PJ Harvey photographed in Harry Borden’s Bethnall Green flat, London 1996

Harry Borden recalls the shoot:” Polly Jean Harvey is an alternative rock icon. She has won the Mercury Prize twice, had eight nominations for the Brit Awards, six nominations for the Grammy Awards and was awarded an MBE in 2013 for services to music. 

I was commissioned to do a portrait shoot in 1996 with Polly by Option, an alternative music magazine of the time. I was a fan of her work, so it was an exciting opportunity. At the time she was popular in trendy circles, but wasn’t widely known yet. She was about as cool as you could imagine and I don’t think she’s ever lost that quality. Back then, I had a flat in London’s Bethnal Green and suggested we use it for the shoot. She turned up dressed completely in black, with green eyeshadow and red lipstick that accentuated her features. 

We spent a few hours taking the pictures. I chose the green background to match her eyeshadow and complement her lipstick, and set up the backdrop in the hallway. I used natural light from a window, and set it up so that most of the light fell on her face while illuminating only a small part of the backdrop.

I shot this image on my Hasselblad CM with an 80mm lens. At that time, I liked a cross-processed look and this one was taken on Kodak Ektachrome Professional ISO 100 transparency film, and processed in C-41 (print film) chemicals. This produced a more contrasty image with little or no shadow detail. It was one of those occasions when cross-processing augmented the subject without being obvious. 

Afterwards, when a limo came to collect Polly and take her back to where she was staying in Baker Street, I asked if I could go with her. There, we found a little supermarket and I took some pictures of her as an anonymous customer. The whole shoot was great because of the combination of an incredibly photogenic subject with amazing clothes and make-up. It was one of those portrait sessions which, when you get the film back from the processing lab, you’re really delighted with.

On a personal note, at the time of the shoot my wife and I were deciding on a name for our unborn child. I put the name Polly into the hat and my daughter was named after her.”

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