One more from the archive project

Professor Richard Dawkins, Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford. © NEIL TURNER/TSL. October 2001.

When I was posting an archive portrait a day to my instagram account during the COVID-19 lockdown I had about thirty images in my mind that were ‘must-have’ pictures that I remembered being something special. When I started to put to the set together two things surprised me;

  • Some of those thirty must-have pictures weren’t as good as my memory told me they were.
  • Quite a few others were available top take their place in the top thirty – either because they were way better than I had remembered or because I had totally forgotten about them.

This October 2001 portrait of Professor Richard Dawkins was one of those that was from the former category. I expected to open the folder of pictures from the set of interview portraits shot in his back garden and be just as happy with them as I was back then. Unfortunately, I had to put them into a new category that I was creating of ‘maybe I’ll post them one day’.

The memory plays tricks. Photographs can lie, of course they can. What this image proves to me is that my recollection of what was good about the portrait wasn’t about it’s creative or journalistic merits but more about how had felt at the time to have got the shots at all. Looking back through the set I remembered that he hadn’t been expecting a photographer and that I had needed to be persuasive to get hime to allow me into the garden of his home at all. I also remembered that the picture had been used well and that the interview had been well-conducted, well-written and a pleasure to have been a small part of.

So why am I blogging about this picture I don’t rate it? Well there’s a curious thing that has happened here. When I show them I love them. Nineteen years later I was disappointed by them. Another year on and my disappointment has gone away to some extent and I have re-assessed them for a second time and now I quite like them (especially this frame in black and white) again.

Images and memory. There’s such a complicated relationship between the two things. Images form big blocks of our memories but sometimes it is the feelings that the images trigger that makes them so important. Trying to separate pictures from feelings is almost impossible and this picture has reminded me that it’s a bad idea to try.

One comment

  1. It’s an interesting perspective. Then again – that’s why writers have editors. As for this photo, my feeling is that some photos convince and some don’t. We can ask – are his thoughts where his eyes are, or is he locked in a pose? For me it is a convincing portrait – and more than that, the somewhat belligerent pose mirrors what we know of his god-slaying-mission persona. So yes – a good photo.


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