General Brian Peddle
The Making of a Portrait
I never considered myself – nor wanted to be – a portrait photographer. As a teenager only landscape interested me – until my daughter was born. From there to 2009 I photographed people, more and more, but always in informal, even candid, settings. Formal sitting for portraits wasn’t my thing.
But having started as a professional photographer, formal portraiture was thrust upon me. I am very grateful to the first people who commissioned me – and to their tolerance of my trial and error methods! I have learned a lot over the last 14 or so years and more or less know what I am doing, but certainly felt both privileged and challenged when commissioned this year to take the official retirement portraits of General Brian and Commissioner Rosalie Peddle of the Salvation Army.
I have photographed the General and Rosalie many times over the last years. First of all, before their present appointments, when Brian was Chief of the Staff of the SA, but more recently as regular photographer of the sessions of the International College for Officers at Sunbury Court. Four times a year, since Covid regulations ceased, I have gone over to Sunbury to take one very classic group shot of the whole session, and then one of each delegate with Brian and Rosalie. In that time I feel I have got to know this couple a little, albeit from one very specific viewpoint.
One of my first questions to any portrait client is “What is it for?” Portraits are about Personality, but also about Purpose. In this case, the purpose was very clear: every General has had his or her portrait painted or taken on retirement, ever since the grand old man, William Booth himself. The portrait of General Brain Peddle was to occupy the next space on this illustrious wall in the International Headquarters of the Salvation Army, near St Paul’s Cathedral.
In preparation for creating the portrait of General Peddle I photographed and studied all the existing Salvation Army General portraits. Were the Generals standing? Sitting? Smiling? Holding anything? What other elements went into the picture? and so on.
Flanking the lifts as you come into the first floor of the International Headquarters are the portraits of William and Catherine Booth. They have been heroes of mine since I was in my teens – the story of 19th century spiritual awakening going hand in hand with social reform and care for the disadvantaged cannot fail to stir the heart. Booth was a difficult man with a feisty wife and troublesome children – rather like a number of other leaders that God has used hugely! 😉
General Albert Orsborn is one of the portraits that stands out for me, principally because this General was one of the finest hymn writers the Sally Army has produced, and one of the few whose hymns are sung outside Army circles. The portrait is painted and rather severe, in my view, though the man who comes across in his hymns is very warm.
I remember General Eva Burrows fondly from Radio 4’s Sunday programme back in the 80s and 90s. A great Christian and great General, she led from 1986 to 1993, taking the Army back into what had been Communist Eastern Europe. Her portrait was one of the last to have been painted rather than photographed: only from the tail end of the 1990s has the camera ruled. This late adoption seems surprising, given the Army’s love for contemporary modes of communication, going right back to William Booth. But, in a sense, the long commitment to paint for these portraits only underlined the seriousness of my task.
General John Gowans was a name unknown to me before my “fly on the wall” involvement in the Salvation Army, but he was also an accomplished lyricist, in particular working with John Larsson in writing musicals for the movement. (John Larsson ended up as his immediate successor as General.) What drew my attention was that his was one of the first portraits produced photographically, but still in a very painterly and formal style. Printing onto a canvas texture enhances that feeling!
Just the other side of the wall from the Generals’ portraits hang the images of the International Leaders of Women’s Ministries in the Salvation Army. My work was not to end with the General – I also needed to take the official portrait of Commissioner Rosalie Peddle to hang on this wall next to the other great women who had gone before.
The Women’s Leaders’ portraits have been photographed for far longer, and mostly using plain or simply vignetted photographers’ backgrounds. This was to change for Commissioner Rosalie, as I was to find out.
Preparation for the Portrait
I was in correspondence for a good period prior to the portrait session with Colonel Geoff Webb, the Executive Secretary to the General. We hammered out a few basics of what we were looking for. The General would like to use the graphics of his “Call to Mission” as a backdrop. I think I suggested adding his flag into the frame – I have taken many formal portraits of Cadets and staff at William Booth College and love the way the Salvation Army flags yield a rich, colourful background. And it was felt that, as a committed communicator and preacher, it would be appropriate for the General to hold a Bible. Geoff made working all of this out an easy and happy process.
I then visited the headquarters a few days before the shoot to check out specific locations and available lighting. I knew that I would almost certainly need to bring flash but I wanted to look at natural approaches first. Geoff kindly stepped into the General’s office as model, and even (against his protests) sat on the desk for me. We were unsure whether that position would suit General Peddle, but I felt it had mileage, as being less formal than standing, but having far more energy than sitting. The available light wasn’t bad in its intensity, but very flat, and I knew that I would need to bring my own on the day.
The Portrait Session
The session itself went very well, and quite quickly. I was set up early, and General Peddle arrived early; his part of the shoot was actually completed before the time we had been due to start. I took 46 images of him, 30 with the 70-200 and 16 with the 135m f2. He was happy to sit on the edge of the desk, and the position gave exactly the blend of formality/informality, energy/calm and kindliness/urgency that I had hoped for. He isn’t quite square to the camera, but not far off it. I felt it was important to include, fully, both epaulettes. Brian has a tremendous personal energy and enthusiasm, and is also a willing and broad smiler; he felt he wanted to convey seriousness, so no full smile, and yet with warmth coming through.
The key elements that the General wished to emphasise started with the Call graphic with its nod to technological means to communicate the gospel – I took care to make sure the “Play” symbol was visible in the compositon. As the General who had to lead the Salvation Army through Covid, he became the first SA leader to make huge use of video/Zoom links, and he wanted not only his Bible but his iPad of preaching notes to be in evidence. We worked to get the Bible and notes at the right height for both naturalness and balance in the photo. I adjusted the height and hang of the flag several times to get the best position.
The image as finally used of the General was taken with a Nikon D5 using the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRii set at 170mm, shooting at f 2.8 1/60 at ISO100. The camera was handheld.
The session with Commissioner Rosalie had not been as meticulously planned, and I had less idea of what exactly was required. The Commissioner has brought about something of a sea change in women’s ministries across the Salvation Army, and was keen to use the Women’s Ministry logo as a backdrop. But we didn’t have one that really worked, sizewise, so I took the photograph against a plain white background with a view to photoshopping the logo in afterwards, which is what happened.
We actually shot in the lower ground floor of the International Headquarters, right alongside the famous 101 café. The light here is actually really soft and lovely, and it would be great for many kinds of portraits. But I felt that it was too soft to give the kind of energy and highlight that I was looking for, so we went with the flash units as I had with the General.
The image as finally used of Commissioner Rosalie was taken with a Nikon D5 using the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRii set at 135mm, shooting at f 2.8 1/60 at ISO100. Again, the camera was handheld.
The lighting in both sessions came principally from flash, although other light sources were present, one of which gave me a few headaches on editing (see below). It was all very straightforward: two umbrellas positioned just in front of and either side of the subject, and a third flash behind acting as a kick light, putting highlights onto the left cheek. In the General’s case, that third flash also served to light the backdrop and flag. The flashes were fired by a master controller unit on the camera.
The two edits were really quite different. The light for Commissioner Rosalie’s photograph was very clean and the background was white. The challenge was simply to bring in the logo, suitably defocussed, in a natural-looking way behind her head. It wasn’t five minutes work, but it wasn’t a whole day either. My clients were happy with the result, and the print (see below) looks lovely. It is a change from the very blank backgrounds of her predecessors photos, and that reflects the changes that this shy yet dynamic woman has brought.
For the General’s image I needed to do more work – which is no reflection on him! First of all the background was darkened down and enriched in colour to give the wash of orange to red to blue to purple that we now have. An odd green reflection from another light source had to be eradicated from the General’s glasses and skin near his right eye. I lowered the reflection on the shinier of the two buttons. And, finally, as an option for my clients, I used a slight “dry brush” filter to give the image a more painterly look, in keeping with the classic portraits on the walls. This was the option chosen.
Today (2nd August 2023) I went back to the IHQ for the Salvation Army General and Rosalie’s farewell/retirement meeting and the official unveiling of the portrait. It was a great privilege to be there, and to feel that I was very much among friends. (I had actually photographed a large proportion of the International leaders only a few months ago at Westminster Central Hall!)
The prints of both portraits stand out to me as good work, really reflecting the character and energy of both the subjects. They are pleased with them, and others seem to think that they fit worthily into the places reserved for them among the historic portraits. Here are some photos of this morning’s meeting, and of the portraits as hung. I am grateful to Lauren Westwood for sending me some of her images of the event.
Thoughts and thanks
Getting to know Brian and Rosalie Peddle has been a joy over the last few years. Many lovely things have been said to and about them today. As a photographer, I can only add that I have been struck many times by their kindness, patience and willingness to smile even when they must be tired of smiling! I am awed by Brian’s energy and enthusiasm and determination to use every means possible as he steered the movement through the Covid years – I hope I have caught something of his kind drive here. I love Rosalie for the way she has overcome great shyness to really be a transforming leader. They will be a hard act to follow!