:

Rehearsing at 606 Club

Mat Smith Photography - Kwabena Adjepong of Sector7 at 606 Club, Chelsea, London

Mat Smith Photography - Shakka, Sector7 Launch Gig at 606 Club Chelsea, London

Exclusive Preview Dinner at the Commonwealth Kitchen

In the heart of the Westminster Bubble, a stone’s throw from Downing Street (and trust me, I threw stones*) and Trafalgar Square, and on the slightly undesirable pink Monopoly board square of Northumberland Ave (£160 to buy the whole road**), lies a historic monument to the Commonwealth history of our nation. Actually, they lie all around, but the one I’m talking is the Commonwealth Club. This private members’ club has recently thrown the doors of its kitchen wide open to the general public. They even let women in now too!

* metaphorical stones

** in real life, it’s an extremely desirable place. In fact, I hazard it’s one of the loveliest walks around the block you could take of an evening in central London, and certainly one of the most romantic, save for the omnipresent nature of the police clustering on every corner.

I rarely blog about non-photo things, but sometimes life and food are so good that they deserve a little space on here (hence the ‘life’ part of my blog title ‘photolife’).

Last night I was kindly invited by Qype (my favourite foodie reviewing site) to sample the tasting menu at Searcys at the Commonwealth Club – or the Commonwealth Kitchen. And what a find this place is.

At 6.30pm we checked in for a Champagne reception. I say checked in – they took our coats and we techie types hit a button on our iPhones to signify our arrivals… (it’s all the rage – honest):

You would be forgiven for walking past the Commonwealth Kitchen without even noticing its existence. It has none of the street presence you’d expect from a London restaurant (e.g. Prezzo next door has a big blue neon sign…) and such hidden gems are often the best.

The tasting menu consisted of four courses plus a perfect picking of palate cleansers and matching wines.

I absolutely love a tasting menu as it’s the chef’s chance to take the diner on a journey that he has thought about in great detail, and it’s his chance to show-off. In my perfect utopian world, people wouldn’t be allowed to choose dishes in restaurants at all. I have this sneaking suspicion that choice is the nemesis of genuine food diversity in the world of good dining.

I digress – here’s what we were given to start the evening’s food journey: scallops!

LJ had the non-fish option of a broccoli velouté:

Smoked Wild Duck with Curried Lentil Soup and a Pomegranate Salad. Duck and pomegranate is a clever combination.

Onto my favourite savoury course of the evening, a superb North Scotland Monkfish with Mussels and Orzo Pasta.

Monkfish is one of those foods that can be very bland indeed, and can be forced to rely on its surrounding ingredients, but the plus side is that it has an amazing buttery (excuse the cliché) melt-in-the-mouth texture.

The Commonwealth Kitchen really got it right here. Great variation of textures within the plate, perfect sidekick of shellfish, some zesty greens, and a creamy pasta.

It looks so innocent and beautiful here, but I photographed monkfish a week ago at Selfridge’s Food Counter and can confirm it is the ugliest beast imaginable. Google Images it.

And here’s the monkfish with baby gem purée, the alternative dish to the above for those selfish shellfish spurners:

Onto the more serious stuff of venison.

Ever since a fatal high speed encounter between my car and a deer on an unlit stretch of the M11 last year (fatal for the deer, thankfully nobody human was hurt), I have approached venison dinners with more glee than usual. It’s a shame, I’m sure not all deer are stupid as hell, but I was most pleased this one was cooked in more than one way; roasted and braised.

Chard Farm Venison ‘roast and braise’, Confit Celeriac, Red Cabbage and Bitter Chocolate Jus.

Or as I like to call it, “Take that, Bambi

This next dish was another alternative to the one I ate.

So jealous. (of the bark. I wanted bark.)

Butternut Squash Risotto with Iron Bark Pumpkin Purée.

There’s a fine line between minimalism and vacuousness when it comes to this kind of food. I have especially found that wedding catering companies working to please a sophisticated palate often try way too hard, and end up producing mere fashion food (“H2O jus served on a bed of essence of lark’s vomit with an accent of deep sea fish shoulder” etc.)

Well, this gorgeous side dish of Romanesco Broccoli was exactly the right side of that line. It’s little details like this, when I bite into them, that make me understand why I am not a real cook, nor should I ever try to be one. This mathematically interesting vegetable (an example of fractals in food) was probably the tiniest most sumptuous thing I have eaten this year so far.


How to follow that? Here’s how. A pre-dessert dessert. Sorry, palate cleanser. (But we all know it’s a pre-dessert dessert.)

Blood orange sorbet with candied ginger. Two perfectly-formed bullet shapes of sorbet: tangy, but not sour and no strong aftertaste.

Despite the exceptionally well-controlled portion sizes (I mean: small), I am by this point happy.

Of course, we all know humans have a different, special stomach, though. A stomach that has actually remained completely empty throughout a filling meal. A reserve stomach, if you will.

Thank god.

Next up, a delicious Spiced Apple Cake with Blackberry Variations specially designed for the reserve stomach.

The photo speaks for itself; this dish was brilliant. The chef is a guy after my own heart. A dish that tells a little story.

I should like to recommend a new name for the menu (I don’t like the way the dish’s title fades away into the word “variations”. Rubbish!) It should be named: A Boat of Blackberry Sets Sail from Spiced Apple Island upon the Shores of Jus, Past the Rocks of Crouton, Guided by the Scent of a Blackberry Sugar, Alas, the Crunchy Sharks Are Biting at the Hull of the Ship! What to Do!

There’s so much going on visually here. The little rocks of tornaway Spiced Apple Island near the bottom of the plate. The delicious crunchy sharks surrounding the ice cream.

Virtuosic presentation, I think you will agree.

Wine Tasting Conversation

Who needs a dessert wine for afters when you have Ice Cider? The Leduc-Piedimonte Ice Cider is a Canadian treat, aged for 24 months and fermented, and was a huge hit with fellow diners.

It had a strange sweetness profile; a strong apple nose which was very dry in the mouth, but similarly there were medium-sweet vanilla notes and pleasing spice oak. As such it makes for a wonderful replacement of a dessert wine. You could almost imagine you are drinking a sweet wine if it weren’t for the overpowering apple.

As a huge fan of artisan apple juice, this hit the spot for me.

It tasted of real-real apples, I don’t mean your bottled-fresh-real-apple-juice-from-the-store, I mean your sourced-locally-and-found-in-farmers-market taste. If my knowledge of apples were better, I could doubtless have distinguished what varietal we were drinking, I don’t think it was a blend.

I met some lovely fellow London foodies. Here’s Chris, Qype’s resident London Guru. I fully understood the significance of this Guru status had when I indicated I liked cigars, and he began to reel-off his favourite twenty or so cigar lounges and terraces in London. (Maybe I exaggerate with twenty, but Chris is certainly the London food and drink equivalent of a London Cabbie; he has The Knowledge.)

Here’s a link to his blog.

I must admit I’m not a fan of New World wines. I know people who swear by them, but maybe my tastes haven’t matured enough for them yet. (I’m trying to be diplomatic.) There is no question the wines here were of a good standard, great clarity and depth, and they will leave drinkers with a happy organic glow as opposed to a slight headache. It’s just the flavours, they are a little unsubtle. Actually the Chardonnay was good, and I really enjoyed the superb Champagne (Champagne equivalent?) presented to us on arrival.

Either way, great line-up, and of course well-matched with the various courses of food.

And the aftermath of my tasting…

Aftermath of the Wine Tasting

The service and hospitality we received as a large-ish group was wonderful, waiting staff and restaurant manager took time to chat with us about the origin of the foods and the restaurant’s values. Looking at the menu prices I will definitely be paying the restaurant another visit, and I cannot recommend Searcys at The Commonwealth Club highly enough.

Thanks Qype for an evening of great food and wine, and it is lovely as always to meet new lovers of fine dining in London. To the Commonwealth Kitchen, thank you for your hospitality.

We Cannot Develop A Memory

“Les photographes s’occupent des choses qui disparaissent continuellement et quand ils ont disparu là n’est aucune adaptation sur terre qui peut les faire revenir encore.”

“We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory

— Henri Cartier-Bresson

The reason I love Cartier-Bresson? It is neither with a love of his photo-journalistic style nor a historic appreciation of the visual world he inhabited that I approach his work, but with a strong feeling of sadness that this world can never be recreated. I don’t mean just the bowler hats and the berets. The interesting things we see in major world cities nowadays are most likely to be an emulation of something interesting than something interesting itself. The girl with a fabulous outfit and outrageous hair would be stared-at in the 50s, now we would assume she was on her way to a 50s fancy dress party (mobile ‘phone in pocket, Oyster card at the ready, probably organised on Facebook).

I don’t think my sadness is some nostalgic sop at the nebulous idea of ‘vintage’; but I will admit here that it is driven by nostalgia. A more detached nostalgia, a sadness that I will never be able to capture that amazing view of Waterloo bridge with a single pedestrian walking, without someone else standing in the way with a tripod (yes, even at 5am Sunday morning); that the inhabitants and visitors to cities are no longer living and working there, going about their daily business and wearing the attire that reflects their social status and work, but instead they are a homogenised form of resident tourist; that cars are built not as shining emblems of a post industrial world but as fuel-efficient, safety-regulated clones whose parts are invariably made anywhere else but here. Indeed my nostalgia really is detached: the only connection linking me with this past is the humble Routemaster buses I was able to hop-on and hop-off in my teens. They are long gone now, save the relics brought back for two popular tourist routes.

In short it is a nostalgia for the fact city life doesn’t make people smile any more.

By inference, photographs of cities don’t make people smile any more.

Various forms of urban photography have stepped-in to take the place of real photojournalism: the ultra-realist style of HDR photography which yields an often over saturated form of photography for amateurs (pros can of course use it to good effect in the same way that photographers pushed and pulled in the darkroom); the contrived but clever form of photography that makes a witty comment on life in an environment (this is the polar opposite of traditional photojournalism, of course), photography that involves lots of pre-planning and design to make sure it looks like it was completely unplanned, and a more interactive style such as the “global faces” concept of street portraiture whereby tight crops of droves of different faces and races with different back-stories are shown. This would be photo documentary as opposed to photojournalism. It vaguely interests me, but it does not hit the spot.

Knowing what we know about Cartier-Bresson and his views on the essence of the simultaneous opportunity and impossibility of capturing a moment, I think we can assert that he wouldn’t have been interested in any of the above. Coming back to my opener, I never really answered the question as to why I love Cartier-Bresson. The direct answer is of course that he did something which photographers today cannot do, and he did it very well.

But the more interesting answer is that, in the same way I feel modern composers do not operate as independent artists within the context of a cohesive social movement – because there isn’t one (another blog for another day), it can be argued that modern photographers are precluded from kind of work (genuine photojournalism worth looking at) for the same underlying reasons.

Meaningful social or artistic revolutions in the modern age are rare. (Probably because we never had it so good with income distribution, corporate quality of life, and welfare state.) But I wonder what it would take to bring about such an event, and whether we will see this in the next few decades? I wouldn’t wish any non-peaceful event to bring this about, but I would relish this kind of social artistic revolution.

There is no way to peacefully undo the good progress of society in regards to equality, democracy, trade and consumer law, especially as championed by the EU; I have no doubt that cars will be as un-photogenic in 30 year’s time as they are now. But perhaps people will be different. Perhaps the world will somehow be worth smiling at in a way that it currently really isn’t.

For my next post on this subject I will be focusing on Adorno’s theory of negative dialectics in specific relation to 21st Century photography. (I’m joking. Maybe.)

Photographing Ambridge’s Finest

Just before Christmas 2010 I was invited to photograph Tom Archer from BBC Radio 4’s epic radio soap, The Archers.

Although it was nothing to do with the highly publicised 60th Anniversary of the show, it was great catching up with a leading actor behind the soap opera that has seen through more British history than any other soap on TV or radio.

Tom (his name in real life too) has played a leading role in this quintessentially British drama for 13 years.

Here are a couple of shots from the session.

Mat Smith Photography - Radio 4 Actor Tom Graham (Tom Archer) at home

Mat Smith Photography - Radio 4 Actor Tom Graham (Tom Archer) outside in December 2010 Snow

Simple mobile lighting allows really great results even for family photography in the home. Here is a really tight crop of the first photograph shown above to show the detail and clarity in a higher resolution:

Mat Smith Photography - Radio 4 Actor Tom Graham (Tom Archer) at home - studio quality sharpness

My first White Winter Wedding!

Ahh, white winters in the UK.

This year we have been blessed with closing airports, roads that have ground to a halt, political blame being hurled around; why can’t we just accept that we humans are a slave to our surrounding environment, that it’s impossible to predict the weather with 100% accuracy, and enjoy the ride?

Or maybe it’s because it simply doesn’t inconvenience me that much – either way I absolutely LOVE the snowy weather.

We were in two minds as to whether or not to venture out from the warmth of the 12th Century Tithe Barn (part of Ye Olde Bell, Hurley) into the fluffy snow for the formal photos, and I did worry about asking freezing bridesmaids with high heels to wait around, but I’m so glad we did.

Nikki and Tom were married on Saturday 18th December in the picturesque village of Hurley.

Mat Smith Photography - Nikki and Tom walking in Shepherd's Lane, Hurley

Mat Smith Photography - Nikki and Tom kiss in the snow outside Ye Olde Bell, Hurley Village

Mat Smith Photography - Nikki, Mirror, Anglepoise in the bridal suite

Mat Smith Photography - Christmas Mistletoe, front door in Hurley Village

Mat Smith Photography photographs the van of Postman Pat in snow, Hurley Village

Mat Smith Photography - Nikki and Tom kiss in Tithe Barn, Ye Olde Bell, Hurley

Mat Smith Photography - Bridal Preparations, Roses and Mauve Dressing Gown

Mat Smith Photography - Nikki and Tiara in Bridal Suite of Ye Olde Bell, Hurley

Mat Smith Wedding Photography - Bride with Bridesmaid outside Tithe Barn

Portraits of a composer: Cheryl Frances-Hoad

I first took photos of Cheryl a few years back with soprano Natalie Raybould (www.natalieraybould.co.uk) when they formed Golden Hat Opera (GHO on Twitter).

In the last few weeks it was announced that Cheryl won the prestigious British Composer Awards 2010 (www.britishcomposerawards.com) in two categories, Liturgical, and Instrumental Solo or Duo, and I was delighted to meet her in Cambridge for a shoot for album artwork and to promote her new works.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad BASCA British Composer 2010 Award winner, headshot on black

Cheryl Frances Hoad Cambridge Composer Headshot on Black Closeup

Cheryl Frances-Hoad BASCA British Composer 2010 Award winner, headshot on ivy backdrop