Tim Andrews- Same Difference

I first became aware of Tim Andrews in 2011, when Pal Hansen, whom I was assisting at the time, had accepted an invitation to photograph Tim as part of his project ‘Over the Hill‘, which is an ongoing series of portraits of him taken by different photographers.

I have followed the project at various intervals since that time, as publicity has grown around it, and I must admit to having thought about what I would do in the instance I ever got asked. A few months ago I saw Tim himself on the Piccadilly Line. It felt strange knowing who he was and having had a sort of disjointed contact with him before through Pal, yet without actually having met. I probably should have said hello, but I felt shy and no-one wants to be pestered on the tube. So it filled me with glee that just a month later I should get an invitation to be part of the project after he had seen some of my work in Time Out.

The email I received basically told me that he would agree to pretty much anything and I could photograph him nude, clothed, whatever and wherever I liked. After the surprise and pleasure at being asked, came the dread of ‘what the hell am I going to do that’s different?’. I was number 340 in Tim’s list of photographers, so every initial idea, with a quick scour of his blog, had already been done pretty cohesively. I settled to thinking about what I wanted to do for myself, using Tim as a subject, rather than thinking of my peers and what would stand up beside their work on his blog. It was a risk, but I indulged myself with a nod to my more experimental Uni work and thankfully Tim was up for it too.

I’ve always been interested in people and Psychology, so I set about testing a couple of things. Firstly, whether the way I photograph someone is anything like the way they would photograph/see themselves, and secondly whether I could see a visible difference in softness/familiarity from the first frame, to the last, after having spent time with someone. David Bailey once told me that he spends only 5 minutes photographing a subject, yet 55 minutes talking to them beforehand, and I have always understood why. People are much more relaxed when they have had time to figure you out but often, unlike Bailey, I don’t get the luxury of time on a job.

So the project consisted of Tim arriving at a neutral location (my lovely friend Jessie’s house), where I had already set up a light, fixed focus and taped off a little area for him. The plan was for Tim to take a handful of self referential frames using a shutter release whilst I left the room, posing however he liked, nude, clothed, crying, laughing, whatever. He would return to the clothes he was wearing when I left then I would come in, and using the same set, take an identical amount of shots without having seen his. Afterwards we would¬†look at them together and pair them up in sequence.

I was pretty nervous when Tim arrived, his face was very familiar to me, but I had no idea of his persona and he often looks quite serious in his shots. Above all, I felt privileged to be part of this and I really didn’t want to disappoint him with some potentially boring photo’s. I felt like I was babbling a lot at first, but we had coffee and chatted a little before we began. Tim is such a sweet, interesting, softly spoken man so I began to relax a little, though I wanted to avoid too much chat before we started so as not to interfere with what I hoped to achieve.¬† I led him into his little ‘studio’ and nervously washed dishes next door until he was done. It seemed very quick before he was out and it was my turn.

After getting an initial shot of how he arrived at the door, bag in hand, I tried to approach it as I would a commission, chatting away, trying to grab images as we talked. I realised how hard it was to restrain myself from clicking away and using up my shot quota straight away. Generally I like to ease people into it by taking shots even if I know they don’t quite work, so as not to make the subject self conscious about the placement of a hand, or body position, etc. I couldn’t do this in this instance as I had limited myself, so I had to stop Tim at various points and try things out whilst taking the more posed frames at then end. It felt unnatural but was good for me, like the days I used to shoot on film, forcing me to properly assess everything in the composition.

When I finally finished, we headed next door to assess the results. On seeing Tim’s, initially I felt they were actually much better than my own, he had been confident and daring and a lot more elaborate in his poses than what I had asked of him, but then I realised that was the point of the whole experiment. Although I do think there is a warmth in the last frame that was absent in the first, I can’t possibly know Tim the way he knows himself, particularly in only an hours meet. He knows his own limits and boundaries, whereas I can only impress my own onto him. It’s amusing actually because towards the end of my frames, I had mentioned that I felt I should do something more wild, but he seemed quite a gentle and serene man so it didn’t seem appropriate, little did I know!

It felt euphoric almost putting the shots together, they worked so much better than I had imagined and complimented each other. This is mainly because Tim was so trusting and open, I’m genuinely thrilled with them and I’m glad Tim is too. You can read his take on the shoot here.

Once the nervousness had lifted, we were able to fully relax and talk more, and drink more coffee and look at the photo’s over and over, seeing new links or contradictions in each pairing and talking about psychology and whether one can ever really know another, let alone oneself. I feel incredibly grateful to Tim for giving me the opportunity to play around with an idea and for being the most perfect partner to collaborate with. Thanks so much Tim!

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