I come from a small family, and, with not many people to compare my looks and character with, wonder exactly what special brand of human mix has made me me. Now that I live down here in New Zealand, there are less avenues than ever for self discovery, so I look to make wider connections with who I am, mainly through reading accounts of my own people, the English. At present, I’m re-reading Jeremy Paxman’s The English. The book offers up some fantastic ideas, including one which states that our place as a nation which punches above its weight in a literary sense, is due to the fact that in the years following The Reformation, all Catholic art was destroyed, to be replaced by banners proclaiming The Ten Commandments. No more pictures to look at and ponder. Only words.
But the part I’ve just come to details the English relationship to sport and a distrust of those that try too hard. Paxman writes of foreign cricketers playing a season or two in England and finding a general lack of apathy from their English colleagues. He also talks about how this particular sport is one we follow, as opposed to sports where we support teams. Here Paxman is talking about how we as a nation value certain traits which we see as inherent in the game, and also in ourselves. Skill. Bravery. Good conduct. Modesty.
These traits were ones bred on the playing fields of England’s public schools and filtered down to leave the English with a general distaste of how other nations approach their sports. We were, until recent years, scornful of sports science, and sportsmen who trained too long and too hard, or just took the whole thing too seriously. Sporting heroes in my lifetime include the Olympic gold medal winning decathlete Daley Thompson, whose career is often pared down to a ten second clip of him whistling the national anthem at the LA Olympics, or the snooker player Jimmy White who was almost a World Champion on many occasions only to lose repeated finals against the equally talented, but more driven, Stephen Hendry. The German footballer Phillip Lahm expressed amazement that our best player in the 1990 World Cup, Paul Gascoigne, is remembered with love and affection for his role in that team making the semi-finals. We remember Gascoigne’s once in a generation skill and idiocy. If Gasgoigne was German, Lahm said, he would have been remembered as a mentally weak player whose booking and subsequent breakdown led him to being unable to take a penalty kick in the deciding shootout.
So growing up it seemed that trying was…just not cricket. Attention to practice and diet were underhand advantages gained by professional sportsmen, not of the gentleman, amateur class who first came from the fields of Eton, Rugby and Harrow.. And although this attitude has changed in recent years as our national games at the highest level come to be dominated by European values and expertise, and as we come to love the massive hauls of gold medals at Olympic Games, there is still something of this desire to not try that hard, to behave with modesty that still prevails.
For myself as a photographer currently putting on a (small-it’s not a big deal) show, I constantly find myself not wanting to attend to the small details, which instinct tell me are showy and unnecessary. I had to be reminded by more than one person to create an online presence for the work. It also didn’t feel right to run a competition, the aim of which was to draw attention to the show. None of it felt like…cricket, as if there is something underhand about the show being a success for any other reason than the quality of the images. I have made the effort though. Images considered for selection have been discussed with other photographers, gallery owners, framers and printers. Different papers have been considered. Framing ideas have come and gone. Why the change from a fairly slapdash approach of old? One possible reason might be because I can’t afford to have a half hearted approach to the work anymore. I don’t have other work. It’s this or nothing. I literally can’t afford to fail. These images right now are my life.
So, presented here are the images which will be on display at The Otaki Library Artspace from sometime in May for a few weeks. Kidding. Ōtaki Evenings opens 12pm next Monday and close June 12 at 10am. Come down and see. Please.