Portrait of the artist as a time-travelling gangster

Andy Conway (Photography: Ian Davies. Stylist: Sy-Ann Taylor


They were putting together a collection of portraits, they said. Birmingham creatives, they said.

A few weeks later I was standing in a ballroom in the 1920s, with a bevy of dancing flappers and a time tunnel behind me.

Welcome to the world of Smokeshow Images, and a fun, daring and witty collaboration between photographer Ian Davies and award winning stylist Sy-Anne Taylor.

The exhibition ‘Brum Creatives’ comprises a series of portraits featuring the rich creative talent that Birmingham produces, from local designers, artists, writers, producers and film makers, to celebrity figures such as Jasper Carrott, Patti Bell, Glynn Purnell and Brian Travers.

Somehow they got hold of my name, and once I’d told them about my Touchstone novels  (a time travel saga spanning one hundred years of Birmingham history) and the retro swing dance night I promote (Hot Ginger), the concept for the photo emerged.

Ian and Sy-Anne came along to the next Hot Ginger night and used the dance hall space and a group of willing come-early-in-full-regalia volunteers (thanks, Lorna, Zoe, Claire, Kerstin and Stephen!) to stage the shot.

I had to get over my natural disinclination to stand still and be photographed for an hour, not to mention the very strange experience of having someone choose an outfit for you and then make alterations to it. (Can’t I just run away to a quiet place and write, and be shot through a telephoto lens? Please?)

But Ian and Sy-Anne made the experience lots of fun, and you can tell that’s how they roll when you look around the brilliant exhibition of portraits. Above all what emerges is their sense of mischief and the relaxed nature of the sitters.

My own particular favourites in the exhibition are celebrity chef Glyn Purnell tucking into a plate of beans, Soul Food Project guru Carl Finn looking like some Voodoo god of cuttlefish, and jazz and blues man Steve Ajao sitting on his Louisiana-cum-Moseley porch.

The Brum Creatives exhibition is on right now at the Stryx Gallery, Digbeth until 18 May.

The exhibition is partnered with the Birmingham Loves Photographers Spring/Summer Programme, which is funded by the Arts Council.

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