I was sitting in the offices of Landseer Film Company in London with a coffee in my hand, thinking about my lunch – there were a few interesting restaurants in the area – and listening to a discussion about a film on Sir Peter Hall that the company were working on. Then someone suggested that it would be a good idea if I took some portraits of him that could be edited into the film. This was supremely interesting and I instantly forgot about my lunch. I had not yet met this very famous director of films, operas and theatre performances, who had staged ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Beckett at the youthful age of twenty-four and gone on to found the Royal Shakespeare Company.
A week later we gathered on the terrace of the National Theatre, on the south bank of the River Thames; Sir Peter greeted each of us with a handshake. Half an hour later we took our positions and the interview began, with Sir Peter talking about Shakespeare, the English language from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the financing of theatres over the centuries, the role of artists in society, his personal plans for the future, an experimental theatre.
The only time I could photograph our subject was during breaks, otherwise the sound of my camera would have been recorded as well. The problem was he would close his eyes then and freeze motionless, thinking about his answers – the effect was neither intriguing nor entertaining.
During the third or fourth break Sir Peter lit a large cigar and then I noticed that his hands began to illustrate his, as yet, silent sentences. From then onwards I was looking at him through a camera viewfinder, with a finger on the shutter button, waiting for the sign that would create the portrait. After a few minutes the smoke from the cigar composed itself into a flawless arabesque. The picture was taken instantly.