Richard Ansett



GOLD AWARD – Prix de la Photographie , 2011

Shortlisted Kassel FotoBook Festival Dummy Awards 2014 

In the early years of the 21st century there was a de-construction of the historic boundaries that defined the old national stereotype in the UK but for all the benefits of this new found freedom, there were consequences and victims that still resonate today. There is an inevitable polluted bi-product that emerges from setting minds free; inevitable consequences of a relatively free and democratic society that refines its citizens as the primary vehicles for consumption. The West’s self-confidence in capitalist individualism as the shining example for others is reliant on an outward looking relativism of other systems founded in colonialism. Part of the maintenance of this hubris is in the absence of self-analysis. This project along with all works in Richard Ansett’s archive turns this outward gaze back onto British society; criticism through objective, unsentimental realism. 

It is a challenge to turn that objectified gaze reserved for ‘others’ back on ourselves. Perhaps the suffering of other parts of the world seems unimaginable compared to the amazing lives we are being asked to believe in. Self-critique can seem a self-conscious indulgence lacking in empathy for those living in more oppressed societies. Do we have the right to feel depressed or suicidal or is this as valid as any other suffering as an inevitable consequence of our society and the values that can silently oppress an increasing number who feel oppressed and outside of the normative hierarchy.

Ansett argues that pain is not relative; that suffering of the individual is not lessened by the knowledge of the agony or otherwise of another. Further the problems of other societies should not detract from the old and new fractures which are unique to our own society.

Our emotional states are inevitably on show and we are literally shaped by them and we all in turn contribute to the shaping of the social political landscape. We mostly share a commonality of experience but it is how we deal with this, especially in moments of crisis that form our evolving adult personalities. In many of us the signs are complex and partial; we learn ways to disguise our vulnerability. These hiding strategies contribute to our image identity but for an increasing number of us the strategy for coping is impossible camouflage.

The subjects in ‘FAT’ are more than participants in a photojournalistic study; they are allegories, the discarded by-products of a progressive society. The images themselves are a record of a unique moment in time when we were left to fend for ourselves in the new forming era of moral relativism and a transfer of responsibility from the state to the individual. The images are the documentation of a group of contributors days before they were due for surgery , a unique moment in time when they were detached from the shame and humiliation of their obesity and looked forward to a new life promised by surgery. These are, ion editorial terms, the ‘before’ images intended originally to be compared to the ‘after’ but with the after removed. We are left with a privileged record of the an otherwise deeply private world transcending dignity and asking questions about self-love. Ansett emerges himself in their lives in an intimacy afforded by the camera celebrating his subjects as more courageous then himself recognising these images as. projection of his own issues with self acceptance. The subjects expose themselves to the brutal gaze of the objectivist lens in these ambivalent works that capture a moment in the evolving epoch.

Ansett says “I consider these subjects to exist as a part of ourselves, they are, in the moment of capture, physical representations of our own emotional possibility not intended as either  documentary or Arbus-esq freak show but as an extended metaphor and privileged insight into a human being’s most intimate vulnerability.”

As with all portraits these are collaborations. The subjects are captured moments before bariatric surgeries that offer the hope of changing their lives. This is a documentation of the last time that they hope to live within their present physical body and in that moment they are free briefly of their shame. They are the documentation of the before without the after.

Monograph Dummy – designer Boris Kajmak.