Richard Ansett stages his portraits as dark-humorous interpretations of characters, far removed from old posing clichees, with an intuitive feeling for true moments and courage for personal statement. His pictures involve people’s social and political environment and have long drawn attention from museums in the United States, Canada and Great Britain.
Richard Ansett has never been a fan of the right winged comedian Bernard Manning and wasn’t going to become one on the day when a portrait assignment led him to the house of the British Celebrity. What happened then is what always happens on house visits of the 40 year old. He built himself a mini-set on site, had Manning’s furniture temporarily removed into the garden and somehow even managed to get the star to stand in front of him in his underwear, with his back to the wall, between white Kitsch Cherubs.
“By changing around the furniture I create my own interpretation of space, creating a layout or picture which turns into the people’s stage.” Ansett explains. “The viewer should know that this is my interpretation of those people’s lives, not necessarily sane nor true.” Additionally, through the set, they find themselves in a, to them, strange place, suddenly confronted by camera and light.
This is the moment that their relationship with the camera shows vulnerability and opens up human features, which portray an honest and authentic interpretation of them.
In Manning’s case this meant; the comedian had forgotten his repertoire of poses and became agitated. At this moment the picture was taken, one of his hands tensed up into a fist, showing barely suppressed aggression; a typical motive for Ansett, because the picture builds up an inner tension and unloads with a hidden objective.
Psychological sensitivity is needed by a photographer for those kinds of portrait and the will not to go along with the affected poses willingly shown.
For years the photographer, who lives in London, additionally works voluntarily, for a telephone hotline, counselling people seeking help. This is where he learnt to develop a broader understanding of human nature helping him with his portraits and how he engages with his subjects.
Experience has taught him to work more directly, he knows how to build a situation and at the same time how to observe. He recognises that everybody has a complex history.
Richard Ansett portrays people in a mixture of pride and vulnerability and he seams to always get them to show him a little more than they originally intended.
He likes taking pictures of ‘normal’ people just as much as celebrity.
“I’m especially attracted to finding people who share a common subject which alone binds them and nothing else. But the common subject itself is not what interests me but rather the possibility to explore their lives.”
Ansett’s portraits show the extraordinary in the ordinary and vice versa: the vicar with his fat dachshund and the strangely out of place pair of extra shoes; the flag swinging US patriot with elephantitis; the dissimilar welsh couple with the obedient dog.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an old English saying, Richard Ansett has realised that this is very plausible. “You just have to interpret the signs, small symbols and metaphors which deliver indications of the personality,” says the photographer.