Tuesday 11th December 2018
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Photography: Courtesy Marsden Archive and Jason Figgis
Featured in the August 2018 issue

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A feature-length documentary film is set to offer new insight into the life and work of Lincolnshire photographer and author Sir Simon Marsden, Baronet of Grimsby.

Simon, who sadly passed away in 2012, was an internationally acclaimed photographer whose work hangs in galleries across the world including the V&A and Getty Museum as well as appearing in numerous books and on the cover of music albums.

Despite the acclaim and attention his work received, Simon was a very private man and lived all his life in the Lincolnshire Wolds at Panton Hall and Thorpe Hall, both reputed to be haunted. But a new film – Simon Marsden: A Life in Pictures – written and directed by his friend Jason Figgis is set to celebrate his legacy while bringing his work to the attention of those who are less familiar with it.

Throughout his life Simon travelled extensively across Europe, the Middle East and America, photographing the architectural subjects and varied landscapes he encountered. His particular interest was the supernatural and places such as moonlit abbeys, old ruins and graveyards as well as the legends and stories connected with them, which fascinated him. He was a master of dark room techniques too, including infrared photography, which he used to capture his subjects in all their glory.

“I just thought it was time we looked at Simon’s life, his work and his travels and what that really meant to people, the experts in their field,” says Jason, an award-winning IFTA nominated film and TV director from Ireland.

“It’s taken a while to get all the right people together at the same time, but it’s been worth it. I have the backing of Simon’s family too –I would have absolutely refused to start this without their support, and they have been wonderful giving me access to the Marsden Archives.

“I’m delighted with the finished result–it’s a true celebration of Simon’s life, what he was all about and will hopefully introduce his work to others who are less familiar with it. I can’t wait for other people to see it and their reactions.

“As well as having unique access to Simon’s work, Jason also spoke to other friends, fans and photography experts. In addition to his own insights, Jason’s film also features contributions from photographer and fan Corey Schjoth; writer, presenter and fan Chris Halton; owner of Grays of Westminster and friend Gray Levett; managing director of Charleville Castle and friend Dudley Stewart and Andy Finney, an infrared historian and photographer. Narration on the film is by the late John Hurt while Suffolk man John West is the producer.

“I have always been a huge fan of Simon’s work and spent years looking at and admiring his books, soaking up all his wonderful images. It was incredibly poetic, the way he would write up his travels,” recalls Jason.

“One day, out of the blue, I decided to send a letter to his agent, saying how much I appreciated his work, not expecting it to amount to anything, or for him to actually get the note. It was just something I wanted to do and two weeks later I got a phone call from Simon himself, he said he loved the letter and how it struck a chord with him and we ended up having a long phone conversation.”

The pair quickly struck up a close friendship after Simon revealed he was working on a new book featuring Celtic locations. He admitted he had previously struggled to get access to some properties he wanted to photograph in Ireland and the director offered to make some introductions for him.

“In the 1980s when he’d come to Ireland before, he’d had quite a lot of trouble –in fact on one occasion he told me he was even shot at. By the time I got to know him all that had changed and the Troubles were over, but I said if you’d like to go back to these places, I can try to get you an introduction. So I wrote letters saying he wanted to photograph these properties and they were absolutely thrilled he wanted to feature them and include them in his work,” recalls Jason.

“I was invited over to stay with Simon and his family a few days and then ended up travelling around with him for a bit.”

In around 2001 Jason began filming Simon while he went about his work, and the photographer was highly impressed with the recorded footage after watching it back. The project took a different turn when Jason began to film him more and more and ended up with enough material for a documentary/feature film – The Twilight Hour.

“It was just the concept of this lone, aristocrat photographer travelling around on his own, taking photos, compiling different books –it just worked and we ended up selling the finished film to 150 countries worldwide. We got a great reaction,” he adds.

Simon, who succeeded the baronetcy in 1997 following the death of his brother, was married to Cassie Stanton, with whom he had a son and a daughter and lived in an old rectory in the heart of the Wolds. He developed a passion for photography after his father presented him with a Leica IIIg 35mm camera on his 21st birthday.

It was following his death in 2012, aged 63, that Jason decided to make his latest film about his friend’s life and work, after seeking the blessing of his family. He was given unique access to the Marsden Archive, widely recognised as a unique picture library, containing a collection of atmospheric black and white photographs spanning over 40 years. These stunning images beautifully evoke the stories of the past, found in fascinating buildings and landscapes.

The new film, sponsored by Nikon, will be premiered at the British Film Institute, in London, in August this year, and then shown at a series of film festivals. It is also being supported by the Royal Photographic Society, which is holding a special screening and director’s Q&A at its headquarters in Bristol. Jason, who specialises in documentaries and dramas, is currently working on a new project – drama Winifred Meeks – starring Lara Belmont, which is being filmed in Suffolk.

For more information about Simon Marsden and his work visit www.simonmarsden.co.uk

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