There is something satisfyingly serendipitous about the similarities between photographers Simon Harsent and Sean Izzard. They first met more than 25 years ago and discovered they had been born on the same day in the same year – just six hours separating them. Well, that and 17,000 miles. A shared sensibility led to an immediate and long-standing friendship and a close working relationship.
In 2008, the pair founded The POOL Collective with the idea of giving artists a way to contribute freely to all aspects of the commercial creative process in order to maintain the integrity of their work, improve collaboration with agencies, clients and other artists during production and also to initiate a wider conversation on how to share their experience to cultivate the next wave of image-makers.
Just this May, Simon and Sean launched their first ever joint exhibition: Fifty/50. Marking both of the photographers’ 50th birthdays, the exhibit featured 50 portraits taken over a period of 12 months. The show was greatly received by Simon & Sean’s professional colleagues and the general public alike. The pair received praise not only for their own work, but for how the exhibition worked as a joint show, providing viewers with a stunning and perfectly fitting celebration of their unique bond.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Simon and Sean recently to discuss Fifity/50, to learn more about The POOL Collective, and to take a closer look at their individual styles and personal work.
Was there a collective approach to the portraits you displayed at Fifty/50?
Harsent We both shot without talking to each other much about what we were going to do because we didn’t want to plan it in a way that we felt might restrict our approach. It wasn’t until we started laying our photos out to hang that we really saw each other’s work. It was only then that we considered the relationship of the work and that was from the point of view of the hanging of the exhibition. It just happened quite organically.
Being two different photographers with different visions, how do you think the show portrayed and tied together your artistic relationship?
Izzard: Even as seasoned professionals I believe we are both still getting better. The quality of Simon’s work is incredible. He has developed a voice with his work. It sounds odd, but there is a really beautiful stillness to his portraiture. The challenge to me was to meet the mark I knew he would achieve. We have always held great respect for each others work and this has always been our way – to push each other.
Which photos were your favorites and why?
Harsent: I loved the stuff Sean shot in China and South Africa. In those pictures you could really see Sean’s voice as a photographer. There is a pace that you feel in those images that really reflect who Sean is. Of my own that’s always a tough one as it’s hard I find to have favorites, it’s a bit like children in that way. I really like the portrait I shot of Usain Bolt and also the portrait of Ken Schles. There is calmness in those images that I love. The portrait of Seamus Heaney was fantastic to see on a gallery wall. I made the picture 4 months before he passed away and the sitting was an incredible experience. Seeing the portrait on the wall bought back the happy memories of that sitting.
Izzard: My favourite images of Simon’s were the portrait of photographer Ken Schles, Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Usain Bolt – there is a restraint and sensitivity that show an inner aspect of these outwardly highly successful people. Of mine, I really like the awkwardness of the Vietnamese ‘Spiderman’ with the buck teeth, and the strength of the subjects from Capetown.
In your words what makes The POOL Collective unique?
Harsent: It’s an open door and open book and an open forum for all involved. All of the photographers that have joined are basically vetted by the existing members. We are very careful of how POOL grows and we talk to each other about not only that but the direction for us as a group. We do projects and exhibitions together and are constantly supporting each other with what we are up to personally as well. It’s really like a family.
Izzard: We do what works for the photographers first and foremost. The traditional model has the agent at the top and a stable of photographers underneath. This isn’t necessarily a bad way to go, but we have both been represented by many different agents and had some good ideas on how to make it work better. Specifically, we have hand-picked our photographers such that there isn’t too much overlap – that’s not to say we can’t all shoot similar subjects, but our styles are vastly different. Each of these photographers must also have an energy and eagerness both to contribute and to be contributed to. As a collective, we are able to pull each other upwards through our tenets of sharing, inspiring and motivating. As the senior members, Simon and I have a vast network of contacts within the industry across the globe and an ability to open doors to new opportunities for all of us as a group. In return, our young’uns provide exuberance and energy that keeps us fired-up and constantly on our toes. Together with this we have employed a forward thinking team headed up by Cameron Gray who also work towards improving our offerings and creating the vehicles by which our work is constantly out and working for us – whether the more traditional publications and exhibitions to the more unconventional – such as events and iPad apps.
What have been some of the moments you’re most proud of?
Harsent: For me, the Grant is what I’m most proud of. Each year we award $10,000 to an emerging artist to develop and produce a body of work that culminates in an exhibition which is shown during the Head On Festival. We have just awarded our 6th recipient. It really is the essence of what we are about – not only does the recipient receive the money and support from the production department but they also get mentoring from any or all of the members – they choose who they want. The quaterly app for iTunes that we produced, where we would all shoot new personal work, was a highlight for me as well. I loved the drive it gave me to produce new work. Working to a deadline on personal projects tends to make me act more intuitively, and I like that approach to my work. We are working on bringing that back in the not too distant future. Also our first group show, which was called Blow Up, where we set up a pop up space in an incredible location in Sydney opposite of the Sydney Opera house. It conceded with a publication of the same name.
Izzard: I’m most proud of the reputation we have forged in such a relatively short amount of time. We have set a very high bar for ourselves and are careful to produce quality at every turn. Our first event was a publication and exhibition called ‘Blow Up’ which really put us on the map. Since then we have developed an app, hosted many events and developed partnerships with many diverse creative entities. I also think one of our most important contributions to the creative landscape has been the Pool Grant. We have awarded this for the past six years and it is fundamental to our core value of supporting emerging talent.
Simon Harsent on His Personal Style and Work
How did you develop your personal style/aesthetic?
Harsent:I think it’s an accumulation of a lot of things over a long period of time; my taste in art and music is very diverse and I think that’s reflected in my work. I’ve never been the type of person who could just do one thing over and over again, for me that would be like working in a factory. I’m as happy shooting landscapes as I am a portrait or even a still life. When I first picked up a camera I just loved taking pictures no matter what it was and that’s just never changed. So I think through a myriad of reasons and influences I’ve just ended up where I am with my work, and hopefully it’s still evolving. Having said that I think being the son of a poet gave me a certain aesthetic on how I looked at the world growing up. It’s kind of a Proust thing I think, you become the sum of all your past experiences and that ends up being reflected in your work.
A few years back, you shot The Tears of Hinehuakatere glaciers in New Zealand. What made you want to photograph this striking geological anomaly?
Harsent: The Tears of Hinehuakatere came out of having produced the book Melt/Portrait of an Iceberg back in 2008. I have a fascination with glaciers since spending time in the Arctic. I was invited to New Zealand to give the keynote talk at Image Nation and whenever I go somewhere I always try to take out some time for myself to shoot some personal work. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to shoot the Fox Glacier. After I decided to do the project, the planning started. I knew I didn’t want to just shoot the face of the glacier, so I decided to hire a helicopter and shoot it from the air. It wasn’t until I was there that I discovered the Maori legend that the project is named after. I felt it such a poetic and beautiful story that it seemed like the perfect title for the work.
The Beautiful Game is another one of your personal projects. Can you tell us a bit more about this ongoing body of work?
Harsent: The Beautiful Game came to me. It wasn’t a conscious decision, although I have always wanted to do a football related project. I’m a massive football (soccer) fan and have been obsessed with it since I was a kid growing up in England. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I used to dream about playing for Chelsea (the team I’ve followed since I was 5) until I discovered photography, so to me it’s really no surprise that a project like this has become an ongoing body of work for me.
The first images were shot when I would take my son to football training. Most of the time it would be early evening when the floodlights were on. I remember seeing these old broken goal posts next to a wooded area to the side of the pitches. I took the picture and knew I had something, but didn’t really know what to do with it. That image was really the nucleus of the project. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when my son and I were in England and I took him past a ground I used to play on when I was a kid, that I knew where the project was headed. The ground was completely overgrown and looked abandoned. I made 3 visits to that ground during our time in England. Since then I’ve continued to shoot football grounds of all shapes and sizes of different parts of the world.
What motivates you to keep taking pictures?
Harsent:I love it, It’s just as simple as that. I still get the same buzz as I did when I was a teenager taking pictures, and I don’t know if I could do anything else. I’m a photographer plain and simple it’s not something I could or would want to change.
Sean Izzard on the Role of Personal Work and Commercial Jobs
What is your view on personal work and what role does it play in your career?
Izzard: Personal work is really where the juice is. In terms of my career, it allows me to explore new directions both in subject matter and technique, giving an insight to prospective employers about what makes me tick and what I may bring to any particular assignment. It may also inspire new ideas for them. Personally, it is vital in many ways. From the very basic of levels it has been the form of practice that has honed my eye from the very beginning. To experiment and see what works or what doesn’t, and to allow the camera as a natural extension of who I am and how I see. I never switch off – always noticing light, potential subjects and/or ideas for future projects. I see the world through photographic lenses, intuitively knowing which to bolt on at any given time. Both a blessing and a curse – it is my life.
Heatwave is a personal project of yours based on a family camping trip. What was the story you wanted to share with the viewer?
Izzard:Each year we travel a few hours down the coast to camp with the same group of families. Each time I pull the camera out at various times to document the occasion. Camping allows the kids to have a real freedom and independence from their parents and I love to take pictures of the children isolated in this way. This particular year saw extreme temperatures and bush fires and we were evacuated to the beach. Heatwave tells the story of the kids, totally oblivious to any danger, immersed in their own innocent world and safe in the knowledge that their protectors aren’t far away if need be.
Another Place Another Time explores places and memories of your childhood. Why was it important for you to document these moments?
Another Place Another Time surfaced when I had revisited Burning Palms, where we had holidayed many times when I was a child. Back then before my parents divorced we were a family, and we stayed in shacks with other families. It occurred to me how it really seemed like someone else’s life and I started to explore the notion of memory. I could begin to segment my life into different eras – all of which seemingly of a different person. I realized that my memories are really the only thread tying all of my life together. Yet they are so tenuous. Physically, at a cellular level my body has been regenerated many, many times over which also begs the metaphysical question, was it really me?
How has your process evolved from when you first started shooting until now?
Izzard:Having so much more experience now I spend far less time trying things that won’t work. I have an innate sense of what needs to happen for a story to be told. Even from a personal work point of view, I question myself before taking a picture. What am I saying, or what is this picture saying? I was far more inclined to shoot something for it’s own sake in the past, whereas now I’m looking for more substance – and often thinking in terms of a series of pictures rather than a one-off. My evolution as a photographer continues though what hasn’t changed is the importance of taking a step back to evaluate my work. Am I happy with it? and if not, what is missing such that I will be?
How does your personal work ultimately influence your commercial jobs?
Izzard: My personal work allows me the confidence to approach commissions in much the same way. In the beginning I was a an editorial shooter, largely finding the stories in front of me which is very similar to my approach with personal work. The challenge now is to know how to recreate this ‘reality’. How to start with an image in my head and to work backwards putting all the elements in place. If I’m struggling on a commercial shoot I have taught myself to stop, take a step back and figure out what isn’t working. My aim is to create a beautiful, strong image just as I would if it were for myself, so I ask myself the same questions. What is missing? I reconsider the fundamentals – lighting, compositon and basic photographic priciples and I’m then able to reset.
To see more work from Sean Izzard, please visit his AtEdge Portfolio and Website.
For more of Simon Harsent’s work, take a look at his AtEdge Portoflio and Website.
Learn more about The POOL Collective here.