Baroness Helena Kennedy, Grayson Perry, Joy Labinjo, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Andrew Scott, Simon Schama and Dawn French are just some of the 24 leading figures photographed in masks to raise money for local children’s charity AT The Bus.
In Oxford alone Sir Philip Pullman, Dr Janina Ramirez, Jenny Saville, Korky Paul and Baroness Amos took part in the project undertaken between lockdowns by Oxfordshire photographer Joanna Vestey, to raise up to £150,000 for the young people’s art therapy charity.
Taking just a stool, tripod and camera, Joanna set off around the country to take photographs of this extraordinary collection of high profile “communicators’.
From comedian Dawn French in Cornwall to composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle in Somerset, Joanna’s brief was to capture their portraits using natural light, in their own spaces, wearing masks.
“If there was ever a time to care about the mental health of the most vulnerable young people in our communities, it’s now”
The remaining impressive line-up included include Justin Audibert, Fiona Banner, Denise Gough, Daniel Kidane, Rich Miller, Cornelia Parker, Philippa Perry, Dame Zandra Rhodes, Juliet Stevenson, Camille Walala, Richard Wentworth and Paul Whitehouse.
And while initially Joanna was worried the project would be slightly depressing, as it progressed she realised it was actually a hugely empowering and historically important collection, as well as being entirely unique. A sign of the times.
So what was different? “It was much more low key than usual. All the subjects felt more open and raw, vulnerable as a result. They didn’t have their ‘people’ there, it was just them at home or in their studios or work places, and I just turned up. It gives the portraits a whole extra layer which I think really comes cross. It’s about the now,” she says.
“Ordinarily the project would have taken months because names like this are so hard to access, but they all understood that these are prescient times and that the project is not only time sensitive but hugely necessary at the moment. They all wanted to help.”
So was Joanna start struck? “I don’t do celebrity photography but there were some real heroines of mine in the mix – Jenny Saville, Baroness Helena Kennedy…. but more than that I found it really powerful how art forms can harness a time and emotion in such a moving way.”
Socially distanced, the portraits were taken from two meters away with both Joanna and her subjects in masks, which meant that “there was a real sense of trust between us”.
50 of each print are being sold from £150 each, with 10 boxsets of the whole collection and limited edition prints in various sizes also available for the next two months, to raise money for AT The Bus.
AT The Bus delivers art as therapy to young people aged 7-18 in Oxfordshire and London in a purpose-designed therapeutic studio space on a double-decker bus.
It offers art as therapy to support mental wellbeing, develop resilience, alleviate anxiety and boost the self-esteem of children and young people, something hugely valid at the moment.
Historian Simon Schama agrees: “AT The Bus is a heroically wonderful project which deserves all our support,” he says.
Professor Mina Fazel, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford adds: “If there was ever a time to care about the mental health of the most vulnerable young people in our communities, it is now.”
Juli Beattie, Founder of AT The Bus agrees: “Children and young people need support for their wellbeing their mental health and education particularly during times of uncertainty and stress. It is a vital time for AT The Bus to support the children. They are the future.”
Artist Jenny Saville adds: “To be creative is to be free. AT The Bus helps children re-discover their habits of creativity. Making something from nothing that is theirs for life.”
The editioned prints are selling for £150 at www.atthebus.org.uk