Each of the original images chosen from the archive of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) and reimagined for our fashion shoot has a story to tell. To look at them is to see more than a historic record of award-winning film successes of their respective years; they speak of powerful and poignant relationships, changing fashions and the making of screen icons. The snapshots taken in the 1960s of then-rising stars have become, 50-odd years later, portraits of grandes dames – from Dame Julie Andrews to Glenda Jackson MP. Quickly snatched images of fledgling directors are now studies of elder statesmen of the industry, long since invited to be Academy Fellows – or even, in the case of Richard Attenborough, Bafta president. But this is what Bafta does: it documents these intimate moments as well as rewarding excellence. Thus, the British Academy Film Awards night is, for all its glamorous, magnetic force, also an occasion that inspires a generation of emerging talent – which is at the core of the organisation’s philanthropic purpose.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Karena Smith, Bafta Archive manager, who says: “We are particularly proud of our past mentoring schemes for disadvantaged young people.” Media projects across the UK have involved actors and directors, including David Morrissey and Revolutionary Road producer Pippa Harris, working alongside youth charity organisations such as Fairbridge (now part of The Prince’s Trust) and Kids Company. Last October also saw the launch of a scholarship programme to help talented UK-based individuals in need of financial support to study film at postgraduate level. And in the same month, the Bafta Rocliffe New Writing Forum was held for a second year in New York, this time with promising UK writers flown out and given guidance by the producer of the hit HBO series Girls, Jenni Konner.
Bafta also holds public masterclasses, such as screenwriting with Mike Newell, and talks relating to film, and uploads member events to its website for public viewing (www.bafta.org/guru). Its dedicated – and driven – photography and archive departments commission and gather photographs documenting these events, together with other images of stylish red-carpet reportage, behind-the-scenes shots and ceremony highlights. The purpose is not only to grow an archive that preserves the cinematic heritage of the nation, but also to inspire future talent.
Earlier in February, Bafta staged an elegant capsule exhibition alongside the Film Awards nominees’ party to raise awareness of – and funds for – these philanthropic endeavours. Hosted by Asprey in its New Bond Street store, and sponsored by watch brand 88 Rue du Rhone, the exhibition is entitled Past Forward and juxtaposes eight photographs celebrating film successes in Bafta’s history, from 1955 to 2012. (After its spell at Asprey, the exhibition will go on a public tour around the country.) Cinephiles and philanthropists can support Bafta’s fundraising – bolstered through trusts, membership, donations, foundations and corporate partnerships – by purchasing a print of one of the exhibition images, which are available in limited editions of eight (£2,000 each).
Displayed alongside them is the inaugural annual Bafta Film Awards Art Commission, set up by Bafta curator Anna Allalouf, and also supported this year by 88 Rue du Rhone. Created by architect-turned-artist Kevin Vucic-Shepherd, Piccadilly to Jermyn St is a photographic architectural cross-section – a sort of dolls’ house merged with a light-box – depicting Bafta’s headquarters at 195 Piccadilly. It is an insightful portrait of Bafta and its heritage, intermingling today’s members and staff with faces from the past, thanks to the archive images that hang on the walls. This device cleverly plays with time, just as Vucic-Shepherd has imaginatively manipulated perspective.
Creating the piece was a painstaking process, which involved incorporating drawings of the building and nearby structures, taking thousands of photographs from the angle of the cross-section (with perspectives ranging from underneath people’s desks to rooftop views), assembling the pictures by hand, and finally “redrawing” the initial plan with photographs. The result is both technically magnificent and fascinating for anyone with even a passing interest in British cinema. Prints of the work are available to buy as a large edition (1m by 1.5m) of six, or as a medium edition (1m by 67cm) of 15 (both price on request).
The awards ceremony images in the exhibition connect cinematic glories through Bafta history. They include four from the Bafta Archive, including Susan Hampshire fixing her make-up backstage in 1966, and Ben Kingsley accepting his award for Best Actor for his performance in Gandhi in 1983, and four from the 2012 ceremony, which are part of what Janette Dalley, Bafta’s photography director, calls its “Future Archive”. These contemporary portraits are intimate, stolen, behind-the-scenes moments: Martin Scorsese chatting to Jim Broadbent; Brad Pitt, nominated for his role in Moneyball, being given the once-over with a lint roller; Billy Bob Thornton with John Hurt, beaming after receiving the Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award. The images radiate camaraderie and celebration in equal measure.
Dalley describes the Future Archive as “the pictures we are taking now that are reflective of what’s currently in the archive – those images that we will look back at in 30 years’ time and say, ‘Wow, that’s a great photograph’, just as we do now with our pictures of Audrey Hepburn”. Building a stellar library is an important way of attracting serious talent, such as Bond photographer Greg Williams, into the Bafta fold, so as to continue raising the artistic standards, developing innovative styles of portraiture and nurturing relationships with the industry’s rising and established stars.
It’s an evocative, even seductive, phrase, “Future Archive” – seeing contemporary photographs together with images of Richard Attenborough, Michael Caine and Ismail Merchant winning awards somehow imbues them with a gravitas (theoretically, at least) befitting their legacy. These portraits may indeed inspire emerging talents to become the success stories that will one day be the subject of similar pictures – and, 30 years on, those images could prove to be a record of the turning point in an iconic career.