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An Intimate Inside View – Simon Annand

24 Mar

I was fortunate to meet and assist Simon Annand during VAULT when he came to photograph the festival one night and I was able to experience first-hand his unique eye and skill at capturing the unseen.

Kindle Theatre’s The Furies at VAULT 2012. Image courtesy of Simon Annand.

His images truly reveal the intimacy and excitement of the festival showing performers at their peak, revelling in their characters and new relationships.  He shows atmosphere and emotion like no other.

Silent Opera at VAULT 2012. Image courtesy of Simon Annand.

Currently a selection of photographs from his book, The Half, is being exhibited at the Idea Generation Gallery.  The work shows the mystery of backstage theatre as Annand captures a moment in the final half-hour before curtain up when the performers are left in solitude, focusing on their performance.  This is the time when an actor becomes the character and enters into the psychological negotiation required for such a transformation to take place.  The portraits are remarkably intimate capturing a world that is not meant to be seen – the intense physical and mental preparation needed to work on stage.  There are nerves, excitement, anticipation, humour, happiness, terror showing the way ‘the half’ affects different people.

Cate Blanchett, Plenty, The Albery Theatre. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

The individuality of the actors is paramount and the juxtaposition of these photographs side-by-side shows off the diversity of their craft.  The photographs show the vulnerability of some of the most famous actors of our day as they prepare.  Annand’s works are in direct contrast to the posed and Photoshopped media images we are used to.

Daniel Craig, A Number, Royal Court Theatre, 1999. Own photograph.

Throughout Simon’s career, the dressing room and stage wings have always been his studio.  As you go into the exhibition, you can pick up a lovely piece of writing by Simon Callow where he describes their first meeting in 1983 when Annand asked if he could photograph him in the final half-hour. Callow agreed and, on seeing the results, said: ‘I see that he’s caught something I’ve never seen before in theatre photographs – not the sense of performance; I don’t think he’s very interested in that – but the inner life of the actor.’  Callow then commissioned Annand to go to Switzerland to photograph his first opera and feels ‘proud to have facilitated the admission of his uniquely watchful, taciturn presence into the secret life of the theatre, which he has recorded as no one else ever has.’

James McAvoy, Three Days of Rain, Apollo Theatre, 2009. Own photograph.

As well as photographs from his book, the exhibition also includes a selection of previously unseen colour works from British theatre and the London stage.

Amanda Holden, Shrek, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 2011. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

The gallery space here is fundamentally a large segmented reception area and doesn’t really do justice to the works.

Idea Generation Gallery. Own photograph.

Notwithstanding this, the works are entrancing.  At the push of a button, Annand is able to capture something magical.  These works are much more than mere snapshots.  The honesty of the photographs presents a hidden insight into the normally off-limits world of theatre.

Tilda Swinton, Mozart and Salieri, Almeida Theatre, 1989. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

Plus, the exhibition is also handily situated two minutes from The Albion, the perfect place for a pit stop!

Simon Annand: The Half is at the Idea Generation Gallery until 8th April, www.ideageneration.co.uk.

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