|PLINTH by Mike South|
It was a very warm day in May when Mike and I ventured down to the beach at Southwick which has been the location for a number of previous shoots in my project. The beach is unofficially a naturist beach and, as this was the warmest day of the year so far, it was sprinkled with bare bodies but, ironically, mine wasn't one of them. Normally, there would have been nothing I would have liked better than to go for a naked swim but Mike and I had a lot to get done.
Mike's original sketch
Mike is an extremely agreeable guy with an enthusiasm and a positivity which drive everything he does. I think I first met him in 2014 when I was asked to judge the Film section of the Mervyn Peake Awards which were set up by the family of the writer, the late Mervyn Peake, who suffered with Parkinson's Disease for many years. The awards are administered by the charity, Parkinson's UK, of which I became a member immediately after my diagnosis in 2005. Mike was also judging and we hit it off and he got on well with everyone that day because he is basically that kind of bloke. We exchanged emails tentatively but did not really get down to discussing the possibility of him photographing me until early 2016. Mike works for Parkinson's UK and has produced several films about the illness. As well as being in charge of all the filmmaking for the charity, he has been the photographer at the Mervyn Peake Awards and other functions arranged by them.
My first contact with the people at the Head Office of Parkinson's UK was in connection with my appearance on the Fourth Plinth in 2009 and I think that this may have influenced Mike's idea for a manipulated photograph of me on a plinth waving to another person with Parkinson's standing and waving on a second plinth. This was the main idea and so we started on that one first in front of our naked audience. I wore my trusty old charcoal grey suit and brought along my bowler hat. Then we did the passage shot with me moving into position and finally, I returned to the sea and with the water up to my calves, Mike took a shot of me and then, using the automatic timer, a shot of both of us. Then we packed up and, on our way back over the pebbles, a nude sunbather enquired about what we had been doing and I told her about "Over the Hill".
When I received the set of photographs from Mike a while later, I expected to choose the Plinth shot but also I really like "Passage". Aesthetically, I love the less distinct versions of me in the image - they are like charcoal or water colour dabs rather than parts of the photographic process and I feel that this line represents the passage of time during which the illness has gradually taken a tighter hold although the main figure shows that I have not been completely rubbed out by the condition. The composition is excellent and, for all Mike's infectious bonhomie, it shows that he takes such matters seriously even though we had a lot of fun that day. Mike is a very good photographer and this picture is evidence of that. The other person in the main photograph is Emma Lawton who was diagnosed with Parkinson's three years ago at the age of 29 - I haven't yet met her but hope to do so one day. It is rare for another person to appear in one of the photographs in my project but I think in this case, it is very apt. The project is not about Parkinson's but, without it, there would never have been a project and I would probably never have met or worked with Mike which would have been a great shame.