BPF Trainee Curator Clare Patrick speaks to Tim Andrews about his Over the Hill Project
Posted 22 October
Being in a photograph isn’t anything special anymore. Everyone has photographs for IDs, profile pictures and to let people know you went on holiday. Broadcasting our own image across real and virtual networks is now acceptable and encouraged, and being in front of a camera is both unremarkable and to-be-expected. Despite the universality of cameras, the thought of being photographed for years on end isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For one man, however, this prospect was taken on as a challenging and rewarding means of processing his experience of Parkinson’s Disease. Tim Andrews is often referred to as ‘one of the most photographed men in the UK’. In 2007, Tim began Over the Hill, the project he presents this year at the Regency Town House for BPF18, after responding to an ad for nude models in Time Out magazine. Between then and 2016 he worked with around 425 different photographers and was photographed thousands of times. The project easily falls into step with the theme of this year’s Brighton Photo Fringe Festival, “Photography Changes Everything”, as it encompasses the swinging understandings we have of perception, perspective and experience. It demonstrates the way that creative endeavors offer a productive release from complex and harsh realities. Crucially, Over the Hill is a testament to the many different possibilities of photographic portraiture. We asked Tim to answer a couple of our questions so that we could gain insight into where he is now after completing the project, ahead of his exhibition and forum discussion, both of which are part of this year’s Brighton Photo Fringe Festival programme. The Over the Hill project was ended in 2016 and here we are now, two years later. How did you decide that it was complete and how do you feel about ending it now? For many artists, it can be difficult to feel that something can ever be ‘finished’.
Well it had lasted so long (9 years) and l felt that the beginning was different to the end. l really wanted to think of the project as something special and not just dragging on. l had an exhibition at the Guernsey Photography festival about 6 years ago and the curator told me l should stop before people (or I) got bored with it! It was something that l wanted to put into a box and tie a ribbon around it and then put it on the shelf so that I could take it down every so often and remind myself of all the wonderful times l had had with these special people.
Would you call this a collaborative project? How much direction did you give the photographers and how much were they giving you?
Over the Hill was less collaborative than the shoots since. With Over the Hill, especially in the early days, l did what l was told. Gradually, l began to make suggestions but it didn’t happen very often. I really was surprised, and moved, by how much the photographers endeavoured to draw out of me what l was like so that they could capture this in the image.
You’ve had your fair share of experience working with pretty much the full spectrum of photographers. What have you found to be important to create intimacy and comfort in a photographic shoot?
Opening myself up, l suppose. I think it is easy for intimacy to be created when someone is pointing a camera at you only a few yards away. Everyone has a bit of shyness in them but l have always engaged with people and as soon as that happens it creates a comfortable atmosphere.
How has this project enabled a stronger sense of control / awareness in your body, if at all?
Yes, l think it has. My control is affected greatly by PD but l have fought that as best l can and even when l had tremors (before my Deep Brain Stimulation surgery), l was able to control my shaking for a few seconds while the shutter clicked. As for awareness, it has been interesting seeing how photographers have photographed my body. It is extremely rare for me to be vain so far as the photographs are concerned. Only on two occasions, did l find myself thinking how fat l looked in the photograph but each time, l walked away and came back to look at the image later much more objectively.
You’ve spoken about wanting to search for answers through the project, what questions were you asking and would you say you’ve arrived at any answers?
Well, l think l wanted to discover more about myself and also l found that l wanted to do the same with the photographers. I loved the shoots: spending a few hours with someone and seeing what made them tick and understanding what they were trying to portray in a picture. I feel that the photographs say as much about the photographer as they do about me. l suppose that l didn’t really know what questions l wanted answering - l just wanted to go further into this artistic method of discovery. I’m not sure anyone ever gets the answers to such questions but the journey is exciting. I don’t know how true it is, but l heard once that the last words of Timothy Leary, the late US psychologist and drug–user, were “like, yeah!” and then he died. It was only in that instance that he finally knew the answer.
Over the Hill was created during a particular moment in your journey with Parkinson’s disease. The contrast between the tremors most noticed about Parkinson’s and the stillness of photography is very astute and it lends an interesting angle on the possibilities of photography. Would you agree?
Yes, l love photography and have done for years although l was never really any good at it and also, l know absolutely nothing about cameras and the way they work even now. But what fascinates me is that photographs are real in that they capture a real moment but they are also unreal because nothing is ever frozen in time.
Did your career as a solicitor afford you any skills that you could draw on for ‘Over the Hill’? Was it always your plan to be a lawyer or was working with modelling and photography something you wanted to do?
l think that being a solicitor taught me how to get on with people, especially men. My father died when l was two and so l never really knew what made men tick and having to deal with male clients, and male lawyers and other professionals helped me deal with that. And l became more confident. l loved the art of drafting a letter or document and it is an art. That helped me when l began to approach people asking them to photograph me. In terms of whether either was something I had planned to do, the answer is no on both counts. I always wanted to be an actor but, before you assume that modelling is like acting, in my case, it wasn’t. All the photographs l have had taken are the real me even the more theatrical ones. I was asked by my careers teacher at school what l wanted to be. I told her l wanted to be a barrister because l had just read a crime novel called “We the Accused” by Ernest Raymond and there was a large section in it covering the court case and tone of the barristers was very quick and clever and articulate. She said that was no good for me. l was surprised and said “Why not?” and she told me that all barristers were actors but she had seen no evidence that l could act. I was amazed because l knew l could act – l came from a very theatrical family and, although, l had never really acted (unless two nights as Buttercup in HMS Pinafore at primary school counts), l knew l could. She said “Prove it” so l acted in three plays on the trot at school and proved it and became a lawyer! l wasn’t suited to be a lawyer in that l wasn’t in love with the law but l did like dealing with clients’ affairs and l felt l was in a privileged position in having access to their lives, personal affairs and problems. Going back to your question - was modelling something l always wanted to do? - the answer is definitely no. It was never planned. It happened by accident that day l read the advert in Time Out.
Considering the theme of this year’s BPF18 and your recent vast experiences with photography, what does the phrase “photography changes everything” mean to you?
Personally, it did change everything. It changed my life. It became all-consuming and l met so many lovely people on the way but it also changed my relationship with certain people – friends who couldn’t understand why l was doing it. My wife also found it difficult because, initially she felt she was losing me to PD as l became less mobile less expressive but then l began taking the medication and this coincided with the beginning of Over the Hill, and l began gallivanting about all over the country being photographed and she felt she was losing me in a different way. This all resolved itself gradually but it was tough for her. My life changed enormously because of PD but it changed even more because l began being photographed. The theme “Photography changes everything” is a very complex topic!
Do you feel that there are things people should know about Parkinson’s disease, from your experience, that often aren’t discussed or exposed?
Yes, as with the presentation of most illnesses in the media there is a concentration on how much better everything is if you help by making charitable donations and, of course they do help enormously as I have found with the charity, Parkinson’s UK who use their funds to assist and make possible research into new medication and surgical procedures. However, one sees film and photographs of grandfathers with PD climbing up mountains or playing football with their grandchildren and everything is happy, happy but the other side of the truth of PD is that it immobilizes, it affects one’s gait and speech and one loses control of bodily functions.I’ve been lucky to have my DBS (deep brain stimulation) surgery but it’s not a cure. Of course, there is a balance between showing the good and the bad but, like most things, it is also good to show the truth so people are more aware. Before l got it, l thought it just made you shake.
How, if at all, is the notion of archive and documentation important for you, in the sense of having something for yourself and your family to look back on?
For me it is incredibly important – l am the family archivist so far as personal photographs go, but l have to say that many people don’t like looking back; it makes them sad. I don’t feel that way. I don’t regard it as looking back but rather taking the past and bringing it forward.
What can we expect from your forum discussion for this year’s BPF18 on 17 October?
A number of the photographers in the exhibition will be talking about how, if at all, they adapted their approach to photographing landscapes to photographing a person (me). Those who didn’t have to make any alteration in their approach will talk about their experience of photographing me anyway! It should be an extremely interesting evening. All the photographs are so different, so are the photographers.
Tim Andrews is presenting Over The Hill once more, for the duration of this year’s festival, at The Regency Town House. The exhibition has been rearticulated, as he’s reached for the neatly tied box and taken it off the shelf again. The theme of this exhibition is Landscape, where Tim worked specifically with landscape and seascape photographers, posing the question as to whether these people changed their approach to photography in order to photograph a person, Tim. The exhibition, Over the Hills and Seas, will run from 29 September – 28 October, Thursday – Sunday, from 11.00 - 18.00 at The Regency Town House.
Clare Patrick is one of four trainee curators working with the BPF team for this year's festival. Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Clare Patrick recently relocated to Brighton to begin her masters at the University of Sussex.
(image: Sara Gaynor)