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Interview: Theatre photographer Simon Annand on what he's learned about actors and whether he gets star struck

Simon Annand
The man behind the camera, Simon Annand

Photographer Simon Annand has spent decades capturing actors backstage at the theatre in the half-hour before curtain up.

His collection of photos, published in a book THE HALF, are now on display at an exhibition at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield and include early career Tom Hardy and David Tennant, as well as acting legends Dame Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins. 

I asked him about his approach, what he's learned about actors over the years and whether he ever gets star struck.

How do you ensure an authentic photograph of a ‘private’ moment and have you ever felt like you were intruding?

The Half is not an attempt to be “fly on the wall”. Authenticity is therefore not based on pretending the camera is absent, but rather acknowledging that the actor is alone in their responsibility to perform the role.

All the sessions have been arranged prior to the meeting so there has never been a question of intrusion.

Has your process changed over the years?

The process has deepened over time in line with a more informed knowledge of the decisions that the actors are making.

The photos themselves have hopefully gained in resonance as this journey has taken place.

JUDE LAW (Simon Annand) Colour LR
Jude Law. Photo by Simon Annand
Is it purely about capturing the actor or does the role they are playing influence your choice of subject?

These two aspects are intertwined and my interest is how a particular actor will interpret the aspects of human nature which the fictional character represents.

Within the 36 years of work for THE HALF, there is a broad range of archetypes who have been included.

DAVID TENNANT - The Rivals  2002  RSC (Simon Annand) LR
David Tennant, The Rivals, RSC. Photo: Simon Annand.

What have you learned about actors and theatre that you didn’t know prior to embarking on this project?

Almost everything. Actors are on the front line of a live performance, dealing with the nightly engagement with an audience, long after the writer and the director have moved on.

There is a degree of heroism to this, which is romantic and very appealing, especially in the digital age.

Cate Blanchett. Photo: Simon Annand.

Has anything particularly surprised you?

There are many occasions when the actor has been different from how I imagined them in their private space, but I have resisted the temptation to be either predatory or overly ironic in trying to describe the difference as an image.

I am rather on their side, to present actors as workers who require substantial discipline as well as skill to make the effort in order to perform on the stage 8 times a week.

Tom Hardy. Photo: Simon Annand.

Have you got a favourite portrait and have you ever been star struck?

Favourite images are related to the intensity that any actor is prepared to share with the camera, whether the style is classic drama or pantomime.

Being star struck has been restricted to either a few performers who have made me laugh like a drain or who are considered muses of their time and have been photographed by all the world’s top photographers making it difficult to find something which has not been expressed previously.

It is not the level of fame which is intimidating but the challenge of rising up to their extraordinary talent in a way that contributes to the catalogue of images already made about them.

Gillian Anderson. Photo: Simon Annand.

You’ve photographed an amazing array of actors but who is left that you’d still love to capture? 

Sadly they are now all gone: Paul Scofield, Ralph Richardson, Albert Finney, Rex Harrison, Jeanne Moreau, Bruno Ganz, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn, Klaus Kinski, Romy Schneider, Peter O’Toole, Elizabeth Taylor, the list goes on….

The Half is on at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield until February 29.

Keep scrolling for more of Simon's backstage photos...

Anthony Hopkins. Photo: Simon Annand.
SHEILA ATIM  Girl From the North Country  2018  OLD VIC THEATRE (Simon Annand)LR
Sheila Atim, Girl From The North Country, Old Vic. Photo: Simon Annand.
JUDE LAW (Simon Annand) - CopyLR
Jude Law. Photo: Simon Annand.


MEERA SYAL - Annie  2018  Piccadilly Theatre (Simon Annand) LR
Meera Syal, Annie 2018. Photo: Simon Annand.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Photo: Simon Annand.


Stephen Fry. Photo: Simon Annand.

If you can't make the exhibition, Simon's book THE HALF is available from the usual outlets and contains an amazing collection of photos include some of my favourites, an early career shot of Ben Whishaw when he was performing in Hamlet and Daniel Radcliffe during Equus.