To photograph the world’s second oldest gay and inclusive rugby club the Manchester Village Spartans RUFC as part of their 20th birthday celebrations. The club is a full and founding member of International Gay Rugby (IGR) and hosted the Bingham Cup, the international gay and inclusive rugby championship, in 2012. The offer to photograph the Spartans also included taking the portraits of the Sale Sharks, the nearby Premiership rugby club, with these images to be printed, autographed and auctioned to raise finds for the amateur club.
The portraits of the Manchester Village Spartans were to be conducted on two consecutive evenings with the images of the Sale Sharks taking place during the daytime in between. This was my first occasion, since deciding to become a portrait photographer, in photographing a sequence of people and not have a dedicated one on one session lasting two hours. I was aware that time with the Sharks would be limited and thus used the first evening with the Spartans to find a solution to condense a normal session into something far shorter but without compromising on the quality of the portraits.
Prior to travelling to the Spartans I research saw me stumble across a portrait project where the photographer had minutes with his sitters; his solution to gain the most from them was to request them to close their eyes while he asked them a question pertinent and when ready to open their eyes. It was then that he would press the shutter. Given it was a high school project documenting his peers the question was, ‘ What does high school mean to you?’ I choose to use a similar method of eye closing with the question, ‘What do the Spartans (and rugby) mean to you?’
Since becoming a portrait photographer I knew how important mental space was and the influence on someone’s face. During my visit to the Manchester Village Spartans and Sale Sharks I also came to realise how important how other external factors are such as location and clothing. A neutral environment, such as a photo studio, requires certain building blocks to be quickly built in order to place a subject into an appropriate mental comfort zone. In regards to sports portraits a certain amount of these foundations have already been laid. The location of a sports club and the wearing of sports clothing, in this case a rugby jersey, meant the people patient enough to step in front of my camera were already in a certain head space; what was required from me was to spend a moment to concentrate this unconscious bias in order to achieve the portraits.