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Photographer Mark Surridge talks about life on the road with Ed Sheeran

PUBLISHED: 19:17 27 February 2020

Ed Sheeran with photographer Mark Surridge at the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich  Picture: Nic Minns

Ed Sheeran with photographer Mark Surridge at the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich Picture: Nic Minns

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Life on the road, photographing a world-famous superstar like Ed Sheeran, sounds like a lot of fun but Mark Surridge warns students not to be dazzled by the glittering rock’n’roll lifestyle

A Mark Surridge photograph of Ed Sheeran in his dressing room, European tour, March 2012  Picture: Mark SurridgeA Mark Surridge photograph of Ed Sheeran in his dressing room, European tour, March 2012 Picture: Mark Surridge

Photographer Mark Surridge knows he has a wonderful job. He's a leading portrait photographer, with a keen interest in shooting travel features, and along the way he gets to combine both interests thanks to his mate Ed Sheeran. He has accompanied Ed on his tours around the world, grabbing some of the most intimate, personal backstage photographs and some of the most spectacular on-stage concert shots.

Mark takes the images that no-one else sees. When the crowd is looking at Ed, Mark is looking at the crowd, or maybe spies a roadie man-handling a flight case full of spare guitars in the wings.

A selection of Mark's highly distinctive black and white photographs are currently on display in the Wolsey Gallery, inside Christchurch Mansion, as part of the Ed Sheeran: Made In Suffolk exhibition.

As part of the exhibition's education outreach programme, Mark hosted a workshop with University of Suffolk students looking to make a career in the world of photography.

Photographs by Mark Surridge of Ed Sheeran's world tours make up an important part of the Ed Sheeran: Made In Suffolk exhibition Photo: Nicole DruryPhotographs by Mark Surridge of Ed Sheeran's world tours make up an important part of the Ed Sheeran: Made In Suffolk exhibition Photo: Nicole Drury

So what form does the workshop take?

"Uni students know what is going on, they know about he basics of composition, so this workshop is more about the business side and how I got to do this. Hopefully I will be able to encourage them to carry on - realise their dream."

Mark Surridge standing by his photographs of Ed Sheeran's world tours at the Ed Sheeran: Made In Suffolk exhibition Photo: Nicole DruryMark Surridge standing by his photographs of Ed Sheeran's world tours at the Ed Sheeran: Made In Suffolk exhibition Photo: Nicole Drury

How did you gain that all-important backstage access with Ed Sheeran?

"It all comes down to trust. I don't think you can go straight in and demand access all areas from someone who'se all ready massive. You need to have known them before they were famous or weren't quite as big as they have become.

"You earn that trust by never putting out a dodgy picture. You have to respect your subject. Now it's got to a stage where I can just go into a dressing room and shoot what I want because Ed knows that I will never break that trust.

"I think another important aspect is not being a fan, being a friend. It helps for them to know that you're not going to be taking a constant flurry of selfies. You like them as a person rather than as a rock star or whatever.

Launch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLaunch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"It's important for them to feel grounded. I have never seen Ed happier than when he's talking about normal stuff. Everyday stuff that we all talk about - what about the football, did you see Game of Thrones on TV last night? Everyday stuff. It's true that the more famous you get, the more people just want to talk about you and all you want to do is feel connected to the real world.

"Ed really doesn't want to talk about himself, he wants to talk about other things and I think that's true with all celebrities. I think that's one pf the reasons that Ed still lives round here, is because it offers him an opportunity to be normal. He can pop out to the pub or go to the football and that means a lot to him.

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"Fame is a weird conundrum. When you become famous to get everything that everyone wants but you lose everything that everyone else has - and the most important thing you lose is privacy."

What turns a snapshot into a photograph?

"Mmmm that's difficult one because I think some of my photographs are snapshots. If you think about war photography, it's not composed, it's taken quickly with available light, it's not always sharp. Yet they are still photographs. It all depends on what your definition of a snapshot is. Is it a snapshot if you have auto-settings on the camera and a photograph if you have adjusted it manually? I don't know.

"I think all live work is a snaphot because you are not in control of the situation. You are not composing anything, you are reacting to something you see in front of you.

"I think the work you do in post-production maybe would turn a snapshot into a photograph. If you recrop it or play about with the exposure or work with the shadows and highlights. A bit of dodging and burning."

So what makes a good rock'n'roll photograph?

"That's a bit easier, giving someone the feeling of what it was like to be there. The best rock'n'roll photography isn't about the live shots on stage, it's capturing life backstage, before the show or after the show, that's when you get to meet the people rather than the performers. The best rock'n'roll captures the quiet moments, the moments of stillness in the dressing room, the bits that people don't normally see."

Is there a sure-fire way into rock and pop photography?

"There isn't one route in pursuing Photography as a career, there are so many options. The best advice I can give is to start assisting and start learning that way. To be successful I think you need enthusiasm, an enjoyment, drive and thick skin, to put up with the inevitable knocks. Being a people-person is important too but overall you've got to enjoy it."

So what did students and staff think of Mark's insight into the rarified world of Ed Sheeran's musical globe trotting? The group from the University included final year Photography student Lauren Vince who said: "It has been a fantastic event. It's been really interesting to hear the stories of how the photographs by Mark Surridge were taken and what happened behind the scenes. I think it's really helpful for students to hear how photographers have made their way into the professional world. We've spoken to several photographers throughout our degree and it's interesting to see how everyone's achieved success through different paths."

Mark Edwards, Associate Professor in Photography at the University of Suffolk added, "The link with industry and internationally regarded photographers is at the heart of our Photography degree at the University of Suffolk. We are delighted to be able to offer our students the chance to have a masterclass with Mark Surridge and for them to have a private tour of Ed Sheeran- Made in Suffolk at Christchurch Mansion. Many of the students visiting today are in their final year and I'm sure meeting Mark and seeing his work will be a source of inspiration."

Ed Sheeran: Made In Suffolk runs until May 3.


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