Thursday, 31 December 2015

Monday, 7 December 2015

Out of Place

There is an inevitable existential loneliness associated with adoption, a detachment from one's very genetic foundations can have a profound effect on our sense of place in the world.  With the acceptance of this, comes a realisation that the other side of the coin of the great gift of love and rescue by our adopted parents, is the trauma of loss and abandonment.

Stephanie (below) is adopted, I felt she had a great need to make sense of her world. When I shared that I was adopted too, I seemed to her like a successful survivor of the transition from one universe to another. I brought her outside and placed her in the mud. She did not feel she belonged here and it was not where she wanted to be.

Stephanie standing in the mud © Richard Ansett

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Woman with Contractions and Parrot

Woman with Contractions and Parrot © Richard Ansett

If you're feeling apprehensive about contractions, try to focus on what an amazing job your body is doing while you're going through them.

Your uterus (womb) has a powerfully muscular wall that tightens and then relaxes to ease your baby gradually down through your cervix and vagina. If you put your hand on your belly during a contraction, you may feel your uterus harden as the muscle contracts.

This tightening and relaxing means that you'll probably feel contractions as wave-like, building in intensity to a peak, before fading.

Saturday, 17 October 2015


In the garden of a hospital in Ukraine I met a boy who had been attacked by a dog, the physical scarring on his face equalled only by a silent communication of a deeper emotional damage. The unsympathetic gaze of the camera had accidentally exposed the most tender and vulnerable elements of his world in that moment.

I am attracted to any altered state that explores the boundaries of what might be considered normal and in the above example, the boy's emotional damage inspired an investigation of other forms, including learning difficulty and mental illness, as an experiment into how these conditions might represent themselves to a camera under similar conditions.

Before I met the charity that supports the parents of the autistic children that led to the final exhibition ‘Boys in a City Park’, I investigated some other groups caring for young people with varying degrees of mental health, as well as those with Cerebral Palsy. In photographing these young people I was aware of a more brutal and unrepresentative facsimile of their lives when they were exposed to the same objectification and most importantly, I noticed how these representations did not fit into the normative parameters through which we have become accustomed to reading the emotions in photographs.

With Down syndrome the camera saw the condition as a mask to the emotions and as Susan Sontag said most cruelly of Diane Arbus’s work, “When you photograph a dwarf, you don’t see majesty, you just see a dwarf.” I see this now as less shocking in the context of my contemporary experience. I interpret it as more of a commentary of societal parameters, an observation of our inability to ‘see’ those, who are not communicating in a way we can so easily interpret.

Photographing subjects with cerebral palsy or motor-neuron disease presents a unique issue, as the condition is literally a mask to the trapped human being inside a body that won’t behave itself. In recording the subject response with a camera, I cannot trust the physical signs that would reflect emotions in an able bodied person. Not only this but further, during an assignment at a college for disabled young people, I found myself deeply conflicted as I was only comfortable when recording the muscle movements in the face of a subject, Lewis, that would represent him to a normative audience in a palatable way. Photographing Professor Stephen Hawking more recently offered up a similar dilemma; I found myself seeking some semblance of emotional contact that would indicate that within this extraordinary and almost entirely useless frame was a person that we could relate to as normal let alone a genius.

To move perhaps towards a more equitable representation, I feel now that the way to represent subjects, ironically, can only be through the very objectification that feels disrespectful; to not compensate for the expectations of a pitying and patronizing (if well meaning) majority. To do this many compositional rules of aesthetics are not only rendered obsolete but are re-framed as prejudicial and limiting.

Protecting one's dignity or of those less able to fight independently for their own, is a common expectation rooted in a fear of being primarily defined by the surface but it denies the camera an opportunity to capture what is the reality of our lives. Accepting these stereotypical representations based on historical rules is self-limiting, it is our prejudice projected harmfully onto the subject and returned to us as audience. (It is a moral dilemma we are less concerned about in the representation of other, non Western, cultures).

As I applied a version of objectivity to the subjects of one day centre for young adults with learning difficulties in Ukraine, I remember feeling an overwhelming confluence with Diane Arbus, I felt possessed by her spirit, like I was walking in her shoes, I was her and I didn’t like it. It felt like a cold and brutal world, devoid of empathy, driven by the pursuit of an image and a loneliness satiated only by a need to belong to a tribe of 'aristocratic' freaks. 4 years later, as I observe through my camera, a child who cannot breath without needing the mucus to be constantly sucked from her airways by her mother, I realise that I am seeking to record her life as part of the whole, not as a celebration of a mutated Arbus aristocrat on the periphery of the ordinary.

This is a line that must be faced and crossed not just because it is there (deliberately at odds with all compassionate cultural instinct) but in the capture the images are a record reported back to the world of a less explored but equally valid universe. Resulting images are in their nature a debate of the parameters through which we judge each other and are an aggressive challenge to the stereotypical conventions through which society is viewed. The brutality is only relative to the blandness and cowardice of conventional representation.

Lewis, National Star College, England © Richard Ansett

Man with learning difficulties exercising for the camera, Ukraine © Richard Ansett

Untitled, Diane Arbus

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Working in Series

I am drawn to working in series, not so much as photo essays but in a more 'Duane Michals' notion of multiple image sequence. The foundation being an analysis of the photograph as interruption of the timeline. There are inevitable similarities to film in so far as multiple still images when seen in contact sheet form can be interpreted as de-constructions of an event between two fixed points. But observing the static contact sheet of a Eadweard Muybridge collotype for instance, increases the level of scrutiny of each frame of the moving image otherwise observed in the original Zoopraxiscope as something, well, 'moving'. We are observing each interruption in the timeline as photographs in their own right but further it is an acknowledgement of multiple alternatives that lead up to and go beyond the nostalgic, and I would argue, dated notion of a singular and 'defining moment'.

Boys Playing on the Grass © Richard Ansett
Chance meeting © Duane Michals

Boxing: Open Hand. Plate 340 - Eadweard Muybridge

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Girl with Clock

Laura with Clock © Richard Ansett 2014
Postnatal depression is a depression that some women experience after having a baby.

It can develop within the first six weeks of giving birth, but is often not apparent until around six months.
Postnatal depression is more common than many people realise, affecting around 10 to 15% of women after having a baby.
Teenage mothers are particularly at risk.
Postnatal depression can sometimes go unnoticed and many women are unaware they have it, even though they don't feel quite right.
The symptoms of postnatal depression are wide-ranging from low mood, feeling unable to cope and difficulty sleeping to indifference towards the baby, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Mood changes, irritability and episodes of tearfulness are common after giving birth but these symptoms are often known as the "baby blues" and they usually clear up within a few weeks. However, more persistent symptoms can be postnatal depression.
Some women don’t recognise they have postnatal depression, or they choose to ignore their symptoms because they’re afraid of being seen as a bad mother.

It's very important to understand that postnatal depression is an illness.

If you have it, it doesn't mean you don't love or care for your baby.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Margaret & Smokey

Margaret & Smokey, England © Richard Ansett / Fuji RDP 100 120

Detail from Margaret & Smokey, England © Richard Ansett / Fuji RDP 100 120

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Phenomenological Head

Woman in Electrode Cap #1 © Richard Ansett 2008

“Disordered brain waves require chemical therapy or, for the protection of society, eugenic prophylaxis.” (William Gordon Lennox, Harvard, 1942)

Electroencephalogram or EEG is a method of recording electrical activity of the brain. It measures the summation of voltage fluctuations resulting from ionic currents within the neurons. EEG refers to the recording of spontaneous electrical activity to specific stimuli over a period of time recorded from multiple electrodes placed on the scalp.

Since its discovery EEG data studies have focused on intelligence, personality, psychosis and homosexuality, psychopathy, delinquency and immorality. In 2009 neuro-imaging was used in India during a murder trail. The judge during sentencing stated that an electro-encephalogram “left no doubt of experiential knowledge" which proved that the accused had to be the killer.

Neuromarketing uses EEG to record activity in specific regions of the brain to measure changes in physiological state beyond awareness to learn why consumers make the decisions they do. Certain multinational companies with ambitions to predict and shape consumer behaviour, have invested in their own private laboratories and science personnel.

'Woman in Electrode Cap #1' is an illustration of our relationship to this technology but it is also a phenomenological portrait. The EEG result, like an image formed by a camera is a record of our engagement with reality. The electrical brain impulses in response to stimuli transformed into the line on a graph and the order of pixels of an image are both forms of autobiography.

In its nature 'Woman in Electrode Cap' is paradoxically a prelude to any engagement with the world and therefore itself. This image is an observation of the subject as observer.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Boy in Stormtrooper Helmet

Richard ansett with boy from 'Boy in Stormtrooper Helmet. 2009'

The final image presentation of ‘Boy in Stormtrooper Helmet’ has evolved over a 6 year period from the moment of capture in 2009 and this time has been essential in the decision to bring the image to public view.

The boy in this image is now 11 years old and whilst we continue to protect his identity, he agreed in 2015 for it to be shown. There has been an ongoing discussion since the images conception with the family, recognizing that the existential nature of the image might be irrevocably altered by its introduction to the public realm, transforming a moment of intense privacy and beauty to a document and catalyst for a broader and unknown debate.

As part of the discussion with the parents, we have examined the works by Sally Mann, Nan Golding, Boris Mikhailov and others, which famously brought ambivalence to their child subjects’ feelings. The response of Sally Mann’s son in adulthood was a major consideration in the decision by the father in not granting permission for the early release of the work. As with Mann’s work, which only exposes the naked torso of her son, we acknowledge the danger of unknown emotional damage to a child’s development in its exposure to public view. This is still a consideration as we accept that the permission granted is still from a child who is not fully appreciative of the complexity of the adult world.

In entering the password for this gallery and viewing this image you are accepting the potential to be complicit and agree to accept responsibility for the content. 

The password is: I agree

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Queer Persona

I am supporting the artists of the LGBTQ event 'I am a Camera' this weekend hosted by the great people at FOTOFEST, Houston, Texas.

To communicate queerness non-verbally and within the limitations of a two dimensional medium, we should consider whether sexuality actually has an identity. Exploring sexuality photographically first requires an overt focus on the persona that represents it. To be clear, I am referring here to Persona defined by Jung as the personality that an individual projects to society, as differentiated from a more complete or authentic self.

To be homosexual is different to being defined as a homosexual. I recall the early silence I carried about my own sexuality, feeling like a form of lie when the the predominant expectation of society was (and still is to a large extent) that if you do not declare yourself as 'other' you are therefore inevitably pigeonholed as 'normal' defined as heterosexual. So coming out was and still is essential and with that comes a definition of self that is readable to the world.

The need to define heterosexual at all is an indication that this majority political persona in itself is a sub-group also, all be it in the majority but this does not mean normal when discussing matters of sexuality and gender, it is not a politically democratic issue to be one thing or another; regardless of numbers all people are equal in their definition of self. The heterosexual persona must be recognised as defined and created as much as any other and not some form of 'natural state'.

To work on a photographic project that in some way documents sexuality, the photographer must make a subjective choice as to what stereotypes to include or exclude be it queer or straight. To use an extreme example; if I posed in a spangly pair of hot pants and cowboy hat I might be construed as a homosexual man but if you saw me in my scruffy jeans and teeshirt in the high street, the trigger to recognise and define me as homosexual will not be activated. The photographer's urge to produce an image of value will often be led by the effectiveness of communicating a story or idea easily and this is often driven by stereotype.

The queer community is complicit in this politicisation of LGBTQ persona, which began in the 60's and 70's, to make homosexuality seen as a defined group to help fight visible and invisible prejudice, hatred, intolerance and phobia. Indeed these persona stereotypes still exist today as form of cultural identity and are hugely useful as a support for anyone struggling to come to terms with their sexuality for the first time, including heterosexuals too. Persona's feel essential as we start to engage with society and they help immensely in the interaction with others but they act as mask to hide who we really are, our complex humanity beyond our sexuality. What was once a useful mask may eventually become an identity that defines us but does not fairly represent us.

I speak from experience, my project of gay couples that first registered for the ground breaking London Partnership Register in 2001/2002 has always caused me much consternation in how to present it. I have never known quite where to place it and for many years I have excluded it from my public profile, although it has been the most instrumental project in defining my reputation.

I feel that photography that documents sexuality as a lifestyle is unhelpful and unrepresentative, the focus of the two dimensional moment is on the lazy non-verbal definition of queer. Autobiographical queer work that sits as a series, including my own, is in its existential nature isolationist and self ghettoising. It reinforces stereotypes that seem like a barrier to progress now in society where equality is at least understood even if it is rejected. A more powerful message now is queer as normal, banal, mundane and un-extraordinary and truly equal, perhaps even eventually irrelevant. The couples in my early portraits of marital bliss dared to demand this form of equality which seemed radical at the time.

Photographically this is why my project rarely makes an appearance in its original form. I occasionally enter it for exhibitions and competitions in countries where I consider the message of gay as 'normal' is such an anathema that my images can still have an impact and this was most successful in Moscow last year where the project was awarded 1st prize and shown in a Moscow gallery, flouting the strict anti-gay propaganda laws. This though is more about offering hope of a better world to those trapped in societies that are terrified of the realities of the human condition.

I now show some of my gay images but they are mixed into a broader portfolio of works but not isolated in their own little patronising sub-camp. Gay sits with straight and we are all sharing the emotional complexity of being human, taking responsibility for our own fucked up lives and trying to be happy regardless of gender, sexuality or race. That's where I live anyway, come and join me if you like.

Sexuality is hugely complex and way beyond the narrow political confines of the definitions we use to define ourselves and others. The artists in 'I am a Camera' are mostly well chosen and they are predominantly engaged in this more complex dialectic, I celebrate the artists presenting more ambivalent works. We are all capable of feeling love for each other in surprising ways that can be too complex to be seen easily through a camera.

When I enter 'gay' into a search engine, these are the first two images that come up.

© Getty Images. Photographer Unknown

© Getty Images. Photographer Unknown

Thursday, 2 July 2015


Image_9073, Escort © Richard Ansett 2015

Detail from Image_9073, Escort © Richard Ansett 2015

Monday, 29 June 2015

Meth Mouth

Meth Mouth is a term used to describe the discoloration, rotting and broken teeth in the mouth of a person who has an addiction to methamphetamine. This extreme tooth decay is a condition that occurs in many people and it is believed that the drug causes it. Methamphetamine causes the saliva glands to stop producing saliva so a person will experience an extremely dry mouth. This allows the acid in the mouth and in food and drink that is consumed to eat away at the protective enamel on the teeth. Users also may obsessively grind their teeth and may not brush their teeth for many days while on a binge.

Methamphetamine is produced from a range of highly toxic chemicals, which can cause many problems for an addict. Lithium, muratic and sulfuric acid are key ingredients in methamphetamine and these are all highly corrosive. When a person smokes methamphetamine in a pipe, these chemicals are heated, vaporized and inhaled which can cause sores on the inside of the mouth. The corrosive chemicals also coat the teeth causing significant decay to the enamel. If the drug is snorted, the chemicals are drawn down the nasal passage to the back of the throat and coating the teeth with the substance.

Heroin is known to cause serious oral health problems and in chronic long term users, bad teeth, bad gums and missing teeth are often apparent. In surveys of injecting heroin drug users, up to 70% described problems such as teeth snapping offteeth falling apart, gum disease and trauma. These problems are often a result of a lack of dental hygiene, access to health care or not caring about oral health due to drug addiction.
Individuals who are addicted to heroine or other opiates often experience severe decay in their teeth. This is because the drug causes them to crave sweet foods and drinks but their lifestyle often ignores the importance of mouth care. Additionally, many addicts consume sugary drinks and foods because they are inexpensive and readily available. Taken from

I recall photographing Cherie Blair in 2009 and observing her absolutely perfect teeth.

See also portrait of Fungi & Lynch, 2013.

Detail from Image_3843, Will & Lakella © Richard Ansett 2015

Detail from Image_4040, Kayleigh © Richard Ansett 2015

Cherie Blair © Richard Ansett 2009

Detail from Cherie Blair © Richard Ansett 2009