Simon Annand: ‘The Half’ @ the Idea Generation Gallery

Generation Idea Gallery presents the solo exhibition of photographer Simon Annand, titled ‘The Half’ after his homonymous book published in 2008. The exhibition includes both shots from his 2008 book and a new series of photographic material.

‘”The Half is a period of time of roughly half an hour before the actors go on stage…and face a thousand strangers”, Annand explains on the short film created for the V&A display back in 2010. In this short period of time actors must leave behind their everyday lives and regenerate themselves as their stage fictional character. This is a process that requires extreme concentration in order to achieve a certain psychological and mental state. The dressing room functions in numerous ways; it can be the panic room, a chapel or a sanctum, even the time capsule that will lead the actor towards a particular time and place. Annand’s camera becomes the witness of this transition. Facial expressions reflecting an in depth esoteric exploration happening before our eyes is what Annand generously offers. The surrounding environment and its interior do not matter here, exoteric photogenicity and attractiveness are also irrelevant. Each shot is overpowered by the presence of a single face, a face that we do not get to see like this very often.

For over 25 years Annand has been capturing the backstage magical atmosphere of the British Theatre. Amongst his fans, Judi Dench describes him as ‘an individualist with an eye for the unusual’. His unique talent and vast experience have produced an astonishing photographic archive giving us not just a behind-the-scenes but a behind-closed-doors glimpse of an actor’s private metamorphosis.

Simon Annand talked to REVma -/+ about his work and “The Half”:

REVma -/+: Your photography captures the actor’s esoteric world 30 minutes before appearing on stage. How challenging is it to attain a desirable result within such a short period of time?
S.A.: Over 30 years, the length of time granted has varied from barely 2 mins to over 2 hours, depending on the actor. In case it is the former, you have to be flexible and open to what is going on around you. If the whole Half has been allowed, which is a luxury, the most poignant shots will often come just before they leave the room at beginners, when the fictional character is coiled and ready to spring. I do not set myself a result to achieve before going in.

REVma -/+: You have photographed a large number of actors and actresses over the last 25 years. Having this great experience under your belt, do you feel that it is easier to capture the right moment having previously met the actor or can the same result be achieved on an “ex novo” basis?
S.A.: The challenge is the same if we have met before or not. The key is to know why I am interested in this particular person. Each actor has been selected by me for a particular reason, (rather than chosen by an editor), and I try to follow my initial interest, without disrupting their rhythm or imposing an idea on them. As my personal experience grows, and I know more about the theatre in general, the range of what my eye sees has increased. Experience allows me to appreciate why some of the decisions have been taken, and what the choices are.

REVma -/+: “The Half” is the process during which an actor engages themselves within the psychological and physical state of the character they are about to play. Do you feel that the presence of a camera and a photographer may sometimes trigger a faster or a slower transition into their character’s psyche?
S.A.: I try to see the actors late in the run when they have mastered the fictional character. What I am witnessing is the daily challenge by the actor to bring their own selves into line with the demands of the performance they will play. This psychological negotiation is very photogenic. The moment when you feel the actor has allowed the fictional character to take over will always vary. Some will make the transformation early in “The Half”, while others prefer to leave it to the last minute and hang onto their own selves as long as possible.