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Chris Duffy: Every city has its own unique beauty, you just need to find it and express it in your own personal way – and that is in the eye of the artist

You are the son of one of the most important XXth Century photographers. In which way are you involved in Photography? Being the son of a famous photographer is hard not to be involved in photography one way or another, especially as two of Duffy’s best friends were also famous British photographers; David Bailey and Terence Donovan. The three of them were constantly discussing photography and although they were great friends they were also great rivals but there was always a great passion and love for the medium and I remember as kid their discussions could go on for hours. In the early days Duffy had his studio in our family house and famous people were constantly calling in. I don’t think I was really aware of the significance of this until much later in life, it just all seemed very normal at the time but looking back on it I realize how extraordinary and unique it was. After leaving school in 1972 my first job was working in a colour processing laboratory, my job was to take the rolls of film and load them onto the processing machine, the process took about an hour and eventually the films came off the machine and into a drying cabinet, then I would cut the film up and put them in clear plastic sleeves and wait for the client to collect them. After a year I had learned pretty much all there was to learn about processing colour transparency film but what intrigued me was looking at the results of the processed film, I started to think about how you actually got the image on the film and then figured that my father was a photographer so I called him up and asked him if I could work to him. Initially he said no but I kept pestering him and after several weeks he agreed to allow me to work for him as a third assistant and my job for the first year was basically sweeping the floor and making coffee but I listened and watched and learnt a lot. After several months one of these assistants left and I moved up the ladder and it wasn’t long before I became Duffy’s first assistant and studio manager. I ended up working for Duffy for seven years and went around the world with him working on major editorial commissions, advertising campaigns, portraits shoots, fashion magazines. It was a great time and and gave me a unique opportunity to learn the techniques of a master photographer. Duffy was very technical and very eclectic and he worked on every camera format possible, he also had his own studio and his own darkrooms so I got to learn all of his lighting, camera and darkroom techniques which I still use to this day. After seven years of working for Duffy I decided that I would become a freelance assistance but that didn’t last long as the photographers I worked with couldn’t teach me anything that I had’nt already learnt with Duffy and so it was time to go out on my own and be a photographer. It was a scary move and for a year or so I had evening jobs to support myself while I was trying to take my portfolio around to get work but eventually it paid off and I started shooting for magazines and advertising agencies. I guess I was one of the last assistants that came through a proper apprenticeship and work for a photographer that shot every kind of commission from fashion, beauty, portraits, advertising, and music business and so it was natural for me when I started to work to take on every kind of commission too and having worked for Duffy I was well equipped to deal with anything that got thrown my way. From 1980 to 1986 I ran my own studio and was very successful working on a regular basis for major editorial, music and advertising clients but by 1987 I’d given up stills photography and moved into motion picture and the film industry, I guess in some ways I became tired of working in a commercial environment. The interesting thing is that since I have been working on the Duffy Archive it has re ignited a great passion for taking photographs again and I feel like I’ve come full circle. Now I take pictures for myself so I’m the client and the only one I have to please, this is how I started off and it’s great to find that enthusiasm again for taking pictures. My approach is very different now and I have simplified my camera kit and my technique, I constantly try to find that elusive fragment of time that conceals a new and unique moment in time. Everyone has their own opinion on what makes a good photograph but after years of looking at photographs you tend to narrow your opinion down but I subscribe to the Ansel Adams view that “ There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs” and moreover “ Twelve significant photographs in a year is a good crop”….

What is your opinion about Photography in these present days? Do you think that the “digital world” and “the internet” have changed Photography?

Analogue and digital photography live in different worlds, in the days of analogue you actually had to know how to light and expose your film but digital is so forgiving, cameras have automatic exposure, automatic focus, the latitude and sensitivity of the sensor is extraordinary but the main difference is that analog photography deals with a different dynamic to digital and that dynamic is essentially about a metaphysical condition. A traditional analog photograph is about the moment in time, a real moment in time and when you look at the negative or transparency that moment is captured on the film as seen through the lens at that moment. A Cartier Bresson photograph is an exact slice of time, it’s not a fraction before or a fraction after that seminal moment and with the artists eye has captured a unique fragment of time and a unique mysterious image. Digital however extends the envelope of believability, many times I’m not actually sure what I’m looking at because I have no proof that the image I’m looking at is real, it can be transposed many times and added to or composited with other elements. That’s not to say that interesting work can’t be achieved in the digital domain but to me it’s digital imaging, it is not photography as I understand it in the true sense. For me the most interesting photographs are photographs that have a sense of mystery and I can’t understand how the image has been achieved but with digital anything is possible so it doesn’t hold any interest for me. In the end there is a place for both digital and analog but it’s important to understand the difference when you’re looking at the photograph in being able to assess its relevance and value.

In our blog www.saucepolis.com we hold once a year the photography contest “ Zaragoza close to you”. The flash or inspiration of the photos need to be the city of Zaragoza. Do you think Zaragoza is a photogenic city?

Every city has its own unique beauty, you just need to find it and express it in your own personal way – and that is in the eye of the artist.

Which places or spots in Zaragoza have captivated you?

I was only in Zaragoza for a day and a half and the only places that I went to was the Centro de Historia, the hotel, the tapas bars and the drag show so I will let you decide on that one….!!

What is your opinion about the cultural proposals and activities that Centro de Historia and Zaragoza offers to its citizens?

This is my first visit to Zaragosa so I’m not too familiar with what the Centro de Historia have presented before but it’s a fabulous venue and it looks like there’s a wide and diverse variety of cultural exhibits, certainly the halls where Duffy’s work is exhibited is just fantastic, it’s a great space, beautifully curated and very accessible to any visitors

How would you describe the experience of being part of a travelling exhibition?

Believe it or not it takes a long time to put an exhibition together in fact the exhibition in Zaragoza we started talking about a year ago and then it took two months of solid work to put it all together to make the show possible. This year I think we would have had 12 international exhibitions and we have gone from Sydney Australia round the world to San Francisco in the USA but it’s still a great thrill to open a new show and expose the work to a fresh audience and I feel very lucky being able to work with such fantastic material that really connects with people.

What is the strangest or oddest thing ever happened to you in a hotel?

I arrived at a hotel that I was booked into in Florence in the middle of the night, the cab dropped me off outside and drove away and then I discovered that and the hotel was closed. I had to walk in the freezing cold around town and try and find another hotel. The next day I called the hotel and spoke to the manager and told him that I turned up but couldn’t get into the hotel, he then told me that they didn’t answer the door after 10 o’clock but said that I should have telephoned, I told him I did telephone several times and then he said to me but we don’t answer the phone after 10 o’clock because it will wake the guests up, figure that one out………!!! Needless to say I won’t be going back to that hotel.

Which funny thing do you always carry with you in your suitcase when travelling?

My passport….

What type of breakfast is your favourite in hotel when you are away from home?

Well I guess I am a traditionalist at heart and eggs always work from me, I certainly would recommend the Spanish omelette in the hotel and in fact I had to have a second helping….!

Which is the next stop of your travelling exhibition?

Well we have come to the end of the solo Duffy shows this year but we have four more shows before the end of the year, these are mixed shows with other photographers and we have one in Paris (iconic advertising and glamour), one in Amsterdam (Un-Seen Festival) and one in Brussels (Mixed Iconic 60’s photography) and I think one in Art Basel Miami USA. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the David Bowie Aladdin Sane album cover and we are working on several worldwide David Bowie exhibitions so if anyone would like to join our mailing list for information please go to www.duffyphotographer.com and go to the news or contact page and join the mailing list. Alternatively you can email contact@duffyphotographer.com

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