‘Behind the scenes’ or BTS, is having a bit of a renaissance. It is a ready made excuse for anyone to show the world on social media a BTS of their journey to work or how they made their coffee. WTF.
Not everyone wants to show you behind the scenes. Some have things to hide, some aspects might make for unpleasant viewing and are definitely not for the faint hearted. There are some who just don’t think behind the scenes holds any interest but for me it’s the exact opposite.
I have always been fascinated about the whole story, start to finish, the gory details before and the journey to a sparkling end result. Knowing all the nuts and bolts can completely change your perception of the finished product – nearly always for the better.
It’s worth noting that on some occasions it can also work in reverse, I’ve been into few unmentionable kitchens and subsequently politely declined the kind offer of lunch, instead eating a pasty from a local garage.
From a personal perspective, meat provenance is very important to me. My great friends have an organic farm near me in Dorset, they produce the finest lamb, pork, geese, turkey and chickens you could ever wish to eat, grazed on open pastures and fed on an organic diet, free from antibiotics and chemicals.
But that is only part of the story, their passion goes beyond having healthy animals, they plant hedges and encourage wildlife into every corner of their farm with wild flowers, different grass varieties and nest boxes. When I eat their lamb I can see their meadows humming with wildlife, I can smell hay and my taste buds are in overdrive.
From time to time, I get to stalk Roe deer on a nearby estate and having shot, gralloched, skinned and butchered the deer into various cuts, to then share this wild venison with friends and family leaves me with such a primeval sense of satisfaction and respect for the venison that the deer has provided, an emotion that I simply would never have gained from some vac packed mass produced supermarket meat.
As a photographer I am lucky enough to go behind the scenes in so many different environments, so many of my experiences have been both fascinating and enriching, but there are a few that really shine out above the others.
A couple of years ago I took pictures at The Ledbury for Brett Graham. Brett has two Michelin stars and the effort and attention to detail that goes on behind the scenes, in what is a very small kitchen, is really quite staggering. No stone is left unturned, the provenance of every ingredient is scrutinized and the pursuit of excellence has to be seen to be believed. I was lucky enough to eat there 6 months after the shoot and I know my whole dining experience was amplified by everything I had witnessed behind the scenes.
Going behind the scenes can effect your emotions too. Being a bit of a Land Rover fanatic I jumped at the opportunity to photograph ‘Polly’ the Pol Roger Land Rover Defender being assembled in the famous Lode Lane factory. After lengthy health and safety checks and being covered head to toe in high visibility clothing I was finally lead through the infamous factory entrance by my guide.
I was visiting just a few months before the production of the worlds most loved and recognized vehicle was about to come to an end. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Engineers with thick Brummie accents passionately explained each part of the process to me as we followed Polly through her production. It was clear from everyone that I met there how much they genuinely loved the iconic Defender.
The assembly line is affectionately known as ‘Jurassic Park’, the slower relative to the high tech, high speed production lines used for the Range Rover and Discovery next door. So much of the Defender was assembled by hand, using basic tools and Midland grit. My excitement at being inside this hallowed old factory was tinged with sadness by the knowledge that it would soon be quiet and empty. I’d had a behind the scenes experience that few will ever have and one that I will never forget, seared on the brain and often rekindled with a smile when water drips through the badly fitting door of my Defender onto my leg.
Last but by now means least are the seemingly endless warren of chilly cellars deep under the Pol Roger HQ in Epernay. They really are quite extraordinary, not just because of their scale but the sense of history and tradition that feels embedded in their walls. The Remuers (The team who turn the bottles by hand) disappear into dark tunnels with a black cabbie knowledge for every twist and turn armed with nothing but a light bulb on the end of a wooden stick. When they reach their selected rack of bottles, the stick is hooked over wires that run throughout the cellar maze, the bulb flickers into life and the bottles start turning. A quarter turn every day until the sediment reaches the bottle neck and is then removed. A tireless, methodical, hand crafted champagne, steeped in history, if that doesn’t affect your experience of the next glass of Pol Roger you drink then nothing will.