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by Blake Wood
(Taschen, RRP £30)
AMY WINEHOUSE was as well-known for her image as her music when she died in 2011. In this book Blake Wood's aim is to present “the person, not the persona” with these previously unseen photographs of a woman who is nearly unrecognisable when stripped of her rats’ nest beehive and elaborate winged eyeliner.
Aspiring photographer Wood and the Back to Black musician met and became friends in 2008, at a time when she was being hounded by the media and battling with addiction. He hung out with her in London, where they spent time doing handicrafts and making pillowcases out of old T-shirts, giving him the opportunity to catch the singer at her most unguarded and intimate moments.
While the images of her applying her make-up in a dingy pub toilet don’t add anything new to the narrative, those of her practising drums in her home do offer a tantalising glimpse of a musician striving to work in the midst of personal chaos. It would have been good for more images of this kind to be included, but the book is dominated instead by shots from an extended holiday the pair took in St Lucia.
There’s an undoubted trust between them, with Winehouse looking healthy and relaxed as she goes horse riding, is buried in sand, and hangs from a trapeze. Aside from these spontaneous images there are also those in which she pulls “pin-up girl” poses on the water’s edge, her hair naturally curled in the salt air.
Mostly taken on a point-and-shoot camera, the photos are familiar and frequently blurred rather than artful. Yet the fact that most are quite clearly holiday snaps and not intended for public viewing does lead to an uncomfortable feeling of exploitation, a sense only heightened by the lack of insight in the captions and Blake's sometimes tenuously asserted place in her life.
Without offering any evidence, for instance, he implies that, when she thanked “my Blake, my Blake incarcerated” at the Grammys, she was referring first to him and second to her then husband Blake Civil-Fielder.
Many of the photos do present a welcome, affectionate counter-image that’s at odds with the familiar tabloid shots of Winehouse stumbling out of pubs. Yet while it’s obvious she trusted Wood, there’s a sense that he’s now using the friendship to further his own career.
He avers that the book is “a love letter to a friend” but, like most love letters, it would have been best kept private.
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