For the record: Blake Wood upon photographing beloved icon and close friend Amy Winehouse

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Over the tenth anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s tragic death, Blake Wood remembers the moments he or she spent with the artist within Camden and St Lucia, and his desire to capture the girl as a person, not a character

The 1st time Blake Wood met Amy Winehouse, she thought he or she was messing with the girl. It was January 2008, in London. Wood was a shy 22-year-old, staying at close friend Kelly Osbourne’s house. Introduced simply seeing that Blake, Winehouse initially thought he was joking – at the time, her then-husband Blake Fielder-Civil was in jail to get attempting to pervert the course of justice – but the pair clicked instantly. A month later, they were living together.

“It’s something that you rarely join life, and I’ve realized since then. That immediate kind of family energy, the kind if you meet with certain friends. I had developed that with Amy nearly right off the bat, ” Wood recalls. “That first six months that people really knew each other, we were together pretty much every day. ”                 

Wood, then a budding professional photographer, had just moved to Britain from the US. He has been “enamoured” by the London he saw, taking his digital camera wherever he went, seeking to capture the hectic energy of the capital during a moments of social and political flux. Winehouse was 25 with the peak of the girl fame, claiming five Grammys in February 2008 – a then-record for a British woman. She had solidified an iconic status being a globally renowned Jazz music performer at a time in which Jazz musicians were not meant to be popular. Yet there were low moments as well. Throughout that year, Winehouse battled addictions that were gleefully documented by a ruthless tabloid press, while struggling to deal with the all-consuming intensity of her fame.  

© Blake Wooden.

As the Paparazzi continuing to follow their every switch, often camping outside their residence in Camden, Wood made a conscious decision to photograph the Amy he or she saw, rather than the persona that was being proliferated around him. “I started taking photos of her after about day three [of meeting her]. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision. It was just… my rhythm at the time, ” he explains. “But I recall [thinking that] Dont really want to photograph her struggles, I really want to capture this incredible person, who the lady was at her core. ”

Winehouse herself was relentlessly supportive: continually pressing Wood to be more driven, telling close friends and members of the family about his talent and hanging his black and white portraits on her wall. It was common of his friend, Wooden says, she was endlessly kind and supportive.

© Blake Wooden.

© Blake Wooden.

At the end of 2008, Wooden and Winehouse shared a holiday in St Lucia. Taken on an old polaroid digital camera, his photographs speak to another side of the pop star. Riding horses or playing in the sand, she has eschewed her signature beehive hairdo in favour of natural curls. Greater than anything, Wood says, Saint Lucia was a refuge. Winehouse was going through a divorce, yet she looks rejuvenated right after months away from the crushing cycle of touring. “It was a moment away from turmoil, away from any drama, medications, anything that was prevalent working in london, ” Wood says. “We were able to really just be also it was the first time in our a friendly relationship that I saw her really truly be able to do that. ”

As well as trying to move above Winehouse’s well-known Back to Black- period aesthetics, Wood continually tried to evoke a timeless quality in his work. It was an aesthetic and mood that naturally appealed to Winehouse; her wardrobe blended 60s staples with contemporary design, and her music combined jazz and blues with soul or Motown influences. In St Lucia, Winehouse took on the role of collaborator, spontaneously dragging Wood on shoots around the island after seeing that he has been unhappy after almost 4 months without work.

“She saw that I was straight down [from not working] and he or she was like, ‘let’s go plus make work today’. The girl knew that we both were happiest when we were producing. She took me to the beach and she just did all this stuff, ” Wood recalls. “I didn’t tell her where to pose or where to end up being or anything. She just did it. ”

© Blake Wood.

“She has been someone who was kind plus loved with her whole heart, more than anyone I’ve ever met. She has been never embarrassed to be completely herself. People don’t offer her enough credit to get that”

© Blake Wood.

In 2018, the images had been immortalised in a book released by Taschen , Amy Winehouse , which includes 150 largely unseen images. Soft and intimate, they may be a far cry through chaotic paparazzi shots, or on-stage performance images that we get become accustomed to. They showcase the singer’s childish aspect, in images of Winehouse playing on the beach, pretending to be a mermaid for her goddaughter. In one photograph, Winehouse techniques on a branch, staring extremely at the camera. In one more, she stands on top of the rock, hands on hips, looking into the distance. The images are quiet and contemplative, but with a strength that doesn’t hide her weeknesses. As Wood notes, while St Lucia was an intended escape, the stresses of life were ever-present.  

Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Winehouse’s passing away, on 23 July 2011, Wood sees his pictures as a conscious attempt to “change the narrative around her”. Written into every frame and composition is a brutal desire to show the person he or she knew.   “People saw the performer, and then they will saw this media-created bad guy, or this negative part of the tabloids. And she wasn’t that, ” he says. “I think if I could explain who she was, it will be love-embodied. She was someone who was kind and adored with her whole cardiovascular, more than anyone I’ve actually met. She was never embarrassed to be fully their self. People don’t give her enough credit for that. ”

Will Moffitt

Will Moffitt is publisher of The LEAF Review, the journal dedicated to European architecture, and a freelance journalist. He or she studied Theology and School of thought at Edinburgh University, then an MA in Journal Journalism from City, University or college of London. His work has been published in The Telegraph, Wired and The New Critique.

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