Photo Insight with Harry Borden: Shooting Ant & Dec
May 25, 2017
Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly are TV stars well on their way to ‘national treasure’ status. I’ve photographed them for various magazines at different stages of their career and have got to know them quite well. While many comedians and entertainers have a darker side and are much more complicated than their public persona suggests, Ant & Dec are exactly as you’d expect.
They’re both talented and likeable people, and every time I’ve met them they have been absolutely lovely. They never behave like prima donnas and have always given me what I’ve needed. They are two really good friends and that’s what has helped them endure as a professional partnership, while often being surrounded by a maelstrom of showbiz disfunctionality.
I first photographed them for a teen magazine called Big, in 1996, when they were in their early twenties. At that time, the duo was known as PJ & Duncan – the names of the characters they played in Byker Grove, the TV series on which they had met. When they left the series, they launched themselves as pop stars and released a few singles.
My job was to shoot pseudo-reportage pictures at a hotel room in Aberdeen, as if I were ‘on the road’ with PJ & Duncan. I did pretend pictures of them waking up in their room and brushing their teeth. I photographed them again the following year. Part of that assignment involved shooting an image that would be used as a free pullout poster for readers to put on their walls.
From the beginning of their careers, they were smart and very savvy about how they presented themselves. They had their own stylists and were very professional in the way their brand worked. Even in those early pictures, they would only be photographed with Ant on the left and Dec on the right. They were also rarely seen wearing anything other than ‘smart casual’ clothes. They were never dishevelled.
By the time I next photographed them, for Marie Claire in 2002, they’d had success in children’s television and had morphed into the primetime TV presenters Ant & Dec. I was living in Hackney, East London, and they came to my house for the shoot. I was given an open brief and at one stage we went out and I photographed them on the local common. While we were there, kids came out of the local schools and crowded around us. Kids love them and before I knew it I’d incorporated them into the photographs. The kids found out where I lived and for the rest of the time we were living in Hackney, every now and then we’d get someone knocking on the door asking if Ant & Dec were there.
The ‘bananas’ picture, above, was taken on the same day. I set up a backdrop facing a big bay window facing northeast, which gave good, constant natural daylight. I did the shoot using a Hasselblad CM and Kodak Portra film.
At one point, Ant was hungry and my wife gave him a banana, so then Dec wanted one. While they were standing there, looking like gangsters and holding the bananas like guns, I said, ‘Just stay there!’ and took that shot.
Bananas are inherently funny. I remember doing a shoot with David Cameron for Observer Food Monthly and he refused to be photographed with either bananas or cucumbers, for obvious reasons.
I asked Ant & Dec to have serious faces because it threw the absurdity of what they were doing into much greater relief. I did other banana-related pictures, including one with Ant & Dec using them as ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ mouths, but the ‘guns’ idea worked best.
That photo ran over two pages as part of the feature in Marie Claire. It wasn’t until a year later, when I was driving past a piece of Banksy graffiti on the side of a building in Shoreditch, that I realised I’d unconsciously ripped it off. The graffiti showed Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta as they were in the film Pulp Fiction, but holding bananas instead of guns.
I hadn’t set up the picture with the Banksy image in mind and I don’t generally like ‘stunt’ pictures, but I don’t mind if things happen organically during the shoot. The graffiti must have been in my subconscious mind. It’s a good example of how you can absorb something and it gets reconstituted and churned out without you realising it.
I think it’s my most interesting portrait of Ant & Dec. It’s still in my portfolio, and, to date, is the only portrait of them in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.
All images © Harry Borden
About Harry Borden
Harry Borden is one of the UK’s finest portrait photographers. He has won prizes at the World Press Photo awards (1997 and 1999) and in 2014 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society. The National Portrait Gallery collection holds more than 100 of his images. His book, Survivor: A Portrait of the Survivors of the Holocaust, is available now.