I was 6’3”, with a cut-glass accent and a girl’s name. My birth father was an aristocrat, my birth mother was a model. My adopted dad was a Maori but four amazing women brought me up. I had a place at drama school and turned down Oxford University.
I became a photographer, covering fashion for Vogue, reportage for the Sunday Times Magazine and spending ten years of my life documenting London’s most notorious gangsters.
I started photographing at Lancing College. Bullied and bad at sport, photography became both release and sanctuary. At lights out, I would run from the dormitory through the shadows, across two courtyards and up six flights of stairs to the school darkroom, to work with light and chemicals listening to new wave music on John Peel’s late night radio show. Sound-tracked by XTC, Magazine and Peter Hammill, I was a non-conformist adolescent in the cloistered and hated environment of a late-seventies boarding school.
My first work was published, while still at Lancing, in Harpers & Queen Magazine. Soon after, Jane, my first chaste love, graced the cover of the British Journal of Photography and a spread of the school pictures. I thought I was set. Then I met Magnum photographer David Hurn that same year who told me to put my prints back in the box and go and learn.
So I did. I got a place under his tutelage at Newport College of Art and studied documentary photography for two years. But my face, or rather my accent, didn’t fit. On leaving and feeling distinctly misplaced, I got a job at the BBC as a publicity photographer and moved to London’s Notting Hill.
From 1986 to 1997 I photographed fashion and in the process fell in love. My model girlfriend of four years, who’d been away on fashion’s rite of passage in Milan and Paris, turned down my marriage proposal. With absolute finality, she told me that our time was done.
They say adversity shapes or should I say beats us up with a knuckle-duster… but I stopped photographing fashion at that juncture and begun another stage of this journey. Keeping as busy as a broken-hearted person must, I grasped for every job going including photographing Princess Diana’s funeral, and working with a journalist, dressed as Al Capone, who was meeting two London gangsters. A late night and many scotches followed and I made the first steps on the path through British society’s underworld that became The Firm.
It's twenty years now since that project’s premiere at Visa Pour l’Image in Perpignan, where I was interviewed in a Savile Row suit and a perfect, pink silk tie and told that I was ‘so British’. I had finally learned to own myself.
Since then, I’ve become a member of the VII photo agency with seven published books to my double-barrelled name. I’ve seen the dark side of organised crime, been shot at in Palestine, stood on the podium in Ibiza’s Manumission with Fatboy Slim, winked at by Uma Thurman in Cannes and fallen over in front of Joan Rivers wearing my kilt at The Oscars.
A photographer always, I grabbed my Leica first, not the up-flying garment that exposes a true Scot, or the look on Joan Rivers’ face. It was a smile, I think.
Jocelyn Bain Hogg