I think it was new year’s day 2015 I got an email that had come through the contact form from a man called Tim Andrews asking me if I would take a portrait of him. He explained he’d seen a cyanotype I’d made in the Photomonth brochure which was used by Double Negative Darkroom (the precursor to e5process) to advertise a show. He hadn’t seen the show but he had looked me up and found my site and liked my stuff. He also explained that he had contracted Parkinson’s disease and this had bought an end to his career as a solicitor and the beginning of a new one as a photographic muse. We exchanged a couple of other mails and it transpired he liked to be photographed naked. If you knew me, you’d know that naked men are not really my oeuvre. It’s not that I’m a prude, though I may well be, it’s just most of my thoughts about naked men stay in my head for personal purposes. Anyhoo. I said no but I would photograph him because it was a nice idea. It took five months for it to happen. In the interim, I had decided I would photograph him using a pinhole camera but when he walked into the studio I realised I wanted to use instant film and a polariod back, which is the kind of capricious thing I do. So we spent a really lovely hour chatting and snapping. I then took another couple of months to drum up the confidence to lift the emulsion on to blocks of oak and finally produced this.
In May 2015 I was an associate at Open School East. OSE is an art school, now based in Margate but then was in Dalston. I was catching up on an art education that had been curtailed by a mixture of tragedy and churlishness. This new learning has been the jumping off point to a completely different way of being a creative practitioner and meeting Tim has been important to the ways I think about making work as until then, taking portraits, although something I was interested in, certainly wasn’t something I considered I could actually do.
Fast forward to now, I’m in the middle of a year off, spending the money I saved as an IT contractor and had the head space to put these different ways of making work into practice. I had found myself thinking about Tim more often and we had exchanged a few mails about him sitting for me again. I arranged a studio and assistant and invited him to come along and sit for me.
I was thinking about the work of Euan Uglow who is probably my favorite painter. One of the first posts I made here was about his paintings. There is something so considered about his work that it transcends the term nude. In fact, to my eyes something of the glacial speed of his work (one model is said to have got engaged, married and divorced during one piece) means each figure, clothed or unclothed becomes the kind of in depth consideration on the nature of the human frame which also makes me think about Perec’s “An attempt at describing a place in Paris”. This dense descriptive work was something I wanted to apply to Tim’s particular and increasingly disobedient body.
My grandfather had also suffered from Parkinson’s but he had dementia as well so my memories of his illness were of him frozen, confused and helpless. The first time I met Tim, I would have been forgiven to have thought he had just been sitting a little uncomfortably and his leg had gone to sleep. There was nothing helpless about the man who made his way up the absurdly steep stairs to my studio four years ago.
I hadn’t seen Tim again until last autumn when he invited me to show the blocks as part of And Far Away at the Brighton Photo Fringe. The show was busy and I didn’t get much time to talk to him, but I did observe; this time the Parkinson’s was evident, almost as if some invisible vindictive gremlin was setting about him with a reflex mallet.
I told him of my plans and he agreed and so it was he came to a yoga studio in Dalston to let me take his photo. Like the first time, I wanted to break him up and reconstruct him. This time I knew how I was going to photograph, print and display the image. I’ve come a long way since 2015. I set up the camera on a tripod and took eye level shots using a 150mm lens of his head, torso, hips and legs and feet. I also took the colour shots of him on a chaise that make the main image on this post, because it was there and I also like Manet’s Olympia.
This is the finished piece. I’m pleased with the way it has come out. I would like more detail on the hands because they were moving. But that is the deal you have to make between the substrate and the image. I’ll put more work into this, but not right now.
As with most of the work I produce, the piece is designed to hang free from the wall and to respond to the air currents that the environment provides.
I also couldn’t resist a pinhole shot while we were working. Which has given me a few other ideas, but those are for another day indeed.