Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Roald Dahl

I recently gave a print of this photograph to the Garrison Children's Education Fund where it was auctioned at their Spring Thaw fundraiser. The winner, Kyoko Gelber, gave it to the Desmond Fish Library because, "We (including our girls, who LOVE Dahl) feel that it belongs in the library where many more people can enjoy it." 

I took the picture in the mid 1970’s at Roald Dahl’s house in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, 35 miles north west of London.  The exact location of the photograph is the indoor swimming pool. 

I was still living in England when I wrote to Roald asking if I could photograph him. Although I received commissions from British magazines to photograph writers, I tried to avoid being commissioned to take my favourite writers, because, under such circumstances, there is always an element of collusion with either the magazine, the agent, the publisher or the author himself. It is a rare magazine that leaves you alone. I was lucky with one or two who did leave me alone.

The purpose of photographing the writers was to publish a book. After I photographed each one I wrote to him or her enclosing the photograph I had made. I asked for a short comment on the photograph in respect of themselves. Roald’s reply after I sent him his picture was that 30 degrees from the vertical was his attitude to life. I never found a publisher for the book.

We became friends and went to France together to do an article about Romanée Conti, the 4.0 acres vineyard in Burgundy, which produces the most luscious red wine (Napoleon’s favorite). It is now rarely drunk, only traded in. A good vintage goes for $25,000 a bottle. We were not offered a glass of either Romanée Conti or its sister estates La Romanée and La Tâche.

Roald wrote a scathing piece and was threatened with lawsuits. He did not budge from his opinion of the proprietor or her behavior and the lawsuit was dropped.

Roald himself had an outstanding cellar of Bordeaux wines that he never failed to share with his friends. I remember many a dinner with bottles of his favourite Chateau Cos D’Estournel, nearly always with tarragon chicken, tarragon that he grew himself.

Roald was remarkably tall — 6’ 6”. During the Second World War he had to crash land his fighter plane in the Libyan Desert, after being given the wrong directions by his commander. He was severely injured and walked with a limp for the rest of his life. I never heard him complain.