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DISPATCHES by Peter Howarth: Jake Chessum

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW

"I like to try to surprise myself still, in the knowledge that years of experience gives you the confidence to take chances."

Jake Chessum studied graphic design at the legendary London art school of Central Saint Martins, in the equally legendary London decade of the ’80s. He soon realised his love was not graphics but photography. His specialisation is portraiture, and his images have an honesty and directness that speaks of an often relaxed and intimate relationship with the sitters. That most of his subjects are famous makes this all the more remarkable.

He tells me about one of his favourite pictures that epitomises the way he likes to work. It’s of Heath Ledger and was shot on a street corner up in Calgary while the actor was filming Brokeback Mountain in 2004.

"I had to get a flight to LA and then up to Canada, and then a little propeller plane to a remote airport in the middle of nowhere. We shot on set at a funfair at night and the next day was Heath’s day off. So I went to his hotel, knocked on his door, and we hung out for a few hours – him, me, and his motorbike. He’d just had a baby, so we talked about being a dad and being away from home and how that was quite extreme for him. It was during this time that I took the picture."

"The significance of it for me is in the making of an image that might just stand the test of time."

The stories he tells about capturing images here are full of the narrative detail New York is so good at providing. Like when he was commissioned to shoot The Strokes on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel. "If you wanted to shoot at the Chelsea Hotel you had to deal with Stanley, the owner. He was such a character. I arranged to meet the band there and Stanley said that nobody got to shoot on the roof because there were private residents up there. I asked: “What if we pay?”, and he said: “$800”. So I had to literally get $800 from an ATM. I handed it over and he gave us the keys and said he was going away for the weekend. We were left up there, with Manhattan below us, and I caught the band just after their first album had come out. I still like those shots – proper young rock ‘n’ rollers at the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll hotel."