It was a crisp February day in 2004 when budding young photographer Diane Patrice of Derby went out on one of her first big commissions. Diane had been booked to immortalise this promising talent for a teen magazine. Armed with a vintage 1973 Hasselblad, a 35mm Nikon and a Softbox light, she set off to the Camden flat to capture “a day in the life” of a then 21-year-old Amy Winehouse.
She was greeted at the door by a member of her entourage and taken upstairs to wait around with four other people, while her model prepared for the first series of photos. It was a homely place, “bit like a student flat, or a squat”, Diane remembers. Vintage Vogue posters adorned the walls over the mantelpiece; clothes and records were casually strewn across the room. The singer was seemingly infatuated with shoes, of which she had around 40 pairs in baskets, in her closet, on the floor. There was a gaping, unapologetic hole in the ceiling.
“Her voice, her face and her features didn’t match. She sounded like a 20-stone checkout girl, she sounded huge. It was a lived-in voice. The whole package was very endearing, a contradiction in herself,” Diane says.
The young singer took her to the very unassuming little kitchen to make her a cup of tea, “I don’t normally wear my hair like this,” she said. She seemed to like having it that way.
They started the shoot onsite, as seen in a series of square negatives taken with the Hasselblad. Winehouse took Diane to an adjacent room, where she was planning to set up a home music studio. Inside the photos, with sunlight pouring in through a large window, bathed the leopard-print clad musician in a cosy pink glow. A stack of vinyl’s under the sofa and a hefty pile of shoes draw the viewer into the intimacy of her home life.
The PR and make-up artist crew then whisked them away in “a little people carrier”, to the second venue. All the locations and outfits were chosen by the singer herself, who did not (would not?) adhere to stylists’ guidelines. They arrived at the local pool hall. Winehouse was an avid pool player, and this was where she would indulge in her carefree years. The very same location appeared in her music video for the song “Stronger Than Me”.
“A lot of her later pictures were quite vacant, turning her into a caricature, she was really engaging with the camera in these ones,” Diane says.
After a quick cosmetic touch-up, she slipped into her one-piece of imposed clothing, a black Adidas jacket for the sponsor’s benefit and proceeded to pose over and around the pool table. Her expression is serious and committed.
The girl is no professional model: she’s on the brink of laughter in some shots, and appears concentrated in others. She leans over and aims a red ball right at the lens, then straightens up and leans over the table, as if challenging us to a game. “She just embodied the ‘London geezer’,” says Diane.
They moved on to her next destination of choice: the vintage shop. A few snapshots of Winehouse perusing and trying on items in a gift shop reflect her retro fashion sense and playful persona.
Diane, in deep concentration and somewhat anxious to perform at one of her first serious commissions, was not disturbed by the singer picking up her phone to chat to a friend in the middle of the shoot. Instead, she caught the candid moment on camera as a genuine casual day out with a mischievous mate.
The next sequence contains some of Diane’s favourite shots of the trendy youngster doing her washing at the local launderette. A red-stilettoed Amy Winehouse transfers her things from a turquoise machine into a white hamper, like a scene out of some 1980s college movie. Did she have a stylist at that point?
“I don’t think she ever had a stylist,” Diane says. “There was a make-up artist, but the clothes were her own.” In fact, the giggling photographer couldn’t get over the state of singer’s clothes: “Her skirt was absolutely filthy. She didn’t give a damn that it wasn’t clean; it stays with me because I never saw someone wear something like that at a shoot. I thought, good on you, girl.”
They finished up at a neighbouring bar. Amy Winehouse ordered a cranberry juice and the next minute her PR man received a call and whisked the rising star away, her high-spirited self forever imprinted on the film inside Diane’s two cameras. Born in Derby to Saint-Lucian parents in 1973, the self-taught artist picked up the camera at the age of 25 and has been making a living from it ever since, having photographed other stars including a young Rihanna.
There is real continuity in shooting on film. No interruption while the photographer frets over their work, sorting and editing on the go; no knowing how it’s all going to come out. “And you establish a much better rapport,” says Diane. “It would have been nice if I had been chattier, but I was too concentrated doing a good job.”
She knows she would have been far more confident now, after years of experience, but “because I mainly wanted to be a music photographer, I’m so proud I managed to shoot two iconic female artists of our generation, and if I ever have to quit it is absolutely fine because I’ll have done it.”
Diane is currently working on personal projects as well as commissioned portraiture. She hopes to see her Winehouse pieces end up in a permanent collection or exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery.