On the 4th July 1991, only two days after photographing James, I turned twenty-two.
Money was tight and although I could afford to have my films processed and contact printed, I was not in a position to commission the set of images to be professionally hand printed. Having witnessed the quality of Terry O’Neill’s bromide prints I wanted to produce exactly the same product, nothing else would suffice, which meant that I’d just have to wait. Websites were only just being invented back then, at the time nobody had one, photographers invested small fortunes in their printed portfolios and I was a long way away from putting my celebrity portfolio together, as James was my very first sitter. As a consequence, the negatives remained hidden within a protective hardback envelope indefinitely.
After a two year stint as an assistant at Holborn Studios, I was having the time of life travelling extensively, I was assisting David Steen, Brian Aris, Terry O’Neill and Brian Moody to name a few – my pager never stopped beeping. I worked on assignments in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Paris, Bordeaux, Rome, Milan, Florence, Tuscany, Turkey, Germany, Norway, Austria, all over the UK and Ireland, I even had two trips to Australia. Aris and I often flew back-and-forth to Brunei documenting private parties thrown for the Sultan’s family and friends. In-between that, we attended and photographed both David Bowie’s and Sting’s Weddings. In New York we worked on the Wedding of Liza Minnelli, rubbing shoulders on Fifth Avenue with Donald Trump, Buzz Aldrin, Elizabeth Taylor and the best man, Michael Jackson. I’d cruised around the Mediterranean numerous times with David Steen, and worked on a number of movie sets, meeting countless celebrities and royalty along the way. On one of my last assisting jobs I stayed in a luxury hotel for a week on the private island of Mustique with photographer Brian Moody and the legendary footballer George Best. They were all wonderful experiences.I’d had this incredible start to my career and had learnt the art of portraiture photography from some of the best there was, however, as time went by I realised that the photographers that I’d been assisting had experienced the ‘glory days’ and things were changing at an alarming rate. It was getting harder and harder for photographers to deal directly with the new breed of celebrities as they were heavily protected by PR’s, PA’s and Agents. Maintaining copyright of images was becoming increasingly unheard of, especially for the likes of me, just starting out. The sharp businessmen representing the famous faces knew that there were good margins to be made from images and they wanted full control over them. So, after careful consideration, I decided not to follow the celebrity career path and changed direction entirely.
Brian Aris kindly introduced me to my first clients, so in between assisting jobs, I began shooting interiors for some new home developers and went on to photograph furniture for David Linley. My passion for studio and still-life photography flourished, I’d found my niche and I spent many years shooting commissions for below-the-line advertising agencies, which meant that my celebrity portfolio never materialised.
As a self employed photographer with no regular wage, the cut and thrust of being a freelancer always kept me on my toes and just as I began to earn a reasonable living from my camera, along came Apple computers and Adobe Photoshop Software and in turn Ad agencies began working with teams of professional retouchers, merging stock images together, so once again, I had to change direction. I decided that Interiors photography was the route to take.
I knew that my pictures of James must have been safely stored somewhere but they were not at the forefront of my mind as I was far too busy trying to make ends meet with my camera, when literally out of nowhere in 2013 the film ‘Rush’ hit our cinemas, a Ron Howard movie centred on the Hunt-Lauda rivalry. I had no idea that the movie was coming out, so had no time to plan a launch of my own, I’d missed the boat, so to speak, so I completely abandoned the idea. I was now in my forties and also suffering with Atrial fibrillation and underwent two minor heart procedures; so getting my health back on track was of paramount importance.
Fast-forward to March 2020, I had just completed building my new office in my garden at home, when the UK went into lockdown (v1.0). It was the ideal time for me to move offices and so I had a thorough clear out at my previous workspace. After many days of sorting and re-filing my archive I could account for everything, all except, one set of pictures – my photographs of James were missing.
Back in my new office, I went through the boxes time and time again looking for the missing hardback envelope, but to no avail, I’d clearly lost or mislaid them.
A month or so later, whilst on the phone to Irene (my Mother), she mentioned that my Dad had stumbled across some of my old school reports and a few other possessions of mine whilst he was having a clear-out in his own office (which used to be my bedroom). It transpired, that he had also found my diaries from my assisting days – I was so pleased, as they documented all of my assisting jobs and I had no idea that I still had them.
That evening, I went through each diary, page by page while reminiscing.
I couldn’t recall when I’d met James but had a strong feeling that I must have documented the occasion. And to my delight, whilst going through my 1991 diary – there it was, the 2nd July, his home address and the pre-arranged time of 7pm (originally 7.20pm) had been written in, and post-photoshoot I’d written a little note to myself, which simply read – ‘Went well’.
Thrilled to have found the exact date, I calculated that James was 43 when I photographed him. It then dawned on me that 2021 would be the 45th Anniversary of his 1976 Japanese Grand Prix win and exactly 30 years since I photographed him. The penny dropped, 2021 would most certainly be a great year to unveil my portraits of James, it was now or never, all I had to do – was find them.
My attic was extremely cluttered and the entrance was pretty much blocked, but it was the only place left for me to look. In July 2020, I spent a weekend re-organising it, clearing as I went along. Once I had made a small path in the middle I could reach the furthest corners of the eaves and behind a wall of photographic boxes I found a single plastic storage box labelled ‘My earliest photographs’. Intrigued, I perched myself on a steel beam and unclipped the lid, it was packed full of brown envelopes containing 35mm negatives and contact sheets from my college days. Whilst I was thumbing through them, I unexpectedly came across a hardback envelope marked ‘J. HUNT’.
Finally, after thirty years, I was reunited with my negatives. Astonishingly, I’d somehow misfiled them and they’d been sitting in this box in the eaves of my attic for decades.
“He is the only man whose life I really envied. Even towards the end when I saw him in scruffy trainers you knew – there was a man who lived life to the full.” – Niki Lauda