The Half: Q&A with Simon Annand

Simon Annand is a world-renowned photographer, who over the last 35 years has captured iconic images of some of British theatre’s biggest stars. In The Half, a major new exhibition that marks the 25th anniversary of the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, he shares 74 of his photos – many of which have never been seen before. The exhibition, which opened earlier this month and runs until February, offers theatregoers an exciting and rare opportunity to glimpse some of the nation’s most familiar faces in an intimate moment we would never normally get to witness.

Can you tell us a bit about The Half and what we can expect from the exhibition?

“The Half” refers to the half an hour before a live performance, during which an actor prepares to go on stage and face another 500 or 1000 strangers in the audience. There are many images in this exhibition at the Lawrence Batley Theatre that have been seen for the first time which show the same actor photographed more than once – 10 years, 20, even 35 years apart. These actors include Vanessa Redgrave, David Tennant, Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Cate Blanchett, Daniel Craig, Olivia Colman and many more.

What is it that, for you, makes The Half a special moment to photograph?

What makes anyone photogenic is not so much the shape of their face but what goes on inside their head, which comes through into their face. For actors, at this point of prep for a theatre show, they are also thinking about the fictional character they are about to play, making it twice as interesting. 

It must be unnerving at first to enter an actor’s private space during such a personal time – how do you overcome that?

I have been making this monograph for over 35 years so now it is familiar. At first it was less so, but if you trust yourself to be on their side, and not predatory in a journalistic way, instinct and knowledge of your subject will be the bedrock on which a trust can be developed.

How does it feel to be part of the Lawrence Batley’s 25th anniversary celebration?

It’s wonderful to be involved with the Lawrence Batley Theatre at a special theatre in a special town. The exhibition has been well organised and promoted in an excellent way, making it the best version of The Half to be seen outside London since the RSC show in 2014. Delighted this is so.

What would you like to see visitors taking away from the exhibition?

To take away as many different points of view as possible and to see some very familiar actors in a new way. Also a sense of what it is like to work backstage in the theatre, as opposed to the idea of actors as a celebrity.

What first attracted you to theatre photography?

For me, it’s not about ‘photography’ as such, but a subject which the photographer is interested in and knows about. For me the subject is theatre and the challenge to perform live. 

Photo credit: Caspar Day

Looking back over the last 35 years, what have been the most memorable moments of your career so far?

Working as a production photographer on various definitive shows (eg War Horse, Jerusalem etc), working internationally with Russian actors and the world renowned director Peter Brook. There have been a number of Half exhibitions and a publication of this work which has been very satisfying. A second book is coming out next year.

What would be your advice to someone starting out in photography, and particularly in theatre?

To know what the idea or feeling is before you take a photograph and to make sure you have an interest other than photography itself. It is not the photographic equipment that makes an iconic image but the willingness to understand and interpret human nature.

The Half runs at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield until 1st February 2020. The exhibition is free to visit, although donations are welcome.

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