Photographers’ proud celebration of some of the region’s best men and women.
Dame Judi Dench’s smiling eyes follow me across the room where Michael Palin is waiting to greet me with his trademark boyish grin.
Nearby Sir Patrick Stewart looks on, his hands casually slung into the pockets of his Levis while Brian Blessed chuckles at something amusing.
No, the scene I’m describing isn’t that of some amazing A-list after-party - it’s a brand new photography exhibition, featuring strikingly intimate and informal photographs of some of Yorkshire’s best-loved men and women.
The ‘Yorkshire Made Me’ collection was unveiled at the Cooper Gallery in South Yorkshire over the weekend; a proud celebration of some of the region’s greatest exports. From the giants of entertainment, to writers, politicians, academics, journalists and sporting heroes bringing home Olympic Gold, the images paint a vivid picture of achievement and success; powerfully affirming that, no matter how far the men and women of Yorkshire travel, they are forever shaped by their place of birth and intensely proud to belong.
“This exhibition is a celebration of local people who are truly exceptional in their chosen field,” said photographer Jennifer Robertson.
The collection of 38 photographs is the stunning brainchild of Jennifer and her partner Lynne Fletcher, who together run Kyte Photography. Among those featured are artist David Hockney, Helen Sharman - the first British person in space - cycling legend Brian Robinson, Olympians Nicola Adams and Hannah Cockroft and cricketing legends Dickie Bird and Geoff Boycott.
Jennifer, originally of Crosspool in Sheffield, said: “We personally wrote letters to each sitter asking if they would take part in the collection and got some thrilling responses. We then asked each sitter to choose a place that represented Yorkshire to them, or a place of special meaning where he or she felt at home in the region. For instance, actress Maureen Lipman was photographed on the Victorian Pier, in her hometown of Hull, and Nicola Adams chose the gym in Bradford where she trained for Olympic gold.
“David Hockney was probably the hardest sitter to get, as we sent letters all over the world, to his home and various workspaces, to try and track him down and convince him to sit for us. The day he finally called us back, completely out of the blue, we were just so excited he wasn’t calling to tell us to stop stalking him! We ended up having a great and really personal shoot with him at his home in Bridlington.”
The collection, which Jennifer and Lynne began putting together in 2011, finally launched at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year and broke all records for visitors to the Garden Gallery.
Speaking of her involvement in the exhibition, Dame Judi Dench said: “I am unbelievably proud to have been born in Yorkshire. The ‘Yorkshire Made Me’ collection is self-explanatory and I am so proud to be part of that, too.”
Jennifer and Lynne initially asked each sitter for just an hour of their time, but found that the sessions went so well, most people ended up spending an entire day with them.
Jennifer said: “We don’t come armed with PAs and makeup artists, there’s no faff - it’s just Lynne and I, up close and personal. I think most of our sitters found that very refreshing and we ended up spending lots of time with them and getting far more than the ‘one shot’ of each we were after. Once the collection was complete, we desperately wanted to do something with all these lovely extra shots we had, so we compiled them into a book, which is also going to be on sale at the gallery until October.”
The book will also feature anecdotes that Jennifer and Lynne gathered during their time with the sitters.
Jennifer explained: “It started as just a few questions that we’d jot the answers down to and now we’ve got lots of fantastic information that is featured in the book too - such as people’s favourite Yorkshire location or favourite Yorkshire saying. I loved Patrick Stewart’s, which was ‘You can always tell a Yorkshire man...but you can’t tell him much!’
“One of the most fascinating shoots for me was with Helen Sharman as her stories of speaking to Gorbachev in space and her years training in Russia were just incredible,”
Jennifer also shared her delight at discovering that two of the portraits, of David Hockney and Dame Judi Dench, have been shortlisted by the Royal Photographic Society in their annual International Portrait Competition.
The 50-year-old added: “The competition received over 5,000 entries from 53 countries worldwide so it’s safe to say we were really chuffed to hear that.”
Jennifer and Lynne have been working together since 1998 after initially teaming up to promote a product for a PR company. They never looked back, launching Kyte Photography shortly afterwards. The duo is already working on their next exhibition, an intimate look at British actresses, and have already got a number of big names onboard, including Alison Steadman, Maxine Peake, Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones.
The ‘Yorkshire Made Me’ exhibition will be on show at the Cooper Gallery, in Barnsley, until October 31. It is the last time the collection will be exhibited publicly.
Visit Kyte Photography for more details.