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Watching older people

 September 2005
 

 

 

 

Watching older people

 

Sarah Frankel interviews photographer, James Sparshatt
 


 

Q

 

Looking around your exhibition I can’t help noticing that you have many photographs of older people. What is it about older people that attracts you?

A

 

 

 

I think that, sadly, in this current day and age we don’t give enough respect to older people. They have so much knowledge and have experienced so much. With a camera you can often capture that knowing look. I think I see it in the lines on their face, their gaze, their smile or their penetrating eyes. Often they have lived through so much that they’re amused by life or displeased by life.

If you spend time with somebody and ask them questions about their life, and then take their photograph, that expression and attitude often come through.

 

 

Q  

These photographs seem mainly to be of people in different countries – why is this?

A

 

 

 

 

In the third world or poorer countries, however you describe them, there is more reverence towards older people. That comes through in the photography. I find their image, their soul, the shape and the weather-beaten nature of their faces very interesting, particularly in black and white photographs because that really brings out the lines and the depth of the eyes.

 

Q

 

 

Do you find that older people are better models than children?

 

A

 

 

 

 

Children are questioning, there’s wonder and innocence in their smile, whereas with an older person the smile is emotion tempered by life and experience. With children, if you smile at them they will smile back. If you look angrily at them, they will look scared or angry back. An older person will understand your expression. He might smile a lot but you would first need to have their trust before they’ll give you that smile. Sometimes, though, you travel through places like China and the oldest, sourest person will be surprised if you give them a smile and they’ll smile straight back.

Q

 

What about people in the UK?

 

A

 

 

I’ve never photographed people in the UK. When you go abroad your eyes are open to the difference between your world and theirs. I am fascinated by it and my photographs seek to explain to people in this country, or to myself maybe, what those differences or similarities are.

 

Q

Why and how did you become a photographer?

A

 

 

 

 

 

My grandfather was a photographer and is, I think, the last surviving Royal Navy photographer who saw active service in the second world war. He was on the deck of the ships as they were being bombed. I grew up with him telling me bedtime stories of his wartime experiences with his camera. His dark room was always something that fascinated me.
I studied maths, chemistry and physics and went to university and started life as a management consultant. After five years, I resigned and flew to South America, learnt Spanish and spent the next four years travelling and working in South America. Now I’m here, a photographer living in London.

 

Q

 

How did you take the step from taking photographs as an amateur to becoming a professional with exhibitions around the world and having your own gallery?
 

A

 

 

 

 

 

 

When people see a photograph hanging on the wall they don’t really realise how much money has gone into film and travel and actually being in that place and capturing that image.

I began by being a tourist guide and adventure guide. I spent a lot of time working in South America walking along the Inca Trail, in Africa, in Asia, in Cuba and that allowed me to build up a stock of images which are sold through libraries. These sales gave me a background income and the confidence to hold my own exhibitions, very basic ones, in bars in Wandsworth, pubs in Manchester and the like. They were always very successful and gave me the encouragement to continue doing it.

My boss when I was a management consultant, helped to provide a vehicle for my photographs. Between us and my Business Manager we set up the gallery which opened its doors last May.
 

Q

 

Where will your next exhibition be held?
 

A

 

 

 

I have an exhibition coming up in New York in October. It will be at Soho House, New York City and is a fundraiser for the Buskaid string project in Soweto. The photographs are of these children who play this beautiful, beautiful music. An English woman, Rosemary Nalden, in her 50s, I suppose, gave up her work and life here a decade ago and decided to raise money to support the school in Soweto. Buskaid also funds the most promising pupils to study music in Manchester and Cape Town. The exhibition includes portraits of those children and is aimed at raising money and awareness for the project.


James Sparshatt

 

My photographs are also exhibited at my Covent Garden Gallery and the exhibition will be changed periodically.
 

 

To see more of James Sparshatt’s photographs, go to www.jamessparshatt.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


   

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