The people I most admire – both in my personal life, and of the people whose life stories I’ve come across – are the ones who fit the term renaissance man. People who’ve applied themselves to many things and gotten good at them, or who while known mostly for one thing did not let it define them.
There are plenty of great examples. A personal favourite of mine is Theodore Roosevelt. President of the United States. Hero of the Spanish – American war. Prolific writer, explorer, naturalist. He explored rivers in Amazonia, shot enough animals to fill the American Museum of Natural History, and once delivered a campaign speech despite the notable handicap of having been shot in the chest on the way to rally. He was, it’s fair to say, quite a guy.
There are some who say that he was emblamatic of his time, and that things just aren’t that way any more. If that’s the case then we’re the poorer for it. And that links to my artistic practice, because there is no part of my work that is not informed by my life more generally.
I had a classic example of that this week. The first exhibition of my course is approaching, and I’ve now reached the point of having to decide what’s actually going on the wall. That I was going to have more work than wallspace has always been a given – that’s the nature of the beast. But I’ve arrived at this point with two connected yet independant sets of images. There isn’t room for both of them. I have to choose which to use.
The first set, is a project I’ve mentioned before, in my post on Sports Photography As Meditation. I’ve got images of players on the pitch, and one of the players was nice enough to drop by the studio – this gave me lit images on a white background which contrast nicely with the mud and the blood.
The other is based in the theatre – again, studio headshots and now contrasted with the actors in character and on stage.
The connection between the two is pretty obvious, and if I had a whole gallery to play with then I’d have no issue with displaying both sets – maybe on facing walls. But I don’t, so I have to choose. Right now I’m leaning toward the sports images, for the most pragmatic of reasons – as I mentioned in my last post, the season is now over. There are no new images to be found, so I can get on with curating the ones I’ve got without having to worry that I’ll take some defining new image which will entirely alter the collection. That’s the plan at least.
But I’ve got the choice. I’ve got the breadth of material. And I’ve got that because I actively try to keep my interests broad, to strike out in new directions. I’d never photographed a rugby game before September – now I have. I’ve got years of experience of taking photographs in the theatre, but I wanted to try something different. So I took the same skillset, and applied it to this different environment. The results are pretty interesting, I think, because while they’re definitely sports pictures, they’re not the sort of thing you’ll find on the back page of your newspaper. They’re portraits – just on a different background. They tell you a great deal about the subject, but very little about the game they’re playing.
It’s interesting, to me if nobody else, just how my artistic work seems to permeate the rest of my life. I was going to say that that it hasn’t gotten into the part of my life where I’m actually earning money – I work as a ward clerk at the local hospital – but that’s not true either. Every year, the NHS gets its new draft of junior doctors, who arrive out of med school into the badlands of real healthcare. And for the first few weeks nobody knows who’s who, or who’s on what team.
My initial suggestion was to buy them all football shirts. Each team could choose a colour (blue for orthopaedics, red for gastroenterology, green for general surgery etc etc) every doctor got their name and pager number on the back, and the problem would be solved. For some reason that idea didn’t catch on. So my second idea (which did catch on) was a little more cost effective. Every new doctor got a sheet of paper – onto this they magic markered their name, team, supervising consultant and pager number. They held it up, I took their picture. The resulting image was printed out and taped up in the office. One particularly clear thinking doctor asked for a photo where he didn’t look approachable or sympathetic, on the basis that this would stop him being paged unless it was important (he’ll be a consultant very quickly, you mark my words).
I can’t include any of those images – confidentiality and all that – but it’s worth noting that I was taking portraits of people in their working environments a solid year before the current project got under way. Either I don’t have many fresh ideas, or my work feeds back into my artistic practice.
Either way, I’m not running out of ideas. That part of the theory is working at least.