Market Town : Shaunny
I’d first encountered Shaunny totally by chance as I’d taken a street shot of him taking his shirt off outside a pub in Market Town. Subsequently that shot went on to place 3rd in the Photo Radar POTY (Documentary) and I wanted to find out who it was I’d made this random street image of.
Market town is a small place and it did not take too long to find someone that knew someone that could put me in touch with Shaunny. I got an email and arranged a meeting at his home. At this time I was still borrowing a camera and lenses so I’d picked them up the morning of the shoot along with for the first time a 50mm.
My sessions always work the same. There is a lot of talking. I’ll always set out what the project is about, where images will be shown etc and then we really get into exploring life. Many times the people I shoot have no significant opportunity to talk, open up or be listened to. I like to ask a question then let things roll, to let the person reveal as much as they are want to share and interject with further questions throughout the conversation making fresh junctions together, seeing where it takes us.
I’d started with a 28mm, a f2.8 and the light was very dark that day and the D200 I was using was not the best camera for an interior, little light and so I was pretty much forced into putting the 50mm f1.8 to the body to give myself a little more room to play with.
This first shoot with Shaunny was one of the first that I’d really explored intense 1 on 1’s. Walking into a total strangers house was quite something but my own fears were suppressed by the desire to do justice to what was happening within the room. Shaunny was opening up more than I had expected. Within 15 minutes of arriving he was opening his soul to me, every pain, loss, regret began to flow forth, at first just a trickle but soon becoming a river that was to burst it’s banks.
“I never talk to anyone about this stuff” Shaunny said as we talked through the loss of failed relationships, finding his Mother passed away at 15, the death of his young children, his battle with chronic back pain due to an accident, his self medication with alcohol.
“Do you want to stop? I can put the camera down at any time” I told him, we were very close, the 50mm forces you to use your legs as a zoom so I was maybe 1 foot away from Shaunny, both of us standing parallel to the single window in his flat. Winter skies outside, I remember someone revving their car, redlining it, testing the engine outside a monotone drone that seemed to amplify the words, the stories Shaunny was sharing. There was no longer a camera between us. I often look over the viewfinder so actual eyes can lock, I shoot manual so that was spot metered and taken care of, shooting wide open at f1.8 hand held is tricky at the best of time and as Shaunny’s first tears started to come I fought to keep my own hands from shaking.
“Do you want to stop mate, I don’t have to photograph this” I asked again “No, I want you to, this is the first time I think I’ve ever opened up about these things, I want people to know I have regrets, that I am sorry, that I’m not who they think I am, I want people to see that I hurt too”
Shaunny saying that was a revelation for me. I could easily have put the camera down had he not said that. In that moment I knew that to not do my best in this situation would be a dereliction of duty. Here I was, in another mans home, toe to toe with him baring his soul and tears, very old, bitter, painful and real tears spilling from his eyes and I felt for the first time the burden of a very wanted responsibility. I could feel myself totally engaged in this moment, this shared moment and also aware of controlling the camera, probably nervously as I’d never used a f1.8 50mm before so I was as nervous as all hell of getting it wrong but everything was happening so fast I just had to let the fear go, rely on instinct and carry on.
I shot a lot in 10 minutes, maybe 40 images and most all with Shaunny looking right into the camera, right into me, right into the audience. These were intense shots. Being so close to another human being in pain, sobbing their heart out. As Shaunny reached the climax of his very personal cathartic outpouring I took one last shot placed the camera to one side “Mate, that was amazing. Have you any idea how much that touched me. I’m almost in tears too! How do you feel?” I asked. Shaunny drying his tears looked up and at me and said “Fucking brilliant mate, I feel fucking brilliant. Like a weights gone. Thank you.”
This really choked me. Thank me? I’d done nothing. Pressing a shutter is no big mystery to me. I’d not expected this day to unfold anywhere close to where it’s destination eventually was. It was becoming a moment of very real clarity for me too. These moments were teaching me why I had to pursue the Small Town Inertia series, that every person has their story, tales of loss, tales of joy, endurance regrets and hopes of redemption. Instead of 15 minutes of banal transient fame, instead of being the focus of an imposed ego destined to be art on a wall we all deserve to be listened to at the very least once within our lives.
I put my arms around Shaunny and gave him a hug “You don’t have to thank me mate, thank yourself, you found it in you to face all these things, to get them out. You feel the regrets you do, they affect you. You’ve shown that in extraordinary circumstances today. I’m proud of you… be proud of you too.”
I packed my gear away and as I left I told Shaunny that I’d sit on the images for a while and visit again with a print, if he wanted them public we’d go from there. When I got home I was relieved the shots had come out at all. Whilst editing them I found the shots with open eyes a little too obvious and they somehow through all their evident pain lost some intensity and they did not really reflect the most poignant moment of that morning. The very last shot however did. When Shaunny paused for that final moment, tears upon his face with eyes closed finally reflecting upon the life, his life and all it’s pain and all his regrets that he had just fought into and excised and shared for me epitomized the pain, struggle, endurance, reflection and acceptance of that cold morning shared in a flat with a stranger.
A few weeks later I returned with a print. I was weary, would Shaunny be pleased, would he not want to share the image at all. My fears were allayed instantly. Shaunny loved the image, was proud of the day. We have gone on to share many other moments together as I’ve documented his life and the portrait we made together hangs on his wall still.
Market Town : Shaunny : High stakes and diary entries