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!