When Harry met...

Harry Bor­den re­calls how a photo shoot with the leg­endary drinker cul­mi­nated in a pub crawlÉ

Amateur Photographer - - 7days - As told to David Clark

Who could refuse a pub crawl with richard Har­ris? Harry Bor­den fondly re­mem­bers his por­trait ses­sion with the ac­tor

My por­trait ses­sion with ac­tor Richard Har­ris nearly ended be­fore it had be­gun. It was March 2000 and I had been com­mis­sioned to pho­to­graph him by film magazine Em­pire. At that time, he was liv­ing in the Savoy Ho­tel in cen­tral Lon­don and I went along with the jour­nal­ist who go­ing to in­ter­view him. We had only been given a halfhour lunchtime slot. How­ever, when we ar­rived at the ho­tel suite Har­ris was ini­tially very dif­fi­cult, and while he was will­ing to be in­ter­viewed, he re­fused to be pho­tographed.

Har­ris, then ap­proach­ing his 70th birth­day, was a stage and screen le­gend who had twice been nom­i­nated for an Os­car. He was equally fa­mous for his ri­otous, hell-rais­ing life­style. He was tall, had a shock of white hair and pierc­ing blue eyes. Even as an old man, he had an in­cred­i­ble pres­ence; he gen­uinely looked like a leader of men. He was clearly the al­pha male in the room. The jour­nal­ist and I were buzzing around him like mos­qui­toes and he was just bat­ting us away. There seemed lit­tle chance of him chang­ing his mind and I be­gan to feel a sense of panic.

How­ever, as I sat qui­etly in the room while the in­ter­view pro­gressed, Har­ris be­gan to re­lax. He told us dis­parag­ing sto­ries about cur­rent A-list ac­tors with re­fresh­ing hon­esty, and he be­came en­ter­tain­ing and gen­uinely funny. He was warm­ing to us and even­tu­ally agreed to be pho­tographed, but not in any for­mal way and only dur­ing the in­ter­view.

He was lit by win­dow light and I set up my Has­sel­blad CM on a tri­pod with a 120mm lens and shot some in­for­mal por­traits on a roll of ISO 400 colour film.

The main shot on these pages is the one I liked the most and I still have it in my on­line port­fo­lio. The depth of field is very shal­low, but his face is sharp. It’s an up­beat pic­ture, but there are others taken at the same time in which he looks sad­der and the light­ing is more moody. Af­ter the in­ter­view he al­lowed me to shoot some more for­mal por­traits against a por­ta­ble back­drop I’d brought with me.

Even though he was nearly 70, he had great bone struc­ture and was re­ally hand­some and charis­matic. It was easy to see how he car­ried on get­ting roles, although I’d imag­ine he could be quite dif­fi­cult to work with.

Post-shoot drinks

By the time the por­trait ses­sion was over, we were all get­ting on fa­mously and he sug­gested we all go for a drink in one of the Savoy’s bars. Af­ter a pint or two there, the af­ter­noon turned into a bit of a pub crawl. We went to another bar in the Savoy, then he took us to one of his favourite pubs on The Strand.

I’m not much of a drinker and I was aware I had another shoot, for BBC Mu­sic, later that af­ter­noon, but the op­por­tu­nity to spend time with Richard Har­ris was too good to miss.

At that time, I had joined the In­de­pen­dent Pho­tog­ra­phers’ Group and had been in­flu­enced by doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phers who were part of that group. I’d bought a Le­ica M6 and was be­gin­ning to re­alise that although it was nice to do for­mal por­traits, of­ten the most in­ter­est­ing pic­tures were taken be­fore and af­ter a shoot.

I had my Le­ica with me, and so while we went from bar to bar, I was tak­ing in­for­mal, doc­u­men­tary-style shots of him. The af­ter­noon flew by. Con­sid­er­ing we were only promised half an hour, we got a good crack of the whip.

By the time I was due to go to the BBC shoot, I’d had sev­eral drinks and no lunch, so my as­sis­tant had to drive me. I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing at all about that sec­ond shoot, but I

‘I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing about the sec­ond shoot, but I must have ar­rived smelling of al­co­hol’

must have ar­rived smelling of al­co­hol and cig­a­rettes as Har­ris had been smok­ing. It was the last job I did for BBC Mu­sic – they prob­a­bly thought I was a good pho­tog­ra­pher, but seemed to have a drink prob­lem.

In the two years that fol­lowed, Har­ris went on to be­come fa­mous to a new gen­er­a­tion of cin­ema fans for his role as Dum­ble­dore in the first two Harry Pot­ter films. He died in 2002. Although my shoot with him had started badly, it ended up as a great and mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion. He was a won­der­ful sub­ject and didn’t dis­ap­point in any way.

A pub crawl with Richard Har­ris turned into a fruit­ful photo ses­sion

At first, Har­ris was un­will­ing to be pho­tographed, but he soft­ened his stance af­ter a while

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