Image-maker who captures leading Tykes

editorial image
Have your say

She’s chased Alex Higgins at 3am, been pursued by an angry Liam Gallagher and once slept a night in a graveyard to get pictures of Harold Shipman’s victims.

So getting informal portraits of Yorkshire’s superstars should have been a doddle for former paparazzi photographer Jennifer Robertson.

Not really. It took three years to put together the images for her book Yorkshire Made Me with some subjects a little more difficult to persuade than others.

“I think David Hockney was the most difficult to get hold of,” said Jen, originally from Crosspool in Sheffield.

“I wrote 15 letters to his various homes in California and Bridlington and to the gallery at Salt’s Mill in Bradford. Then out of the blue he rang up and said in that unmistakeable voice: ‘Hello, I’ll do it, come to my house next week.’

“So we did. He was lovely. He gave us lunch and we chatted, we had the day there. I think he was glad that we arrived without a lighting crew and make-up artists. I don’t do all that.

“I like to work with natural light. Being press trained rather than art school I don’t like to take too long. Frankly some of the arty photographers can fart on a bit.

“I think you get the best out of a person in the first half an hour, after that they can get a bit fed up.”

Jen and her partner in Kyte photography Lynne Fletcher, a Lancastrian with a public relations background, met while working in Manchester and their business is now based in Halifax.

“I went to King Ted’s school and then started on the Barnsley Cronicle as a junior photographer,” said 49-year-old Jen, who went on to become a photographer and picture editor on the prestigious Manchester agency Cavendish Press. She has worked for the Sunday Times, GQ, Marks and Spencer and the BBC.

“The whole thing for me is that I want it to be real. I don’t want it to be the person who’s in Skyfall or Downton, I want the person behind the character.

“It’s that realism, that Yorkshire grit that I’m looking for. I love using natural light and I want the pictures to say something about the person. I think I have got in places as a woman that a man might not be able to get in to. And I think the fact that we are so down to earth and chatty helps us too. People tend to like that.”

Among those she’s captured the soul of is Sheffield’s Michael Palin – who wasn’t keen to go outside, South Yorkshire’s Brian Blessed, Sir Michael Parkinson and Lesley Garrett.

“We went to see Michael Palin at his offices in Covent Garden and asked him if we could go outside to take the pictures. He wasn’t keen because it was cold but we said; ‘Come on, don’t be nesh.’

“And he said ‘nesh?’ I haven’t heard that word for a long time, I think I’ll use that the next time I’m in the jungle.’

“Lesley Garrett was lovely and so was David Blunkett but we had a hard time with Michael Parkinson. He was at the Harrogate Jazz Festival and we took him outside to get pics but people were driving by shouting his name and distracting him but we managed in the end.”

Whatever the challenges of portrait photography they don’t come close to the problems faced by Jen in her former life – as a Paparazzo in Manchester.

“I once chased Alex Higgins all over Manchester through the night when we heard he had blood all over his face after a fight and Liam Gallagher chased me down the street when I tried to take his picture once. I also spent the night in a graveyard in Hyde, Manchester waiting for them to exhume the bodies of Dr Harold Shipman’s victims. I got the picture and it went round the world.”

So what about the Yorkshire stars they didn’t get for the book?

“There were a few we didn’t get but we also had to be a bit choosy. We couldn’t get Alan Titchmarsh, and Alan Bennett didn’t want to do it but, he sent a card thanking us for our interest.”

The book Yorkshire Made Me, by Jennifer Robertson and Lynne Fletcher, contains 38 images and is published by Carnegie, £12.99.

The Yorkshire Made Me exhibition runs in the Garden Gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park from March 29 to June 1.