Archive: Jan 2011
On November 30th 2010 I received an email from a man I did not know called Tim Andrews.
“l saw recently your photograph in the Sunday Times magazine, looked up your website and wondered if you might be interested in my photographic project. My story is that I am 59 and have taken early retirement due to being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I have always been interested in photography and since I retired 3 years ago, I have had my photograph taken by over 120 photographers.”……..”I would like to continue on the path of being photographed during the course of my illness by different people. l wonder if you might be interested in photographing me? I would be so honoured if you would. However, as I no longer work, I cannot afford to pay, so if that is a problem, I would quite understand as l do not wish to take advantage of you. I am fit and able to travel. l do hope you are interested but, in any event, thank you for reading this.”
I re-read the email a couple of times, thought about it for about 4 seconds, then replied with a definite ‘yes’.
We made a date for me to go down to Tim’s house in Sussex, southern England, in early January and I didn’t really think about it much until that day. My knowledge of Parkinson’s is probably about as deep as most people’s. I think of it as a slowly degenerative illness that gives you the shakes. I’m not sure if there’s a cure. The one person I know that has PD, again, like most people, is Muhammed Ali. Scenarios like this, I don’t, truth be told, think about what I’m going to do before I get there. I’m an instinctual photographer. Sod it, I’m an instinctual human being. This is why I was such a miserable failure at school in an academic sense. I knew all the stuff, I was interested, I just couldn’t collate it together for the exam part. My rationale was, “I know that I know it. I don’t see why I need a man with a pencil to tell me that I know what I know.” What I’m trying to tell you is that I make this stuff up as I go along. If you could put a camera in my head before I go to a situation like this do you know what you would see? A tiny, solitary figure in a cavernous great space of universal proportions, eternally hitting a tennis ball against a wall.
A few years ago, when I still didn’t know who I was, during a very long night in a bar in New York with one of my favourite photographers, Steve Pyke, I learned something about myself as he explained to me his modus operandi and, in the process, mine too.
“I go there to have a conversation. The photograph is just the record of the conversation.”
Now I know who I am, I knew that my day with Tim Andrews would be what Steve taught me it always is for people like us; a conversation. Even afterwards, the things I knew about Parkinson’s before our encounter are still pretty much all I know about it now. What I can tell you is that this man, with an affliction that tends to cast gloom on to those who come across others with it, before they move on mentally and physically to a brighter, lighter place, is living his life as a feast. Perhaps, even, more than he ever did in the 50 odd years before it called on him. The reason I know this is because we had the conversation that I went there to have, that I always go there to have. Not every subject is willing to or wants to have it but this man did. I made a note of what he said to me. Here it is in writing, below. These photographs and the film above are the visual record of that conversation
“l was a solicitor for 29 years. l must have liked it because l stuck at it for so long but it paid the bills and it paid for holidays. l had great partners and some lovely clients. However, shortly after l was diagnosed l remember meeting my consultant who said that he would support my claim on an insurance policy that would pay a small proportion of my salary and enable me to take early retirement, something that Jane and l had dreamed about in recent times, along with winning the lottery and Spurs winning the Premier League. We came out of his office and Jane turned to me excitedly and said, also excitedly, “Great! You can retire!” and l just burst into tears at the enormity of that possibility. All the stress would disappear overnight. l could leave with all this goodwill and no-one would or, indeed, could say “oh don’t go!” because l had PD. Ok, l would shake a bit but l had loads of interests and couldn’t wait to get started. l loved watching Cricket and the Cinema so l did all that. l wrote a book about my time as a solicitor (unpublished but watch this space) and then l stumbled onto the photographic project. Someone said to me a while back “lf you could not have Parkinson’s and go back to what you had before, wouldn’t that be great?” l replied “No thanks, l am happy with Parkinson’s”. lt has opened so many doors and l feel free, free as a bird and l now have a new lease of life, into which l intend to stuff as much as l can. lt is fucking great and l can do whatever l bloody well want. A photographer asked me a while ago if l minded if the photo went on the internet and l told him or her that they could do anything they liked with it. l just didn’t care. John Lennon said in his last interview that he could just go out on the streets any time and it just didn’t matter. “Do you know how good that is?” he said. Obviously, l don’t want to be shot on the steps of the Dakota in NYC but l think you get the gist……”