Norman Wisdom’s features can clearly be seen, creased with laughter. His hands are holding his cheeks as if he has been smiling so much his face has started hurting.
Most people can close their eyes and still remember the actor’s voice, laugh and cheeky, grinning face and it is this recognisable essence of Norman which has been captured in Lou Boileau’s portrait photograph of him.
Lou, from Northampton, is a well-known celebrity photographer who has been lucky enough to have snapped some of the best loved names in British TV and film. Norman Wisdom is one actor who has done a one-to-one sitting with Lou. Other names include Simon Callow, Hayley Mills, David Suchet and Inspector Morse star John Thaw...to name but a few.
And much of this portrait work, as well as Lou’s images of subjects such as motor-racing champions, and Burlesque dancers photographed as stills for a film, have gone on display in a new gallery being launched this week at The Ridings Arcade in Northampton town centre.
Lou, who also has work on show at London’s National Portrait Gallery, said: “I’m from Northampton, that is why I’m doing this in Northamptonshire. I wanted to open a gallery which people can visit and talk about.”
The gallery is filled with striking images showing a cross-section of the different work Lou does. But I am immediately drawn to the black and white images the photographer has taken of British actors. I am eager to know the stories behind them.
Lou said: “I started off my project to photograph British actors in the mid-80s. My first was John Thaw. Nowadays it is a closed world. With things like Ebay around, agents are so protective. But then I was fortunate enough to have one-to-one sittings with people like John Thaw and Eric Sykes.
“John Thaw never did sittings but I met his daughter very briefly and said ‘I would love to photograph your father.’ She laughed but two weeks later the phone rang and it was John Thaw. He said ‘my daughter said you are quite good.’”
Visiting John was a memorable experience for Lou. He recalled: “I turned up at his house in Chiswick and he asked me to come in. He knew I was a bit nervous and he said ‘what do you want to drink?’ I think I had a malt whiskey but it went straight to my head and he knew. We just got on, there were a lot of laughing shots.”
John was a friend of the late Richard Briers and soon Lou found himself at The Good Life star’s home, again taking his portrait photo.
Lou laughed, saying: “Richard was the only one who gave me £10 for my train fare home.”
He said: “I don’t like happy smiley shots, I don’t think it is great for portraits, so some of them do come across as very serious.”
One of his far from serious subjects was Norman Wisdom.
Lou remembered: “His manager was rushing around like a headless chicken and Norman said ‘how long do you need?’ I said ‘about half an hour,’ and he said ‘I’m just going to go to the loo. I will be 25 minutes.’”
But Norman showed his flair for acting during the photographic session. Lou explained: “I said ‘think about every character you have ever done in every film’ and he did every one, I couldn’t believe he did it. If you look at the photos, every one is different.”
The gallery will open on Saturday and will be open Thursday and Saturday every week. See www.louboileau.com for more information.