Harry Hook's African odyssey: 'We had ransom money taped around the car'

Three decades ago, photographer Harry Hook took portraits of nomadic Kenyan women with a view to casting them in a Hamlet with crocodiles. What happened when he set off to find his Ophelias again?

Sub-Saharan selfie ... Hook tried to track down five women from the semi-nomadic Samburu tribe he met in the mid-80s. Photograph: Harry Hook

Sub-Saharan selfie ... Hook tried to track down five women from the semi-nomadic Samburu tribe he met in the mid-80s. Photograph: Harry Hook

It was lucrative, but Harry Hook was bored. After years of shooting television shows for others, the film-maker and photographer decided to embark on a much more meaningful project – one that would take him back to his first love, Africa, where he grew up. It was not without its risks, however.

"We had to drive through bandit country," recalls Hook, who directed the 1990 film version of Lord of the Flies. "And buses were hijacked further down the road. We had ransom money taped around the car, just in case. But you just have to rely on good faith and talk your way out of situations."

The result is a remarkable BBC4 documentary in which the 54-year-old tries to track down five women from the semi-nomadic Samburu tribe of northern Kenya. He first photographed them 30 years ago and wanted to trace how life had panned out for them. Refreshingly, Photographing Africa moves the continent on from the cliches of picturebook or horror story. Animals are raised or hunted for food rather than treated with a sense of wonder, while poverty, disease and war are addressed only in the context of individual experience.

A changed continent ... a barber shop that offers mobile charging with a Samburu woman on her phone. Photograph: Harry Hook

A changed continent ... a barber shop that offers mobile charging with a Samburu woman on her phone. Photograph: Harry Hook

What emerges is a portrait of a changed continent. Hook's search takes him through dwindling communities of hunter-gatherers and extraordinary initiation ceremonies. Two of the women have settled in homesteads, sprawling urban developments having squeezed the territories of tribes and made an itinerant life almost impossible. Various tragedies have befallen some of the others.

Hook first encountered the women in the mid-1980s, when he was looking for an Ophelia to star in an African version of Hamlet for the nascent Channel 4. The auditions, Hook remembers as we talk in the comfortable but vaguely impermanent surroundings of his Bristol flat, were "breathtaking". But the project foundered due to the sense of mischief that has always coloured Hook's work and thwarted his career: "I wanted Ophelia dragged into a muddy river and eaten by a crocodile, not drowning decorously in a babbling brook, as Channel 4 would have preferred."

Footsteps retraced … photographer Harry Hook encountered a changed world on returning to northern Kenya. Photograph: Harry Hook

Footsteps retraced … photographer Harry Hook encountered a changed world on returning to northern Kenya. Photograph: Harry Hook

Hook thinks back to his family set-up in Kenya, where his ex-military father had started a photographic safari business. "We rented our house and didn't own any land," he says. "It meant my parents were regarded as visitors and made very welcome. The people around us were mostly farmers, very proud of not being bossed around by white people after independence [in 1963]. We employed people, but my friends were African kids."

Hearing the grim, vivid stories of the staff sowed the seeds of his award-winning debut, 1987's The Kitchen Toto, which viewed the Mau-Mau uprising of the 1950s through the eyes of a Kenyan houseboy working for a white policeman. "The reprisals against anyone connected with white families were extreme," says Hook. "The cook's daughter had her ears cut off."

The tribal divisions festered for years. Hook's film, which depicted them unflinchingly, was banned by Kenyan dictator Daniel arap Moi. Hook saw this as "a badge of honour".

Lord of the Flies, filmed in Jamaica, was not without its problems either. Leading boy Balthazar Getty broke both his arms shortly before filming began, then underwhelming early performances meant Hook had to face down studio bosses wanting his young star fired. A little later, Hurricane Gilbert destroyed most of the set. Somehow, Hook managed to steer the film to the screen. It was a modest commercial success, but a reputation for cussedness had been established.

"I wouldn't fit in," he says. "I was too young and hot-headed, turning down too much material I didn't rate." The penny dropped during a trip to a multiplex. "I watched five films, all of which I'd said no to directing. One was Thelma and Louise. That was the point at which I started saying yes to everything."

Hook's moment had passed, however, and he slipped into a comfortable but unfulfilling rut of TV dramas and celebrity-fronted travelogues. His scripts, often featuring men striving against impossible odds (the irony isn't lost on him), never found financial backing.

Photography, a hobby pursued between film projects, became Hook's new passion. When I ask to see his studio, he laughs and points to a pile of poles and black curtains on the floor. "We find a good tree, erect the tent, and it's like the circus coming to town. People just appear. They can present themselves how they want – and participate in the process. It creates a formality which the more conservative communities respond to."

Unforced exoticism … Hook's portrait of a Samburu woman. Photograph: Harry Hook

Unforced exoticism … Hook's portrait of a Samburu woman. Photograph: Harry Hook

Hook's portraits have a compelling purity, a directness and unforced exoticism belying lazy ideas of Africa as a homogenous mass. The black backdrops emphasise different skin tones, and individual personalities burst from every frame. Even those taken outside the tent have a humanity and humour.

Hook's most intriguing collection, still ongoing, came about quite by chance. Four years ago, he was giving a lift to a Masai elder when he noticed a familiar name on the man's beanie: Obama. So the Obama Wear project was born. Hook sought out everything similarly emblazoned – from T-shirts to sarongs to branded underpants – worn by people of all ages and ethnicities across six countries. The contrast between the traditional surroundings (the mud hut, the donkey and cart) and this very contemporary figure, often shown in front of stars and stripes, is striking and frequently funny. But it's no fashion statement. Obama retains a totemic quality across much of the continent. Indeed, the cumulative power of these photos lies in demonstrating how his actual political accomplishments in the region – as sparse as his visits – pale alongside the simple facts of genealogy.

"Who is your father?" is the question underpinning patriarchal societies across rural, sub-Saharan Africa. Obama's was of Luo stock: a pastoral people of west Kenya. But the president transcends the region's ever-simmering ethnic tensions. He is simply "one of us", a son of Africa and the most powerful man in the world. "The only place I never saw any Obama Wear was South Africa," Hook says, "but then you don't see Mandela's image used in that way [anywhere else]. Wayne Rooney, on the other hand …"

Hook was arrested during the filming of Photographing Africa. The police asked to see the photographs he had shot. "I couldn't because they were on film," says Hook with a laugh. "Everyone shoots digital these days – so they assumed I was a spy."

Einstein's tongue - a picture from the past

14 March 1951: Arthur Sasse was amongst the pack of photographers hounding Albert Einstein as he left his 72nd birthday celebration but the only one to get this shot of him playfully sticking his tongue out. This crop (from a wider image showing his companions in the back of a car) was chosen by Einstein himself to put on greetings cards to be sent out to friends. The photograph, arguably one of the best known press photographs of any 20th century personality, established a public image of Einstein as the 'nutty professor' rather than the nobel prize-winning physicist who developed the theory of general relativity

The theoretical physicist Albert Einstein sticks his tongue out while leaving his 72nd birthday celebration on 14 March 1951. Sasse's oft-parodied photograph has appeared on everything from mugs and posters to t-shirts and mouse mats Photograph: Arthur Sasse/ AFP

The theoretical physicist Albert Einstein sticks his tongue out while leaving his 72nd birthday celebration on 14 March 1951. Sasse's oft-parodied photograph has appeared on everything from mugs and posters to t-shirts and mouse mats

Photograph: Arthur Sasse/ AFP

Trent Parke lets his camera play God in inspired new street portrait series

Candid, time-lapsed shots of pedestrians are captured in the Australian photographer’s new the Camera is God exhibition

Trent Parke’s the Camera is God exhibition is part of Dark Heart, the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art. Photograph: Art Gallery of South Australia

Trent Parke’s the Camera is God exhibition is part of Dark Heart, the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art. Photograph: Art Gallery of South Australia

Once a sports photographer on the Telegraph newspaper, Trent Parkeis now feted by the worlds of art and photojournalism. He’s the only Australian to be a full member of the illustrious Magnum agency, and next year will see the entire basement of the Art Gallery of South Australia given over to a work he is still developing, called Black Rose.

Nevertheless, Parke is refreshingly unpretentious. Originally from Newcastle, NSW, he turns up the Art Gallery of South Australia in thongs, threadbare jeans and a T-shirt. You can see how he’d blend into the background while photographing passers-by.

Street photography was Parke’s first love from first picking a camera up aged 12, and one he has revisited in his remarkable new show, exhibited as part of Dark Heart, the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art.

Shown in a darkened room, the Camera Is God (street portrait series)features a wall of grainy black-and-white pictures of faces arranged in a grid pattern. On each of the other three walls hangs a single portrait, blown up to such a size that you need to stand well back before the dots resolve themselves into a recognisable image. It’s a very painterly treatment of a mundane subject: people crossing the road on a corner of King William Street, Adelaide, which Parke shot between March and Christmas last year. 

He’d set up his tripod on the pedestrian crossing, and as the lights would change and people would start crossing the road, he would press the remote control shutter, which would automatically take about 30 pictures over a four-to-eight second period. “I was showing a friend in the initial stages and he said, ‘So the camera is actually playing God’ and that’s how the title came about,” says Parke. “It also has this sort of spiritual feel to it I guess. I wanted to represent the transience of the street, where you’re there for a split second and then you’re gone. Or when you have a dream about someone you don’t know, and when you wake up and try to remember them, you can’t grasp that hard outline of a person’s face.”

Trent Parke: ‘I find happiness in sadness.’ Photograph: Art Gallery of South Australia.

Trent Parke: ‘I find happiness in sadness.’ Photograph: Art Gallery of South Australia.

Parke is intrigued about the way some of the portraits have a familiar quality, despite being totally anonymous. “When people are looking at it they go ‘Ah yeah, that’s Leonardo da Vinci’ and that’s also what I love about memory. I only ever photograph in Australia because the things that I’ve experienced over my lifetime have a way of coming up in my photographs. It’s those sorts of things – a person that you think you might almost know, that I might have seen in a dream – that attracts me looking through the negs. Or in a way that normal pop culture has just made certain faces visible I reckon on the wall there must be 40 there that people go ‘Oh yeah, that’s so and so’ and that’s what interests me as well. Those images that are already embedded in people’s minds that you can manipulate.”

The portraits are also somewhat melancholy. “That comes from my mum dying when I was young,” says Parke, adding that the mood has influenced the pictures he has taken ever since. “I find happiness in sadness in a strange way – there is something that uplifts me and keeps me waiting, looking for the next thing.”

His work is also characterised by its use of chance. Parke never shoots digitally, preferring the surprise of developing a film and seeing what he has captured. He’s also aware that his training as a sports photographer has made him good at anticipating things that are going to happen, which has proved invaluable in the rest of his photography.

Magnum is famous for its photojournalism, but Parke is certain that his work belongs in an art context more than a journalistic one. Besides, he says, Magnum now represents two types of people – “the artists and the photographer” – and he is the former. “I’ve always seen myself working in a way that was just personal. Yes, I document, there’s no digital manipulation to the images, they’re a single moment in time. But once they come into my world, I take 30, 40, 50 pictures, I sequence them in a way that then tells a completely different story and it’s my story. You can see them as a document or you can see the whole thing as a fiction and that’s what I really love – it’s about imagination.”

Catholic survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan revisited

The image of Catholic women survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyanmarching with religious conviction in Tolosa, Phililppines was one of the most iconic news photographs of 2013. It rightly won a top award in the World Press Photo competition for AFP photographer Philippe Lopez and came to symbolise the triumph of hope and belief over adversity. Now fellow photographer Ted Aljibe has been back to take new portraits of those brave women

The survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan marching in a religious procession with icons and crucifixes in Tolosa on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte one week after the Super Typhoon devastated the area in November 2013. Photograph: Phillipe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

The survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan marching in a religious procession with icons and crucifixes in Tolosa on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte one week after the Super Typhoon devastated the area in November 2013. Photograph: Phillipe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

The women from Lopez's original photograph are reunited: (left to right) Virginia Piedad, Elsie Indic, Ma. Catalina Consuelo, and Maricel Martinez, on road where they marched last November. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

The women from Lopez's original photograph are reunited: (left to right) Virginia Piedad, Elsie Indic, Ma. Catalina Consuelo, and Maricel Martinez, on road where they marched last November. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Returning to their destroyed village after the catastrophic typhoon that killed thousands in the Philippines last year, the Catholic women, holding the religious artifacts have vowed a lifelong sacrifice to thank God for saving them. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Returning to their destroyed village after the catastrophic typhoon that killed thousands in the Philippines last year, the Catholic women, holding the religious artifacts have vowed a lifelong sacrifice to thank God for saving them. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

The four women sit for a photograph inside their chapel in Tolosa, Leyte island. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

The four women sit for a photograph inside their chapel in Tolosa, Leyte island. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

David Bailey: 'Cockneys don't cry. It's not for me, all that whingeing and moaning'

The photographer, 76, on class snobbery, the importance of body language, and being an outsider

David Bailey. Photograph: Suki Dhanda

David Bailey. Photograph: Suki Dhanda

My two biggest influences are Walt Disney and Picasso. I was six years old when the local cinema in Upton Park was bombed by a V2. I was so pissed off with Hitler. I thought he'd killed Bambi and Mickey Mouse.

I spent my childhood in a state of embarrassment because I couldn't spell. I was severely dyslexic and didn't learn to read until I joined the Air Force.

You always get stuck with where you began. People think of my days in the swinging 60s, regardless of what I've done in the following 50 years.

The 50s was the worst decade I've lived through. It was grim. The soundtrack was cracking glass – everywhere you went, there was broken glass. At least people had fun during the war in the 40s – there was a general attitude of: "Why not do it tonight? We could all be dead tomorrow."

I don't know why they let me in at Vogue [in 1960]. Back then they didn't even use models who were working class. The number of times I heard: "Oh no, we can't shoot her, have you heard her speak?" It was class snobbery of the highest order. I think I got in because the art director [John French] was gay. We were both outsiders and that's why he kept me.

The thought of eating flesh makes my stomach turn. My dad thought I was queer when I stopped eating meat at 12 and refused to play football.

I'm not sure what art is. I couldn't describe it. It's like love – sort of ethereal.

Waking up makes me happy. I'm still here! I rise with the larks. I like the light the morning brings and feel I've lost the day if I miss it.

Cockneys don't cry. It's not for me, all that whingeing and moaning. And it annoys me when others do it. Get over it! Things could always be worse.

We live, we grow old, we die. I don't want to go, but I am curious to see what happens.

Political correctness is a form of mind control. We all have the right to think, and say, what we want.

My wife has never lost her mystery. I'm sure that's why we've been married for so long. I'm still crazy about her. I loved my other wives – Penelope Tree, Catherine Deneuve, Marie Helvin – but not in the same way as Catherine [Dyer].

I wish I had more empathy. I tend to see things as they are. If a friend says, "My girlfriend's left me," my first reaction is, "Find another one". I don't understand why people make a fuss over something they can't control.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they move. Body language says more than what someone can verbalise. Some people are more erudite and articulate than others, but that doesn't mean they're more interesting or valid.

My greatest fear is that my dick will drop off. It's every man's worst nightmare if they're honest.

The Way We Wore

From leotards to harem pants, Michael McCollom's collection of photos reveals the daring side of African-American fashion

Linwood Allen was a schoolboy in Newark in the late 1970s. Photograph: Michael McCollom

Linwood Allen was a schoolboy in Newark in the late 1970s. Photograph: Michael McCollom

Trilbies and trenchcoats, leotards and legwarmers, and a monkey-fur vest teamed with a knee-length suede skirt – these are just some of the magnificent outfits worn by black men and women in this book of photographs from the 1940s to the present day. They are mostly New York designers, entrepreneurs, boutique owners, publicists and actors – friends and acquaintances of designer Michael McCollom, who brought these snapshots together.

Linwood Allen, pictured above with a hairbrush, and Douglas Says, below, modelling a pair of harem pants, were schoolfriends in Newark, New Jersey, not in the 1930s, as you might guess, but in the late 1970s. Enterprising and fashion-forward even as teenagers, they talked their high school yearbook photographer into taking studio shots. They took it seriously, tearing pages from magazines as prompts and styling themselves as Prohibition-era dandies. Today, they are fashion designers.

Douglas Says in his harem pants. Photograph: Michael McCollom

Douglas Says in his harem pants. Photograph: Michael McCollom

African-American fashion, McCollom says, has always had "a strong sense of style with a lot of daring. It's about being creative with what's available, rather than wearing designer clothes."

From brides in full wedding regalia to bachelors in bell-bottoms, these images should inspire those of us less inclined to embrace our own individuality.

• The Way We Wore: Black Style Then by Michael McCollom is published by Glitterati Incorporated, $30.

Rent boys and pole dancers – the photographs of Philip-Lorca diCorcia

The US photographer's first British retrospective at Hepworth Wakefield is an excursion into the tawdry melancholy of street prostitution, and much more besides

Street life … Ralph Smith, 21 years old, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, $25 (1990-2). Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Street life … Ralph Smith, 21 years old, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, $25 (1990-2). Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Philip-Lorca diCorcia made headlines in 2007 when he was sued by Erno Nussenzweig, a Hasidic Jew, who objected to his portrait being displayed in a New York art gallery. For his 1999 series Heads, DiCorcia attached a strobe light to scaffolding in New York's Times Square and positioned a hidden camera nearby to shoot people as they walked beneath. Nessenzweig was one of those unsuspecting subjects. He lost the court case and DiCorcias's melancholy street portrait of him is one of several hauntingly powerful images in the US photographer's first British retrospective at the Hepworth Wakefield.

The Heads shots came six years after another series that was just as controversial. In Hustlers, DiCorcia cruised a strip of LA's Santa Monica Boulevard where rent boys worked, and offered to shoot their portraits for the same hourly rate they charged for sex. As the years have gone by, both Hustlers and Heads seem more and more important, merging the staged and the natural, the cinematic and the intimate. If you have never seen these images in person, I urge you to make the journey to Wakefield. Like Jeff Wall's work, which also has elaborate staging, they need to be seen in a gallery to experience the full force of their luminous melancholy.

Roy, 'in his twenties', Los Angeles, California, $30, 1990-92. Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Roy, 'in his twenties', Los Angeles, California, $30, 1990-92. Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

In Heads, for instance, an adolescent boy in a baseball cap is, as DiCorcia put it in his artist's tour of the show earlier this week, "pure Holden Caulfield". Next to him, a young girl is freeze-framed with "a perfect Botticelli wind blowing through her hair". Both seem oddly unreal in the way that many of DiCorcia's portraits are: they emerge out of the darkness with other ghostly faces dancing around them, each lost in their own reverie. Though the context is set up, the results capture the intimate naturalism of faces picked out in the hustle and bustle of New York streets, but the clamour of Times Square is silenced by the darkness that lies just beyond this cinematic lighting.

There's a deeper melancholy about Hustlers that is not just to do with the desperate nature of streetprostitution, but more with the way the subjects pose – often looking off into the distance – and the way their loneliness is accentuated by the dreamy light and neon romance of Los Angeles. DiCorcia eschews digital technology, shooting on film and printing on high-end inkjet, and his colours often have an oddly nostalgic feel that recalls the soft gleam of Kodachrome. Whereas the light falling on a yellow rainhat in one of the Heads portraits makes the fabric seem even shinier, the light on the rent boys is softer, making them seem like Hollywood hopefuls on the hustle for a starring role – the very reason some of them gravitated to Los Angeles in the first place. The similarity between the two professions is made implicit here and, despite the breeze-blown beauty of the staged street portraits, DiCorcia somehow manages to avoid romanticising their desperation.

The exhibition begins with DiCorcia's most recent project, East of Eden, a somewhat oblique take on the book of Genesis and Steinbeck's novel of the same name.

Hannah (2004). Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Hannah (2004). Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Head #24 (2001). Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Head #24 (2001). Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

The context here is the economic crash of 2007-08, and while single images worked for me – a lone woman in a hotel room with skyscrapers in the distance across the water – the whole does not transcend the sum of the parts. Here and there, the symbolism was somehow both overloaded and not entirely clear: a dart suspended in mid-air as it flies towards a boy's face seemed too small and nasty a gesture, however beautiful the composition, to summon the idea of biblical sacrifice. (That the dart thrower is DiCorcia, and the boy his son, did not quite cut it for me on the Abraham and Isaac score.)

I was slightly bemused, too, by DiCorcia's revelation that Lucky 13, his series of naked pole dancers in suspended motion, was prompted by the famous news photograph The Falling Man, which caught a tiny figure dropping from the north tower of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. I liked the images a lot more before I learned that – but the workings of the minds of certain conceptualists remain, by their very obliqueness, a mystery to the rest of us.

New York City (Bruce and Ronnie, 1982), 1983. Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

New York City (Bruce and Ronnie, 1982), 1983. Photograph: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

The retrospective almost works in reverse, ending with one of his earliest series: A Storybook Life. This is where I lingered longest. Unlike the other work here, these small photographs are personal and often diaristic: they show the ebb and flow of ordinary life – even though many are posed or semi-staged – and, in their non-chronological waywardness, accentuate it. Made over 20 years, they already comprise a beautiful book, but on the wall, they take on a new life. There are glimpses, too, of DiCorcia's formative influences: a freezer packed with produce recalls a similar image by William Eggleston; some of the landscapes nod to Stephen Shore; some of the portraits to Nan Goldin – there is even a few of a thin young man named Bruce that Goldin also photographed. (DiCorcia and Goldin attended college together at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.)

A Storybook Life is also a masterclass in the art of sequencing with a consistent sense of narrative and tone. It offers a kind of breathing space after the rooms full of big ideas – and big prints – that preceded it. A place to slow down and take in the trajectory of DiCorcia's ongoing journey into the meanings of photography. A chance to see where he is coming from, and to wonder where he will head next.

Harry Benson's best photograph: the Beatles pillow-fighting

'Paul was having a brandy. John crept up behind and hit him with a pillow. Then it all took off'

'It breaks them out of their usual stiff lineup' … a detail from Harry Benson's shot of the Beatles pillow-fighting. Click to enlarge.

'It breaks them out of their usual stiff lineup' … a detail from Harry Benson's shot of the Beatles pillow-fighting. Click to enlarge.

I was meant to be going to Uganda to do a big news story for the Daily Express but, at the last minute, the paper called and said they wanted me to shoot the Beatles in Paris instead. I considered myself a serious journalist, so I managed to talk them out of it. I knew who the Beatles were, but it was early in 1964 and they had yet to have their big breakthrough. I wasn't interested in running around with them.

Five minutes later, the editor called and told me I was going whether I liked it or not. So I caught up with them in Fontainebleau, where they were doing a warm-up gig before the big Paris show. I went out to my car to get an extension for my flash and, when I got back, they were playing All My Loving. It was sensational. I thought: "Christ, this is it – the breakthrough." The music story had become a news story.

From then on, I made sure I stayed close to them. When we were in their hotel suite later, one of them said: "That was some pillowfight we had the other night." When I suggested photographing them having another, John said: "No, we'll look silly and childish." Paul was having a brandy – he always ordered expensive drinks – and John crept up behind him and hit him on the head with a pillow. And then it took off.

I like the fact Paul is hitting John and John is hitting George. There is a flow that makes the picture pretty perfect. Paul is the key. You see how his pillow is up? That's what makes the shot move. The composition reminds me of the famous Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima shot. For once, they're out of their usual stiff lineup: whenever they posed in a line, one or two of them – usually Ringo or George – always looked stupid.

The bathroom of my hotel room was my darkroom. I did the developing on the toilet seat and, of course, I was using chemicals. The people who stayed after me probably got skin problems. Once I'd finished, it was just a quick wipe of the seat before sending the pictures to London. When I called to see how they were, I was told: "They're fine." Then they asked: "What have you got for us next?" If I'd been shooting for Life or Vanity Fair, they would have said: "Don't work for a month – go and have a big dinner."

Looking back at all the pictures I took that night, any one of them would have done the job. But this one stands out. It took me to America: I stayed with the band on their first US tour. When I shot them being punched by Muhammad Ali, John didn't like the result at all. He said I'd made them look like fools. They wouldn't talk to me for a while, but they soon got over it.

I've done plenty of jobs in my life, and there are many I'd like to have another go at. But this isn't one of them. I don't know why I did it so well. I was young, I guess.

CV

Born: Glasgow, 1929.

Studied: Glasgow School of Art.

Influences: "No other photographers. Lord Beaverbrook, who gave me a job."

High point: "Going to America with the Beatles."

Low point: "Bobby Kennedy: I was right there when he was killed."

Top tip: "Buy a guitar instead!"

Bacteriography: how to create a photo of Stephen Fry from bacteria

Fry and Carol Vorderman are among celebrities to be 'bacteriographed'. Artist Zachary Copfer explains how it works

"Bacteriographs", like this one of Stephen Fry, are made from a sample of the human subjects' own bacteria. Photograph: Zachary Copfer

"Bacteriographs", like this one of Stephen Fry, are made from a sample of the human subjects' own bacteria. Photograph: Zachary Copfer

As an undergraduate pursuing a degree in biology, I found myself mesmerised. Each day's lecture brought to my attention new insights into the complex systems at work in the living world around me. Science grew into a way for me to revel in the beauty of the universe, and I began to better understand and appreciate my place in it.

After graduating, I worked as a microbiologist at a pharmaceutical company for several years. But I became bored and lost sight of why I loved science, so I packed it in to pursue a more fulfilling path, studying for a master of fine arts at the University of Cincinnati in the US.

While in grad school, I used art as a vehicle to rediscover the mysteries of science. Now I use my background in microbiology to employ bacteria as my artistic medium of choice. I'm fascinated by science's ability to make visible the living blanket of microorganisms that exist just beyond the human range of perception, and which affect us so intimately.

The "bacteriographs" that I create are made from a sample of the human subjects' own bacteria. To make the Pop Art style images, I irradiate areas of a Petri dish to manipulate their growth. This creates a photograph grown entirely from the bacteria themselves. I'm the only person in the world practising this art, which I called "bacteriography". Now a project I'm undertaking for The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair is bringing my work to the UK.

In order to create the portraits, I start with a standard digital photograph and turn it into a halftone (an image created entirely by dots). In a secret process which only I know, the image is then used to create a very special negative. Once this has been created, the negative is placed over a Petri dish of bacteria and radiation is shot through the negative onto the Petri dish. This burns away bacteria in the shape of the image in the photograph. Finally, the dish is placed in an incubator, so that the amazing bacteriograph of the celebrity's face slowly emerges over 48 hours.

I jumped at the chance to get involved with The Big Bang Fair, and am excited that my work will be a big part of the fair's goal of inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. I hope that my work will also encourage them to apply the knowledge they gain in fun and unique ways – and show that science can in fact be incredibly cool.

• Zachary Copfer is a bio-artist in Cincinnati, Ohio  

All six of Copfer's artworks will feature in a free public exhibition at Millennium Point in Birmingham, 15-24 February. The portraits will also be on display at The Big Bang Fair at the NEC, Birmingham, 13-16 March, where the finals of the National Science + Engineering Competition will also be judged. To get free tickets for the NEC event go towww.thebigbangfair.co.uk 

Hashima island and other abandoned places – in pictures

From decaying Detroit to an eerily empty island in Japan, we seem fascinated by abandoned and derelict sites

The approach to Hashima island in Japan. Its silhouette earned the island the nickname Gunkanjima or Battleship Island.Photograph: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

The approach to Hashima island in Japan. Its silhouette earned the island the nickname Gunkanjima or Battleship Island.Photograph: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

During the wave of industrialisation in the 19th century, a coal seam was discovered on Hashima. A child's rusted bike adds to the desolate atmosphere on the islandPhotograph: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

During the wave of industrialisation in the 19th century, a coal seam was discovered on Hashima. A child's rusted bike adds to the desolate atmosphere on the islandPhotograph: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

Until 1974 Hashima in Japan was the world’s most densely populated town… then its coal mine closed. Now it's desertedPhotograph: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

Until 1974 Hashima in Japan was the world’s most densely populated town… then its coal mine closed. Now it's desertedPhotograph: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

A television set and telephone pictured in former living quarters on Hashima, Japan. The images are taken from the book Gunkanjima, published by SteidlPhotograph: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

A television set and telephone pictured in former living quarters on Hashima, Japan. The images are taken from the book Gunkanjima, published by SteidlPhotograph: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

Known as the Sanzhi UFO houses, these pod-like abandoned buildings used to stand in Sanzhi District, New Taipei City, Taiwan. They have now been demolishedPhotograph: www.picc.it

Known as the Sanzhi UFO houses, these pod-like abandoned buildings used to stand in Sanzhi District, New Taipei City, Taiwan. They have now been demolishedPhotograph: www.picc.it

The Ryugyong Hotel, a 105-storey skyscraper in Pyongyang, North Korea. It is pictured here before the resumption of contruction in 2004. Though the hotel is now glass-covered, it is rumoured to still be empty. Photograph: Wikipedia

The Ryugyong Hotel, a 105-storey skyscraper in Pyongyang, North Korea. It is pictured here before the resumption of contruction in 2004. Though the hotel is now glass-covered, it is rumoured to still be empty. Photograph: Wikipedia

Adolf Hitler was once treated at Beelitz-Heilstätten, a 60-building hospital complex southwest of Berlin, built in the late 19th century to treat tuberculosis patients. Now its surgery lies ruined and empty. Photograph: Andreas Dorfer

Adolf Hitler was once treated at Beelitz-Heilstätten, a 60-building hospital complex southwest of Berlin, built in the late 19th century to treat tuberculosis patients. Now its surgery lies ruined and empty. Photograph: Andreas Dorfer

An abandoned bowling alley in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, 2009. More of Thomas Jorion's work can be found on his website and in his recent book, entitled Silencio and published by La Martiniere. Photograph: Thomas Jorion

An abandoned bowling alley in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, 2009. More of Thomas Jorion's work can be found on his website and in his recent book, entitled Silencio and published by La Martiniere. Photograph: Thomas Jorion

Photography of Ara Güler captures a forgotten Turkey

Previously unseen shots at the Arthur M Sackler Gallery in Washington DC show medieval Seljuk and Armenian monuments from across Anatolia

The Gök Medrese in Sivas, Turkey, as photographed in 1965. Photograph: courtesy of the Greer Gallery and Arthur M Sackler Gallery Archive//Washington Post

The Gök Medrese in Sivas, Turkey, as photographed in 1965. Photograph: courtesy of the Greer Gallery and Arthur M Sackler Gallery Archive//Washington Post

Two cone-topped minarets pierce the sky, silhouetted against a striking backdrop of clouds. Below them is an elaborate stone portal with a pointed arch, intricately carved with Islamic calligraphy and arabesque patterns in the style of the Seljuks, a dynasty that ruled much of what is now Turkey during the 12th and 13th centuries. Inside the archway, a wooden door stands ajar, while a small child, barefoot and unkempt, passes by in the foreground.

This is a Turkey that most people will never encounter. The location of the impressive Gök Medrese – a madrassa, or Islamic theological school, built in 1271 – is Sivas, in central Turkey. Though it served for a time as the Seljuk capital, Sivas today is a provincial city that's too far off the beaten path to attract most foreign visitors – or even most Turks. The photo, taken in the mid-1960s, captures a time long before a restoration that filled in gaps with unsightly, gleaming new masonry.

This and 20 other black-and-white photographs of lesser-known sites in Turkey – the work of the country's foremost living photographer – are on display in the intimate exhibit In Focus: Ara Güler's Anatolia, at the Arthur M Sackler Gallery in Washington DC. Güler, 85, is called the Eye of Istanbul for his 1950s and 60s photos of street scenes that are among the most iconic representations of the city.

The Istanbul native, whose archive includes some 800,000 images, got his start in the 1950s as a photojournalist for Hayat (the Turkish Life magazine) and went on to a distinguished career that included working at Magnum Photos with luminaries including Henri Cartier-Bresson, and publishing his work around the world.

The works in In Focus – never previously shown – come from a set of 53 photographs donated to the museum in 1989 by Raymond Hare, US ambassador to Turkey from 1961 to 1965. Hare had a keen interest in Middle Eastern architecture, and the photos were a gift from colleagues when he left Turkey.

Shot at locations across Anatolia, the photographs mainly portray medieval Seljuk and Armenian monuments, along with a few other sites including the stunning Ishak Pasa Palace in Dogubayazit, built by the Ottomans in the 18th century. Whether due to deterioration or to restoration and modernisation for tourism, most of these places don't look the same today. The photos of Armenian sites, including the 10th-century Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, are especially poignant because Güler himself belongs to Istanbul's dwindling Armenian community.

By the time he photographed the remote ruins of Ani in north-eastern Turkey – capital of the Bagratuni Armenian Kingdom in the 10th and 11th centuries – the buildings had badly deteriorated. The facade of the crumbling Church of the Redeemer – only half of which remains standing after a lightning strike – appears surrounded by thick, overgrown grasses, as if it had stood untouched for years.

Ishak Pasa Palace, Dogubayazit, in eastern Anatolia. The photo of a governing complex built by the Ottomans in the 18th century was taken in 1965. Photograph: courtesy of the Greer Gallery and Arthur M Sackler Gallery Archive//Washington Post

Ishak Pasa Palace, Dogubayazit, in eastern Anatolia. The photo of a governing complex built by the Ottomans in the 18th century was taken in 1965. Photograph: courtesy of the Greer Gallery and Arthur M Sackler Gallery Archive//Washington Post

Although Güler has travelled the globe and photographed the rich and famous – from Salvador Dalí to Alfred Hitchcock – he is most proud of his work covering his native country. He explains his philosophy in a video accompanying the show: "We press photographers record a visual history of our time. I find that more important than creating art."

Güler has a distinctive photographic style, however, and the exhibit treats his photos as "art", emphasising aesthetic elements such as dramatic lighting, composition, texture and framing. Labelled only with names, locations and dates, the works are divided into four (slightly contrived) thematic sections, each paired with a quotation from Güler and commentary that encourages viewers to contemplate the artistic qualities of the images.

While presenting Güler's photos as art is valid, to a certain extent it removes them from their cultural and historical context. A wide shot of the Church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents in Ani, for example, shows a deep river valley that snakes between two hillsides directly behind the church. What isn't revealed is that this river forms the boundary between Turkey and Armenia; the border itself is lined in places with mines and has been closed since 1993 due to long-simmering political tensions between the two countries.

Nevertheless, even without an in-depth examination of their political and historical significance, Güler's photographs are compelling in their beauty and narrative power. Whether viewed as art or documentation, they capture a moment in Turkey that has long since vanished.

Rescued from war-torn Bangui: photographer Samuel Fosso's life work

Photographers chronicling violence in Central African Republic recount their extraordinary discovery and rescue of prints and negatives after Fosso's studio was attacked by looters

Some of Samuel Fosso's archive, discovered in Bangui, Central African Republic, by photographers Jerome Delay and Marcus Bleasdale. Photograph: Peter Bouckaert

Some of Samuel Fosso's archive, discovered in Bangui, Central African Republic, by photographers Jerome Delay and Marcus Bleasdale. Photograph: Peter Bouckaert

'I am all the African chiefs who have sold their continent to the white men' … Samuel Fosso's self-portrait as an African chief

'I am all the African chiefs who have sold their continent to the white men' … Samuel Fosso's self-portrait as an African chief

The life work of one of Africa's most important living photographers and contemporary artists, Samuel Fosso, has been rescued from destruction after his studio and home were attacked by looters in war-torn Central African Republic.

Fosso, who was born in Cameroon but lived in Bangui for years, is an award-winning photographer who has exhibited his work around the world. His prints – often involving self-portraits of himself as historical figures including Mao Zedong, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Patrice Lumumba – are regarded as highly collectable and sell for thousands of pounds.

His archive could have been lost for ever – another casualty of the CAR's bitter conflict – this week were it not for its chance discovery and extraordinary rescue by two photographers chronicling the violence –Jerome Delay and Marcus Bleasdale. Delay, Associated Press's chief photographer in Africa, who has covered conflicts around the globe, had been photographing intercommunal violence – including horrific lynchings – when he came across negatives strewn in the dirt.

Marcus Bleasdale rescues archives of Samuel Fosso. Photograph: Peter Bouckaert

Marcus Bleasdale rescues archives of Samuel Fosso. Photograph: Peter Bouckaert

Bleasdale said: "Jerome was taking pictures in Miskin, which is the Muslim quarter where Fosso lived – although he's not a Muslim himself. Everyone had left and the Christian population was looting.

"He found a bunch of negatives lying in the dirt. Some of them had been rained on. Fosso's housekeeper was still there trying to protect the house and studio from looters. He went in and there was maybe 150-200 prints which he rescued. But there were [also] boxes full of negatives – Fosso's life work – maybe 20,000."

Amid gunfire, the two photographers – accompanied by Human Rights Watch director of emergencies Peter Bouckaert – returned to rescue Fosso's negatives.

"Everything of major value was being stolen. But the prints had been left inside the house even as the roof was being ripped off," Bleasdale added. "A lot were portraits he had been making of local people. We couldn't rescue his cameras but we went back to get the archive."

In a blog for the New York Times, Delay "Thirty years of work lay scattered in the dust. It reminded me of Serbian militias destroying birth reports from Muslim Kosovars in the early 2000s.

"I started to pick up the negatives … Ten minutes after I started to gather up his work, a French patrol drove by, demanding to know why a journalist was frantically putting things in a bag. Once I explained, the captain proposed that he 'shoot and send the looters away'.

Members of the Central African armed forces surround a gendarme suspected of being a former Seleka rebel on 5 February. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty

Members of the Central African armed forces surround a gendarme suspected of being a former Seleka rebel on 5 February. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty

"As my helpers left, I entered the house along with some colleagues.Fosso's office was littered with more boxes of negatives and prints. Limited-edition, museum-quality prints, some burned on the edges – they must have tried to set the house ablaze – some soiled with water and mud. As we walked out with the most valuable work, an anti-Balaka militiaman toting an AK-47 rushed by firing into the air. He accused us of 'having called Sangaris' – the French forces – and ordered us to leave.

"Shoving all the prints and negatives into my car, we sped away. I called Fosso in Paris. He was devastated. But at least some of his legacy has been preserved."Peter Boukaert described the chaos of the scene they discovered in a dispatch for Human Rights Watch: "Young men with grenades were walking around us. Occasionally, French and African peacekeepers entered the neighbourhood and fired in the air to disperse the looters, but they usually quickly returned as the peacekeepers were leaving."

Fosso's career took off in the mid-1990s after a chance encounter with a French talent scout led to his work being shown at the Guggenheim in New York, and in Paris and London. In 1994 Bernard Descamps had been in Bangui and had asked to be introduced to local photographers and was taken to meet Fosso – already 20 years into his self-portraiture.

Rescued Samuel Fosso archives in the back of a pickup. Photograph: Peter Bouckaert

Rescued Samuel Fosso archives in the back of a pickup. Photograph: Peter Bouckaert

Since being introduced to a wider international audience, his work has been compared with artists as diverse as Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman.

Despite his international fame, Fosso had continued to live discreetly in the Central African Republic until a few months ago when he and his family were forced to leave the country because of deepening conflict.

In an interview in the Guardian two and a half years ago, Fosso said his favourite photo was a self-portrait of himself dressed as an African chieftain clutching a bunch of giant sunflowers. He described how he had found his photographic voice.

"I started taking self-portraits simply to use up spare film; people wanted their photographs the next day, even if the roll wasn't finished, and I didn't like waste. The idea was to send some pictures to my mother in Nigeria, to show her I was all right.

"Then I saw the possibilities. I started trying different costumes, poses, backdrops. It began as a way of seeing myself grow up, and slowly it became a personal history – as well as art, I suppose. In 1994, there was an exhibition of African photography in Mali. I looked out some of my self-portraits, and won first prize. Now my work has been exhibited in Paris, New York, London."

After the rescue of Fosso's archive Delay spoke to his agent in Paris, Jean-Marc Patras, which he recounted in the blog.

A photograph by Jerome Delay of a woman running for cover as heavy gunfire erupts in the Miskin district of Bangui on 3 February. Photograph: Jerome Delay/AP

A photograph by Jerome Delay of a woman running for cover as heavy gunfire erupts in the Miskin district of Bangui on 3 February. Photograph: Jerome Delay/AP

"Samuel is cool, calm and collected," Patras told Delay by phone from Paris on Wednesday morning. "It's a bad story, but at the same time we can look at it as the glass half empty or half full. We are positive. His wife and kids are safe since last July in Nigeria. He has been in Paris for a month. If he had been in his house when they destroyed it, they would have killed him."

Aerial Perspectives by Alex MacLean – in pictures

Taken from 5,000 feet above the earth in a Cessna aeroplane, Alex MacLean's photographs document humanity's footprint on the natural world. His unique perspective can be seen at his first-ever London show which opens at Beetles + Huxley on 3 March and runs until 29 March.

Bathers in wave pool, Orlando, Florida, US, 1999

Bathers in wave pool, Orlando, Florida, US, 1999

B-52 Bone Yard, Tuscon, Arizona, US, 1993

B-52 Bone Yard, Tuscon, Arizona, US, 1993

Dinghies clustered around dock, Duxbury, Massachusetts, US, 1993

Dinghies clustered around dock, Duxbury, Massachusetts, US, 1993

Shipping containers, Portsmouth, Virginia, US, 2011

Shipping containers, Portsmouth, Virginia, US, 2011

The New York subway photographs of Christopher Morris

This atmospheric series depicts the chaos and squalor of New York's subway system in 1981, in all its graffitied glory. The then 22-year-old Christopher Morris – these days best known for his war photography – was interning at a photo agency. "I was new to New York, at the very start of my career, and I became mesmerised by the total urban decay, that was most visual with the subway system." Over six months Morris embedded himself in this underground world, capturing the variety of humanity there. The results provide a time capsule of a darker, grittier place, when the city was a melting pot of tension and creativity

Sony world photography awards - professional shortlist

The World Photography Organisation has announced the shortlists for the professional, open and youth categories of the 2014 Sony world photography awards. All shortlisted images will go on show at Somerset House 1-18 May

Eagle hunter Ardak, pictured hunting with his golden eagle in the Altai region of western mongolia in the winter. Photograph: Simon Morris

Eagle hunter Ardak, pictured hunting with his golden eagle in the Altai region of western mongolia in the winter. Photograph: Simon Morris

A baby Orang Utan peeking out from his mother's embrace. Photograph: Chin Boon Leng

A baby Orang Utan peeking out from his mother's embrace. Photograph: Chin Boon Leng

On the dock at City Park in Scottsboro, Alabama. Photograph: Samantha Fortenberry

On the dock at City Park in Scottsboro, Alabama. Photograph: Samantha Fortenberry

Young men from the Kara Tribe, Omo, Ethiopia. Photograph: Louise Porter

Young men from the Kara Tribe, Omo, Ethiopia. Photograph: Louise Porter

My First ever shots with a DSLR

It was summer 2007 and i started to plan my trip around Europe. I always wanted to ride my motorcycle somewhere apart from England. I went on google maps and decided that my first stop will be Paris. The next step in the planning was to purchase a camera, even tho i had point and shoot cameras in the past i really wanted to get something that that would capture my trip with better quality then a point and shoot. Luckily Jessops was around the corner from my house. I couldn't even imagine the spectrum of cameras that were at my disposal. With a surprised look on my face i started to look threw all of the options that they had in the store. An hour has passed and i still wasn't any closer to choosing what i wanted. There was a person not far from me looking threw a number of lenses to purchase and i think he saw my face when i was trying to pick a camera and gave me one advice that i stuck to, he said : "pick what feels right in your hand". So i started holding a number of cameras in my hand and taking test shots with them, after 30 minutes or so i decided to go with Canon 400D. From that moment that was my first DSLR and with a smile on my face i parted with my cash. Fast forward threw the travel and even tho i was looking forward to riding my bike the experience wasn't as i hoped, rain and wind made it a tough ride. 

Once i arrived in Paris there were so many beautiful things to photograph, but i would like to share the first two shots that i made with my 400D there. 

I was staying right next to Boulevard Haussmann and around that are there are many narrow streets that are filled with beautiful buildings, but what captured my attention was an old lady sitting next to a closed shop asking for money and even tho at the time i wasn't brave enough to take the shot in front of her i managed to take it from the side of her.

Babyshka V parige.jpg

One of the reasons i wanted to travel to Paris was to see Louvre and the beautiful glass pyramid entrance, so i took a taxi ride there and shot this image from the back of the entrance to the Louvre. 

IMG_1457.jpg

I have been to Paris a few times since my first trip and taken many more images but these were the first two that made me fall in love with photography.