Boxing Clever

Is it real or is it not? The discussion was raging yesterday. Would you like to know my two cents’ worth? It’s not even that I want to cite my authority as a photographer, but I believe the image is real, and here is why: Disregarding the photo itself for a moment, photographer Simon Annand tagged Armitage and the Old Vic. He also added some hashtags – besides Armitage and the Old Vic there is also Yael Farber. So my first thought is that a pro photographer wouldn’t tag these people (among them the subject) if he had (badly?) manipulated a photo.

More importantly, the hashtag list also contains the hashtag “thehalf”. If you navigate to the photographer’s page – which I would really encourage; his array of headshots is impressive – you will find that he has been working on a project called “The Half” for a number of years. This is his personal project which has been going for many years, where he photographs actors during the immediate half hour before they are called on stage – that is the short time, when the actors are getting into their characters’ heads, getting ready to go out and perform. Among the actors thus portrayed, are well-known names such as Daniel Craig, Cate Blanchett, Simon Russell Beale, Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis, Ben Whishaw to name just a few. Part 1 of the project has been published in book format in 2010.

Annand says that he captures something raw and original – the unguarded moments of the actor during the process of becoming someone else. His intention is to show the actor as a worker – an interesting thought, as we often perceive art (and artists) as effortless, because it is based on a talent that has been given and that does not need practice. Annand is not interested in the paraphernalia or props; he wants to capture the essence of that transition – and the men and women who become someone else. More about the project in this short film for the V&A where some of Annand’s photographs were recently exhibited.

Back to the image released yesterday. Unlike most other photos from The Half, there are props in the picture, the boxing gloves. If Annand didn’t want them, maybe they were RA’s stipulation. A prop to hold on to or to hide behind, during that vulnerable, difficult, yet hugely important countdown to curtain up? Just in terms of explaining the props, I find it quite comprehensible that an actor might get himself into the mood for a physically and morally strong character such as Proctor by engaging in some sort of strength or boxing training. There is a particular masculine quality to boxing (apologies to Katie Taylor), so maybe that’s the connection??? After all it would be difficult to sharpen the axe or clean the stables in the dressing room? The physicality of Proctor is undeniable, not least because he is a farmer. Of course the boxing gloves are not “method”. But neither is listening to Arvo Pärt, I suppose. And as others have pointed out – Armitage’s earlier mentioned ritual of sitting in a dark room, would not translate into a photograph. In the context of the project it is unusual that the sitter is looking *straight* at the camera – something that Annand seemed to avoid with his other subjects. But maybe these are all hints that RA couldn’t help himself and had to acknowledge the camera? We’ll never know…

As for technical hints that the picture might be a manip – to be honest, I can’t see it. The lighting is consistent, with the light from the mirror behind Armitage creating a light rim on the left boxing glove. A light from the front right acts as a fill and creates highlights on Armitage’s face, bicep, and the boxing glove in the foreground. There is a good sense of depth to the image, with the background falling off and the foreground sharper in focus. The fall off is consistent between the gloves and the arms that are vanishing into the glove – which leads me to believe that the props were not photoshopped onto an image of the actor.

In total I just cannot believe that a photographer of Annand’s expertise and standing would risk his reputation with a manip – especially one where he is tagging the subject. And just from the glimpse we get of him in the above videos, he comes across as an old school photographer. I even suspect that picture editing is not something he engages much in. He says himself that he values the documentary nature of photography – a rejection of photo manipulation? That’s how it looks to me, but unless he tells us more about his shoot with Richard, we won’t know.

After all this serious discussion, let’s finish on a lighter note. Kathy has struck again. Of course. Richard in boxing mode – that deserves an ode.

I call that boxing clever!



35 thoughts on “Boxing Clever

  1. I too thought it was real because of how the light affects RA’s forearm (the one in the shadowy side) in the pic. If it was artificial the light would be different. And I’m just a leisure-photographer who doesn’t know anything.


  2. Obviously it’s up to him how he prepares and how he is photographed, etc. I also don’t deny that his body looks good. It’s precisely the light that made the photo look artificial to me — to me the light on the figure is strikingly different from that in the background, as if someone just stuck a cutout of him on a background. You’re obviously the expert. I just rarely have such a viscerally negative reaction to a photo of him. Usually if I don’t like a photo, my reaction is to shrug. I saw this one and it first shocked me and then nauseated me, until I closed the window on my computer. This is one I wish I hadn’t seen.


    • Just to make it clear – I totally understand why a lot of fans do not like this picture. Boxing as a sport is not everybody’s cup of tea. I am not necessarily into that kind of imagery, but I like the idea of RA preparing in this way. I agree with those who say that boxing has nothing to do with Proctor. It’s anachronistic, to some degree. But I like the visceral connotation.
      Anyway, I definitely do not want to come across as the expert whose verdict has to be accepted. I just wanted to explain why *I* think this is real. There is absolutely no reason why my word should be taken as gospel. If you don’t think it is real – that is fine! I am sorry if the photo really disturbs your memories of the character and the actor at that time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was sure it was real as soon as i saw all the tags; i’d have liked the theatre make up mirror behind it not to be there, egoistically, for my undisturbed enjoyment of the male 😉 But that is not the point of the photo and the contrast makes his pose all the more striking, he’s just Proctor, no Richard in the picture. in a way.

    I like it though i so wish they would have not used the old gloves but just his fists, that would have made it even more umph.
    But it’s wonderful as it is and i didn’t even realise how much i missed a new photo 🙂 And an old Proctor one is even sweeter in a sense. Always makes me melancholic to reach July/August and remember Proctor and once again i’ll be at the Old Vic over next few weeks. Tough the theatre itself has transformed twice over since.

    Anyway, very grateful for the surprise gift of the pic :-)) What a treat!


    • I have to say that my first thought with *any* photograph, is *always* that it is real. It is only on closer inspection that I might get suspicious. But in general I just dislike being constantly suspicious of foul play.
      The gloves are a bit much, I agree. But who knows – maybe Richard found them and used them. Maybe there was a punch bag somewhere off-frame that he used to pummel. Maybe this is “just” staged. I am simply quite taken with bare-chested Proctor. That’s a very superficial admission, but well, sometimes it’s just that – objectification.


  4. Yesterday, I thought it was a manip because there’s something wrong-looking about the glove on his right hand. Like it’s not positioned correctly to be at his knuckles. (So I thought whoever made the manipulation couldn’t find a photo of gloves in quite the right position.) Today I noticed that it doesn’t have a thumb! Is he wearing two left-hand gloves?

    Now I’m convinced the photo is real by Guylty’s points about the hashtags and the career of the photographer.

    Which mystifies me that RA agreed to pose. He gave up his last 30 minutes of prep time (or part of it) to pose for a photographer, rather than prepare? We all know that RA prepares intensely and risks NOTHING in delivering a performance. And that he doesn’t like to pose for photos. Would he risk “doing press” so close to a performance? I would bet money that he did this two hours before the performance, not 30 minutes.

    I would LOVE to see the out-takes and to know more about this photographer who is able to cajole (seduce?) actors into cooperating with him? There’s a story in that.

    I would also like to know which night it was, so fangirls who were there can help us prolong this discussion. Because, you know, us….


    • Your thoughts here brought to mind a comment I read somewhere from Yael Farber teasing RA about a photo shoot. Before this moment I had assumed she was referencing the publicity photos for the show. Now, I wonder if it could have been this. All I remember about it was the inference that R was angry. Perhaps he was at this intrusion……


    • The left glove is definitely weird. I had a look after I read your comment – and there is no thumb, as you pointed out. I wonder whether these are simply weird training gloves or something like that.
      As soon as I discovered that this photo came from a reputable photographer, I went through his website to see if there were more pictures there. But no trace. (Let’s be very honest here – and no offense, but he has got actors in his portfolio who are way more famous than RA…)
      Let’s hope that Annand gives us more insight.


  5. I found it interesting that on occasions Annand is not averse to arranging a subject to get the shot he wants – as seen in the second video. Is it conceivable that this could have been a factor here? Going on the evidence that not all shots follow the same procedure.

    Either that or it’s a case of “Mind if I take a pic of you in this crucially vital time?”

    “Get orf my land!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • That disturbed me a little bit, tbh, when I saw the V&A film about his work. Especially after he had said that he loves the authenticity of photography… well…
      But yeah, it definitely supports the view that the picture of RA was pretty much staged.
      It surprises me that Mimositage actually allowed a photographer into the dressing room at this crucial moment…


  6. It never occurred to me that it might be fake. The look is cohesive to me (a total layperson) and the surrounding circumstances just make that scenario pretty much impossible.

    I have no love for boxing, but I don’t mind the visual. He’s not actually pummeling anyone. I’m with you on #TeamTricepLove. For me yesterday was a good day, tater!


  7. Good thoughts. It seemed perfectly logical to me for Proctor to look directly into the camera. Wasn’t that the whole idea of Proctor”s personal journey? He faced his own self , doubts & all and fought for his name, shying away from nothing.

    Ps. Great poem.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a really interesting interpretation, angel. I’d also add: Looking directly at the camera is also a show of strength and an obvious challenging of an (imaginary) opponent. So from that POV it really makes sense, too.


  8. I thought it was a manip at first but his body has marks on it, like the make-up used for his photoshoot (forced myself to look at him closely – so maybe it was taken then.. Also the brown trousers look like Proctor’s, although they seem to have an elasticated waist – hmm. Maybe if he was boxing perhaps it was more of a way of relieving tension than helping him with his role.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is totally and definitely RA during the run as Proctor in TC in this photo, yes. Apart from the short hair and the dark beard, it was also the make-up that convinced me. So yeah, it’s definitely not a case of cutting out his head and photoshopping it on someone elses’s body. It all fits together – that’s his body.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree with Besotted, the glove on his right hand is weird, but that’s a minor distraction totally outweighed by the bicep and the glory trail! *sigh*
    I doubt Richard was all that comfortable with letting in a photographer at such a vulnerable time before a performance, so could be the gloves were just a prop to steer attention away from his transition into Proctor. I’m hoping Annand might release another shot given the keen interest in this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Priorities, right? The boxing theme is not my favourite – although I like the idea that RA can forget *himself* so much that he gets into boxing for his character’s sake. And I agree – it surprised me that he would allow Annand in to his dressing room at this vulnerable, difficult time of his daily work.


  10. Thanks so much for the background story! I actually wasn’t all that impressed by the photo – not bad, not exceptional, didn’t care… (es hat mich nicht vom Hocker gehauen – gibt’s so einen Ausdruck auf Englisch?) but the idea behind “The Half” is really intriguing and there are some great pics on Simon Annands Website. My favorite is the black and white of Cate Blanchett, closely followed by Simon Russell Beale at the stage door – and I totally didn’t recognise Ian McKellen in the pic where he is clean shaven wearing a T-Shirt and half covered by a duvet with a “do not disturb” sign on top – ha! 😀 this one actually looks a bit lite a montage too because of the way the background drops into nothingness.
    Anyway, back to the subject 😉 Definitely not Richard, but the character in the pic, like Hariclea observed.


    • The photo really is very much a taste thing, I guess. I totally admit that it appealed to me on a rather base level *coughs* – otherwise I am not a boxing fan at all.
      The project, however, is fascinating. The photos you mentioned, stood out for me, too. Some do catch the actors at a really interesting point in their day, and their faces give away emotions that may otherwise be guarded.


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