As a Historical Portrait Photographer, I felt privileged to undertake a sitting with Iain Duncan-Smith. Renowned as a veteran soldier, Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, Former Leader of the Conservative Party, and Secretary for Work and Pensions, his political career rivals many, and as such earns him a place of historical significance in British Politics. For me, I was therefore delighted when he accepted my invitation to sit for a portrait at Caxton House, London. I have long had an avid interest in socio-political history and as such have been aware of Iain Duncan-Smith’s presence on the political scene since my own childhood. Over the past few years, as the country has gone through a period of austerity, he has become a somewhat controversial politician eliciting different opinions from various walks of life.
Certain Portrait Sittings can weigh on a Photographer with a sense of trepidation. After all, the rapport and interaction between Photographer and Sitter is often notable in the finished images. The sitter needs to be on board with taking guidance and direction from the Photographer. When the sitter is someone as famous and eminent, as well as a natural figure-head and powerful, it can be somewhat daunting. Before the sitting I viewed various clips on YouTube, read opinions in newspapers and on social networking to gauge public opinion. In some instances he was described as “cruel” and, conversely, “just” in others. There is no doubt he splits opinion, and I wondered what the man would be like to work with.
When taking Historical Portraits I am keen that they should represent historical fact and not be a political statement in themselves. Effectively, the viewer should be able to overlay their own opinion of the character of the person in the picture. Iain Duncan-Smith is well known amongst photographers for creating a neutral portrait, ideal for history itself to become the judge of character.
Once I arrived at Caxton House, I was able to explain the type of Historical Portrait I hoped to achieve. I began by capturing a plain and determined expression. This naturally fed through to Duncan-Smith’s accustomed political stance and stature that we know from his rousing political speeches and broadcasts. These images portray the sense of power of the man speaking with authority and determination on the floor of the Commons.
Any trepidation I had soon melted away, as in person Iain Duncan-Smith is both kind and easy to work with. He is used to having his portrait taken and as such was at ease taking my direction and guidance for the shoot. Timed shortly after the failure of the Universal Credit Bill, pushed by IDS, it was ideally timed to represent the cross-roads which faced him as Secretary.
As opinions have come in to me following the images I am able to inwardly smile at my ability to create a portrait ready for the viewer’s opinion and not weighed down with my own political sentiment. Some feel I have captured the “essence of evil” while others have determined I’ve captured “a proud and well-respected politician”. Two sides of a coin: both correct in the eye of the beholder, both upholding those individual viewers’ opinions. If I can obtain varying opinions, both positive and negative, then I have achieved what I set out to achieve: impartiality. I have remained true to, and delivered on, the essence of the Historical Portrait.
Photographing Iain Duncan-Smith was both inspiring and rewarding, paving the way for many more political sittings and the challenges they bring.