‘I took this a year after he resigned. Did I sense any regret about the situation he’d left behind? Not really’
This picture has actually lost me a few jobs. Plus I think I might even have lost a flat because of it. I was looking at a property and was chatting to the estate agent and told them that I’d recently shot David Cameron. We put an offer in – for the asking price – but it was turned down. So yes, I do suspect people don’t like David Cameron.
But when you shoot someone like Cameron, though, you have to remain neutral. If you turn up thinking too many things then you’ll inevitably forget something, or position the lighting wrong, and the subject will get irritated. You have to go in with clarity. Whether you’re a former prime minister or a bus driver, I’ll always have the same clarity of thought.
The photograph came about as part of a project I was working on, aiming to capture interesting faces in the style of artists such as Holbein and Caravaggio. It took place in Cameron’s office, almost exactly one year after his resignation. My degree is in medieval history, and so shooting people who are part of our history like this gives me an excuse to touch history.
“As a sitter he proved to be a darling. You have to separate the politics from the person – and he was a charming chap.”
He arrived in his gym clothing, which was rather funny, and he was worried he looked a bit pasty. I explained my ideas, and about how I wanted to capture this sort of meditative statesman feeling. I wanted a sense of looking backwards at the current political situation.
I was worried that Cameron might be a difficult person to photograph, but as a sitter he proved to be a darling. He had a lot of patience. You have to separate politics from the person, and he was a charming chap.
I knew the public would be wondering, what is he thinking? That’s why I wanted him in this pose, shot in profile. There are no other pictures of Cameron like this – the others normally capture the signature “call me Dave” look. But now he’s not in power he can afford to show more emotion and try different poses.
I do think the contemplation was genuine. I’ve worked with a lot of actors in Los Angeles so I know what faking it looks like. I’ve also worked with many politicians, both Conservative and Labour, and when I ask for a certain look, some of them can turn around instantly with that expression. But David seemed to me a genuine guy, a family man, who had a real sense of the seriousness of office. Did I sense any regret about the situation he’d left behind? Not really.
“I went with a fading blue backdrop – you can see that as the European flag fading away, or as the blue of Conservatism.”
I was inspired by Sir James Guthrie, the realist painter who depicted a lot of politicians straight after the first world war. They’d experienced all that horror and history, and he captured that moment. Backdrops are important for me. Guthrie painted in a muddy brown, suggestive of the trenches. I went with a fading blue backdrop. You can interpret that as the European flag fading away, or simply as the blue of Conservatism.
I’m a realist photographer so I like to capture everything – the grey hairs, blotchy skin, all the details and lines. I want to say – this was the true image of David Cameron at this moment in history.
He’s not the first leader I’ve photographed – I did John Major back in 2017 for another project. When I went to shoot him there was a sense of betrayal there. It was in his mouth, in his breath. But with David there was not that sense. He was energetic, almost raring to go. There was a restlessness I could really sense. I think he wants to return after this Brexit situation is resolved. I think he’ll be back.