the freeborn travelling portrait project

A culmination of my love of people, travel and photography

RIP David Redfern, Legendary British Music Photographer

My impromptu portrait of David Redfern

My impromptu portrait of David Redfern

The world says goodbye to one of it’s most talented music photographers after the recent passing of David Redfern, aged 78. It was deeply saddening to hear this news, knowing of David’s battle with cancer over the past two years. We met when David had given a talk about his life’s work, five decades of music photography including the British and American Jazz, Blues, Rock and Pop scenes. His speciality was photographing festivals such as Newport Jazz Festival, between Boston and New York, and documenting legendary music venues such as Ronnie Scotts in Soho, London where he photographed Ella Fitzgerald and many more greats.

In 1995 three of his photos-Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and Thelonius Monk-were chosen for U.S. postage stamps. His breadth of work went from being Frank Sinatra’s tour photographer to working with current coolest of the cool bands such as Arcade Fire. A number of decades ago David set up his own photography agency Redfern and then sold it to Getty Images in 2008, reserving rights to his favourite 1000 images for sale as prints. The talk was part of the Dobells Jazz Record Shop exhibition at CHELSEA Space, London, in May 2013.

The exhibition of an archive of items from the legendary record shop contained a number of David’s images of the Jazz scene and it’s musicians from the 60’s. After the talk we went to The Morpeth Arms pub and had a great chat with David about his life’s adventures as an international music photographer. He was joined by his charming and loving wife Susy Reed fashion entrepreneur who creates fabulous textile prints with David through his images.

David Redfern at CHELSEA Space May 2013

David Redfern at CHELSEA Space May 2013

These three image were made whilst we walked the short distance of one short street from CHELSEA Space to the pub. Later on David had told me that he hadn’t had his portrait made by many people. I was transfixed by David’s spirit just as he was by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone or Johnny Cash when he photographed them. Shortly afterwards I got in touch to offer David and Susy some prints as a gift in return for the wonderful and inspirational evening we’d shared. We arranged to meet for lunch in west London near David’s home but unfortunately David wasn’t well enough on the day. I knew he was going through some very tough chemotherapy but was being ever so strong in fighting it always staying philosophical and positive.

David Redfern with Donald Smith, Director of CHELSEA Space & Chair of Chelsea Arts Club Trust

David Redfern with Donald Smith, Director of CHELSEA Space & Chair of Chelsea Arts Club Trust

We crossed paths again whilst David was showing his work at the Royal Festival Hall in London and I was struck by his determination for business as usual. Sunday lunch and the gift of my humble snaps was mentioned again but when I called to arrange it David had moved to his second home in France to take advantage of a better healthcare system there. It was there a few months after, in the gentle loving care of his wife Suzy that David lost his fight with cancer, but he lived his life to full right to the end. It’s clear from David’s summer newsletter on his website that he was still enthralled and electrified by his beloved music scene and the gift he had bestowed upon him as a photographer.

He spent four days at the Vienne Jazz festival, in the front of stage pit, shooting the great Buddy Guy and many more. Then two days in Juan les Pins, with Imelda May, Joss Stone to name but a few. David was planning travel and exhibitions right to the end. To quote him “Keep the faith and live every day to the full,  you just never know…….”

This week sees David honoured in many of the top international media including a Rolling Stone gallery where you can see his greatest photos of 1960s rock royalty, The Guardian gallery and the Under the Radar Mag feature. You can also have a look at David Redfern’s website which includes Suzy Reed’s fashion brand. You can also purchase David Redfern’s book.

CHELSEA Space at Chelsea College of Arts, Millbank, London is run by the very talented artist, curator and more, Donald Smith, also Chair of Chelsea Arts Club Trust. Thanks to Donald for organising this and many other great shows which bring such splendid culture together for celebration. My memories of the high spirits shared that evening will last forever.

London Film Festival, Frieze & a Host of Gloriously Talented Friends

Ashley by Rodolfo Villaplana

Ashley by Rodolfo Villaplana

As this year’s Frieze London and London Film Festival close this weekend I am keen to point out the work of a few of my very talented friends. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself when I think of how unbelievable it is to live in London surrounded by this cultural smorgasbord. Artists, writers and much much more. Here are two I’d like to introduce briefly to you.

Rodolfo Villaplana, originally from Venezeula is an exceptional talent in figurative painting.  After showing recently in the Venice Biennale, Rodolfo had his second solo show here in London at 20th Century Theatre in West London this weekend during Frieze. Part of the show, this beautiful painting above is of a dear mutual friend and fellow artist, Ashley from Laguna Beach near Los Angeles, California. See more of his scintillating work on Rodolfo Villaplana’s Facebook page. He is definitely one to watch!

Gone Girl with Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike

Gone Girl with Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike

Another wonderfully talented friend who likes to stay behind the scenes is the the wonderful writer Jonathan Campbell, the man behind Soundbite Culture. Jonathan has spent the last number of weeks devouring and dissecting back to back films at the London Film Festival. He and his merry band of film critics produce a regular reflection upon the current cinematic offer,  from summer blockbusters such as Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy starring Bradley Cooper and Benicio del Toro, to films of the moment David Fincher’s Gone Girl with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike or The Judge with Billy Bob Thornton & Robert Downey Jr. Bookmark Soundbite Culture to keep in touch with the best films.

The Judge with Robert Downey Jr & Billy Bob Thornton

The Judge with Robert Downey Jr & Billy Bob Thornton

Living in London is an experience I can highly recommend to anyone who gets the opportunity. It’s a tough city at times but boy does it make up for it with endless opportunities for inspiration through festivals, art events and constantly being surrounded by a never ending supply of energetic talent! Another week awaits and who knows what excitement it will entail!


Dr Gabrielle Lynch @ Dalston Street Feast, Hackney

Dr Gabrielle Lynch @ Dalston Street Feast, Hackney

Gabby and I were flatmates for a few years when we both lived in Leeds some time ago. She worked as an academic for Leeds University whilst I worked for Leeds Metropolitan University close by. Those days we only had to walk across Hyde Park or Woodhouse Moor as it’s also called in Leeds, for 20 minutes to get to our respective offices.

Since then our lives have taken us across the world, with my documentary photography adventures and Gabby who is now living in Nairobi whilst working for the University of Warwick. As she is an expert in tribal politics, Gabby follows truth commissions around Kenya. She is also writing yet another interesting book on the subject.

I currently live and work in London and always look forward to seeing my old flatmate when she visits. We always meet, celebrate and enjoy ethnic food in places such as Brixton Village Market or Dalston Street Feast, where I made Gabby’s portrait above. I loved how the blue shipping container we ate beside acted as the perfect impromptu backdrop for her splendid and vibrant outfit.


Bec, Folk & Tea

Bec at RiverHawke Festival

Bec at RiverHawke Festival

One of my favourite little Australian sisters Bec, also known as Freeborn Exhibit B in my collection of wonderful people, is on this side of the equator, adventuring through Europe for a few months. I was thrilled to meet her in Dublin recently when we were both travelling in Ireland. Since so much of our friendship is based around folk music and tea drinking it was very fitting that we met at The Cobblestone traditional music pub in Smithfield, Dublin. I arrived to find Bec singing a cappella with the whole session enthralled by her beautiful voice.

I was then honoured to be able to play host to Bec in Brixton, London a few weeks ago and will be doing so again when she arrives back from her current European adventures. I will be making a portrait of Bec when she returns but I wanted to share this, one of my favourite portraits which I took when we were at RiverHawke Festival outside Sydney with friends a few years ago. What a weekend of fun that was!

I can’t wait to hear all about Bec’s adventures in Europe over a pot of something special from T2, the fantastic tea shop she worked in in Sydney for many years. Originally conceived in Melbourne there’s now one in Shoreditch, London, where we will be making a pilgrimage to upon her return. Bec also made me a great Spotify folk music playlist so that will work nicely and I’m hoping we can seek out a traditional Irish folk session in London too.

Mekong Mechanic


One of my favourite and most memorable moments from my fortunate adventures around the world so far. A simple exchange took place with this mechanic, as I wandered through the vibrant and colourful local market, in the city of Ben Tre, on the Mekong Delta.

Skipping from one shaded part of the market to the next and I passed by him, smiling and saying hello in Vietnamese… “Chào” (pronounced “jow”). He enjoyed hearing it in my amusing Irish accent. I asked if he was happy for me to make his portrait and this is the result.

Of course I was sure to give thanks in Vietnamese… “Cảm ơn” (pronounced “gam uhhn”). It’s wonderful to think what you can fit into less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette…a human connection that’s imprinted on your mind forever! An openness of spirit and the effort to learn a few words and phrases of a new language can go a long way. One day I hope to see Vietnam again. Who knows maybe we’ll cross paths again one day!

London Fashion Week Musings

Faye Dinsmore, London  ©Gavin Freeborn

Faye Dinsmore, London
©Gavin Freeborn

With the recent buzz of London Fashion Week I was inspired to share some portraits I made earlier this year. Faye Dinsmore, one of my neighbours from back home in Donegal, in the Irish countryside, dropped by for lunch one day last spring. She had flown over for modelling work, from Dublin, where she is based, after graduating there in French and Classics at Trinity College. Faye is on the books of agencies in London, Paris and Barcelona and is looked after by Distinct Model Management in Dublin. She also recently landed a contract at Ford Models agency in New York which has seen the likes of Elle Macpherson and David Gandy on it’s books.

Faye was interested to hear about my photojournalism travel blogging and I was in turn interested to hear about her life adventures. I wanted to take Faye somewhere authentic and chose one of my favourite cultural delights in Victoria, Costa Coffee Boutique. Far from the regular Costa Coffee chain outlet, when you step inside this cafe you genuinely feel as if you’ve been transported to 1980’s Italy with beautiful ornate tiling and a glass topped bar where you can view a selection of coffee beans whilst you sip on that perfect brew!

Fitting that it is, the owner and his wife emigrated to London in the 1980’s and have never looked back since. The owner’s manner is so charming, as he slowly potters around making your coffee and food with a relaxed latin style. In central London this is a real treat, considering most people move at breakneck speed! The original retro decor matches the ambience and flavour of this wonderful little haven of culture! It’s fair to say we had a grand ole time of it chatting at a rate of ninety whilst soaking in the sunshine on that crisp cool bright day. We’d both been in touch with each other’s lives from Facebook but there’s no substitute for conversing in person. True Irish craic! A term that I explained to the world last March on Humans of New York or HONY as it’s often referred to. More on that in another blog post soon.

Faye Dinsmore, London  ©Gavin Freeborn

Faye Dinsmore, London
©Gavin Freeborn

Coming from our respective family farms and ending up in the creative urban environment, Faye living in Dublin and me in London, through our creativity we have travelled the world, but our hearts will always have a place in Donegal. Both passionate about our homeland, we chatted about Ireland’s development over the past few decades. Most interestingly we’ve seen it evolve into the tech capital of Europe, with numerous international IT companies basing their European headquarters in Dublin, including Google, Facebook, Paypal, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, LinkedIn, AOL and Twitter. Apple have their European HQ in Cork.

The existence and rapid growth of this industry has been one of Ireland’s major economic saving graces. Faye’s equally talented entrepreneurial fiance, Wicklow-born Paddy Cosgrave has brilliantly promoted Ireland through international networking. He is the man behind Europe’s top tech event Web Summit which brings over 20,000 of the international IT community to Dublin for a three day event. He also runs a more curated event for 200 guests called F.ounders, which brings the founders of major tech companies to an exclusive event which runs alongside the Summit. 

A lot was said in one lunch hour but of course we’re Irish so rapid conversation really wasn’t an issue for us. Faye and I are also both major fans of Irish craft especially Donegal tweed and woollen products. It’s refreshing that current fashion favors them considering the 70’s folk wear which has made a major return to the scene in the last few years alongside folk music. The international renowned Magee business is based only a few miles from our families home now run by Paddy Temple, who I photographed last summer at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh.

Faye Dinsmore, London   ©Gavin Freeborn

Faye Dinsmore, London
©Gavin Freeborn

On a recent trip home I visited Foxford Wollen Mills in Mayo, which has a fascinating history, started by a nun during famine times to help support the community. No matter how far we go from home it’s good to know that just like our old Italian friend, we will always value and celebrate the traditional roots we come from.

In a world of increasing consumerism and fast fashion I would encourage you to buy local products where possible. Most importantly buy good quality which will last and always recycle the clothes you no longer need as someone else will be glad to have them. As a child on the farm in 1980’s Ireland which was then a developing country, I certainly got excited when my older family members handed me down the clothes they grew out of…think local, think quality and think sustainability!

I made a few quick portraits of Faye at Chelsea College of Arts, coincidentally home of UAL’s TED (Textiles Environment Design)…experts and industry leaders in sustainable textile design.The first image was taken inside in the magical space that is the Old College Library. The building was previously the Royal Medical College built at the turn of the last century and opened in 1907. Considering Faye is usually seen on the cover of the Italian Vogue, Cosmopolitan and the likes it was really nice to make these natural portraits and see her pure Donegal beauty radiating on that crisp spring day. Later in summer the press reported that Faye and Paddy are so busy they hardly have time to make their wedding plans. Isn’t it great to see two such beacons of nouveau Ireland light shining out of the economy. I’m glad we got to catch up that day and who knows where in the world we’ll next cross paths!

Read more about London Fashion Week

Explore Donegal and Ireland

Follow Faye’s adventures on Instagram, Twitter and her blog

Follow Paddy on Twitter and read about the Web Summit and Founders

Shop at Magee or Foxford

Explore the Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh

Learn about Textiles Environment Design 

The Magical Creative Journey of Honami Nishii

Summer 2014 has been another long hot one, much to the joy of myself and many others here in London. There’s hardly been a moment to take a breath and of course this means I have been lucky enough to meet more wonderful people and create lots of interesting portraits, which you will get to experience in the coming weeks.

A major highlight of the start of the season was the Chelsea College of Arts undergraduate show, which produced a myriad of talent in fine art, interior and spatial design, graphic design communication and textile design. Much of the final year students’ work really captivated me and one in particular which stood out was textile designer Honami Nishii.

©Honami Nishii

Degree Show ©Honami Nishii

In her graduate collection Honami printed computer files as textile reliefs. She was inspired by how digital technology is influenced by our lives. Data is a material with very special qualities: it is flexible, it can not age, and we can output it anytime. Using digital icons as print patterns, she imagined what materiality these intangible elements have.

©Honami Nishii

Untitled Folders ©Honami Nishii

Her Untitled Folders piece stopped me in my tracks and I instantly wanted to know more about it. I also thought of the thousands of portraits I have in my own folders and how they hide away so easily behind these small blue files on my Apple Mac.

Honami Nishii in Crystal Palace

Honami Nishii in Crystal Palace    ©Gavin Freeborn

Honami, originally from Japan came to London five years ago and has been engrossed in creative learning since she first stepped off the plane. Spending a number of months enlightening herself travelling in Europe before her studies, it’s obvious to me that Honami’s creativity has really blossomed during her time here and at Chelsea, part of the University of the Arts London. Now she is in her last few months in Europe as if sandwiched in time around her studies. These in and out periods act as a playful and informative time which prepares one for the next step in life.

Honami on her temporary street

Honami on her temporary street    ©Gavin Freeborn

As Honami will return to Japan soon she has been feeling free in London, having all sorts of magical adventures including house-sitting for friends in Crystal Palace. I went to explore the area for the first time as I’d heard lots of good reports about the neighbourhood and wanted to interview and photograph Honami in her temporary home.

As always my epicurean streak came out and I googled the best places for Sunday brunch. The Blackbird Bakery came up tops, so we arranged to start our conversation there…whilst feasting our eyes and our bellies on their homemade delights. Satisfied and as full as frogs we literally rolled down the hill and Honami took me to the wonderful Haynes Lane Market where we enjoyed rummaging through antiques including a vintage gramophone which linked nicely to our progression into the digital age.

We headed down the hill to visit the lovely semi-detached family home that Honami was taking care for a few weeks. I could really see that she was in her element in this beautiful space where her friend, a fellow designer and her author husband used the garage and a garden shed as their work spaces, in a lovely little garden which magically leads into an allotment that looks down over the valley towards Kent. It’s like something out of a novel that likely sits on one of the many bookshelves in this family home.

I photographed Honami in her temporary abode…with the essence of England and London all around her. Little signs like the Queens’ ERII insignia embroidered on a chair she sat on, a whole bookshelf dedicated to London in her room. We ended our shoot in the garden where Honami opened the door into the allotment producing a feeling of pure magic.

Honami on British soil

Honami on British soil ©GavinFreeborn

The Curiosities of London

The Curiosities of London ©GavinFreeborn

Honami's Secret Garden

Honami’s Secret Garden ©GavinFreeborn

The Next Step

Honami’s Future ©GavinFreeborn

Over Thai food that evening I talked excitedly about my own deep roots surrounded by the cultural and creative jewels of my homeland in Ireland. I recommending strongly that Honami spends at least a week discovering the mystical island I originally came from. I’m sure she will find plenty of inspiration there to take back with her to Japan and a little fairy dust too. Talking of Japan, I was lucky enough to spend a month there myself some time ago and look forward to seeing it again one day for further explorations.

Interestingly Honami told me her family name Nishii means West and her mother’s maiden name is Azuma, which means East. So if “nomen est omen” as the old Latin saying goes, then her time here has surely seen that destiny through with East meeting West. In terms of what is next on her life journey in Europe and when she returns to her home country Japan, whatever Honami’s future holds I’m sure it will be a bright one as she’s a stellar creative and a wonderful young lady.

Take a look at Honami’s website and enjoy the film she made to show her creative process.

The Pure Genius of Plume

Dan McMahon, the Genius behind Plumemudguard

Dan McMahon, Brooklyn, USA

I ride a beautiful 30yr old vintage Raleigh racing bicycle and like many others who ride beautiful bikes, mudguards are an ongoing subject of conversation. Stylish bike lovers often don’t want an ugly mudguard on their streamlined fashionable mode of two wheeled transport…..and living in London where it rains fairly regularly makes this a logistical challenge! It was just that which inspired Dan McMahon (pictured above), when he was studying at Camberwell College of Arts, part of University of the Arts London and riding around London having to choose between getting wet or defacing his bike. Dan decided to try and find a design led answer to this challenge and after years of research, planning, a crowd funding campaign and blood, sweat and tears of course….PlumeMudguard was born! Plume is the world’s first recoiling bicycle mudguard.

Sleek, stylish, minimal Plume

Sleek, stylish, minimal Plume

It was when working for Chelsea College of Arts myself, I recently received our staff newsletter and spotted a story about Dan and his product being shortlisted for the 2014 Design of the Year. Finally, someone had invented a sleek utilitarian and yet stylish product to match my needs, and the needs of tens of thousands of riders around the world. I signed up for the Plume newsletter to find out when it would next be in stock. I was hooked!

Plume recoiled

Plume recoiled with it’s added reflector

Then I spotted that Plume was based in London and Brooklyn. I happened to be heading to Brooklyn soon after to visit friends so I got in touch with Dan to catch up with him and his awesome Plume. He was coming back from some travel the day before I left Brooklyn but we managed to cross paths a few hours before I flew back to London. It was great to meet the creative mind behind a product which I honestly believe is a little stroke of genius!

©gavinfreeborn (8)©gavinfreeborn (9)

As I truly believe in this product and feel the world should know too…I want to spread the “Gospel of Plume” so tell all your friends and feel free to re-blog or share this because if those who read it are half as excited about Plume as I am then they will be joyous of your sharing!

Dan McMahon, Brooklyn, USA

Dan McMahon, Brooklyn, USA

See Plume in 2014 Design of the Year exhibition in London until August and get in line for 2014’s hottest new product. And if you see this man….please shake his hand…for he has changed the cycle industry forever…Ride On Dan McMahon.

Femi: Egyptian for Love … Southbank Skatepark

It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged on here as I’ve been fully integrating into my new life in London, settling into and blogging daily for work, in an exciting job in marketing and communications at Chelsea College of Arts, part of University of Arts London (UAL). I have an extensive body of work from my travels and early days in London, which I haven’t blogged but recently showed some of it in a staff exhibition at Chelsea. I felt a sense of achievement from a professional hang such as this. Anyhow…there will be more posting in the near future hopefully now that I am more settled…living in the awesome neighbourhood of Brixton

Today I was in town to see a few exhibitions with a friend. I wandered by the River Thames past the colourful South Bank Skatepark which has been threatened with closure recently by the development of a commercial development. The Long Live Southbank (LLSB) campaign was created and has had support from everyone from Thom Yorke from Radiohead to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, who The Guardian explains has halted the £120m development plan by saying that the skatepark should be left in place.

As we arrived to spectate the skaters entertain, I spotted a real character, who I asked if I could make his portrait. He said a number of people had asked and he’d said no to them…but for some reason I got a yes!


Originally born in Manchester but now living in London, he is called Femi, which after research I see is a unisex name of African origin, meaning “Love Me” or “Love” in Egyptian.


The Colour of Love and the upcoming Valentine’s Day of course is often seen as red, which Femi is currently sporting in his very own way. It’s also the colour of the famous Manchester United football team coincidentally…always a great colour on these crisp days…crimson against the grey of London’s current climate. London is full of fabulous characters to photograph so I hope you enjoy Femi.

©gavinfreeborn (2)

Nell Bryden – A Pure Legend of a Woman

©gavinfreeborn ©gavinfreeborn (1) ©gavinfreeborn (2)

I first met Nell Bryden years ago when she played at WuFest @ Dr Wu’s Bar in Leeds, organised by our mutual friend and superwoman Emma Tate nee McPartland whose wedding I had the pleasure of shooting a few years after. From the moment I first saw and heard Nell perform I knew there was just something about her. Nell and I met at Wufest a few years running when she was over from New York and we would have our annual catch up sitting by the mesmerising silver ball fountain sculpture on Calls Landing near the river Aire. A year would have gone by and we would hear each others news on life, love and lots more.

Time passed and for various reasons we didn’t cross paths both being busy in our own lives. I was out of the country a few times when Nell played Leeds again, although I was aware she had been making waves in the UK music scene with six playlisted singles on BBC Radio 2. The Irish broadcasting legend Sir Terry Wogan is a big fan! So when I was searching gig listings in London recently and found Nell was playing the Roundhouse in Camden, I was super excited to catch up with an old friend. Then I read news of Nell’s experience with battle with hair loss through alopecia which was detailed in her feature in the Daily Mail.

Nell full life story can be read here. It really is a truly unique and wonderful story showing how life shapes people. Through being a highly sociable person I meet a lot of folk and I feel very lucky to have happened upon such a talented strong and inspirational human being. Nell grew up on Brooklyn and was there when the 9/11 attack devastated her home city of New York. It took her a long time to write about it but when she did she really did! Every time I listen to this track Sirens it brings me close to tears. In my opinion President Barack Obama should have this song as the unofficial national anthem of the United States of America…what would fit better for a nation who are pushing to improve themselves and stay strong in times of uncertainty?

Nell is starting her new tour in May so don’t miss out if you get the chance the voice of this Pure Legend of a Woman.

Looking forward to seeing you again soon Nell.


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