Saturday, 31 October 2015

Personal Project


Final year is now literally happening…and although my initial plan was to document the San Fermin Bull Running held annually in Pamplona, España. I found myself frustrated with the logistical difficulties, which happened early on in my trip.  Losing ones luggage at the airport was one such occurrence that had slowed my efforts down a little; another was losing the actual press pass in the process. Admittedly I did not let this hold me back, I thought they’re other possibilities, other stories I can find.

And find I did, I met up one day immediately before the run on an early morning saunter around the old town of Pamplona, with an animal rights activist namely ‘Paulo’, he was slight in build and had dreads and feral in appearance, but a strong belief in the welfare of animals. He was posting bills around the small cobbled streets that seem to turn every corner in the old town.

I thought, “Wow, this is radical!” Someone, who is resident to the location of my shoot and story, but wholly against the idea of this festival of the Saint Fermin, and the running of the bulls. I found this refreshing and at the same time recognised the opportunity for a story, thinking this is the angle that would appeal to a wider audience especially those of us who are strictly vegan.

So I introduced myself in Spanish, and then came a retort in English, which lead me somewhat relieved but not really surprised as the education system in many European schools teach English as a secondary language, in fact many Europeans are bilingual or speak a multitude of languages these days.

However, I wasn’t here to brush up on my Spanish, I was here to gain some story and a factual documentation of an event that has happened since the 14th Century A.D. and highlighted in the novel The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway, 1926)

My plan was to capture the essence of the event, and to some extent documentation of the San Fermin Bull run, was seemingly a very much the same every day story. If I had not met Paulo, then it would not have seemed a really feasible idea. However, the meeting was brief and so too was the story.

On my return to London, I began to shoot the streets but with very little enthusiasm. Had the trip to Spain and its unsuccessful conclusion given myself a photographer’s block? It seemed as though the creative process had dried up until I realised that my earlier encounter with an old friend, seemed much more realistic.

So with renewed vigour, I decided to opt for Plan ‘B’; which was to document a natural supplements bodybuilder, namely a guy I knew I could trust and certainly have no problem with access. This now was definitely my aim; after all if this was my major personal project, I could leave a benchmark so to speak.

So after our one to one tutorials and receiving much needed and invaluable advice regarding my new project, my tutor had really liked the idea of me shooting this story. He gave me a few pointers; one was to watch the Rocky Balboa films of the 1980s era, to get an idea of how to document such a local hero.

The other was to draw a shooting script; this would enable me to get some idea of how to make the story not just the photographs. It’s a very important practice as documentary photographers to get some idea of how you wish the story to go, after all this story focuses on bodybuilding, with that in mind there are some issues, some very controversial to say the least.

Narcissism plays a part in the art of bodybuilding, as does the factor of anabolic steroids, natural supplements and the term ‘reverse anorexia’ or ‘bigorexia’ as it is also known.

Testosterone Male enhancement bodybuilding: Supplements versus Steroids


Testosterone is a natural anabolic steroid. Both Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone circulate naturally in your body. Testosterone is an anabolic steroid—a hormone that contributes to male characteristics, including increased muscle mass. HGH is produced in the pituitary gland, activating receptors that signal muscle growth. Upping your levels of testosterone and HGH can have benefits that range from increased energy and libido to muscle mass and athletic performance. But in synthetic form, both testosterone and HGH set off alarms in drug tests, as both are banned in pro sports for their potential to give the user an unfair competitive advantage.

Over the last few decades many athletes Ben Johnson (Canadian), Floyd Landis (American) Lance Armstrong (American) and many others besides across many sporting platforms, have been banned for drug use in their sport. The question of amateurs now ‘emulating the pros’ realises that cheating is endemic in our society.

The investigative story will focus on the backdrop of a Northern industrial town namely Barnsley and a key individual Paul. Paul works in a gym on a daily basis, and has gained success through a program, which focuses mainly on the dietary supplements to increase male enhancement rather than the use of drugs.

His background of being a family man, and receiving many accolades has shone through and through his success has gained him much recognition among his peers, however he knows that doping is prevalent in his chosen sport and wishes to promote anti-drug use within the field of body building. Many of his awards / trophies have a symbolic view of a ‘warrior’, this warrior is depicted as a “Spartan’. The Spartan program is a program that utilises natural dietary ingredients and sheer hard work, thus giving a perspective that ‘real men’ make the best of what they have without the use of drugs.

Paul is entering another competition namely the National Amateur Body Builders Association. Having placing third and first in his last two competitions, documenting his approach and gaining insight in to his world through his preparation will be the key to the story.

Shooting script

Images captured will be between 30 – 50 respectively though a short 3 – 5 minute film is an option in order for the story to come across from the subject’s own viewpoint.

Back story images of Paul, and his home life, will be establishing images to gain a sense of the character, photographs of him and his family will gain a sense of relationships to enable to show facets of his home life. Further documentation of his work life / preparation will enable one to closer scrutinise the integrity of the character, and what they’re setting out to prove.

Detail shots will investigate the products used in the subject’s preparation, and will look for legality in their approach, and question the ethics of which he represents.
The backstory will envisage an outline, to which we can view the character of this modern day ‘Spartan’, to capture a viewpoint and possibly raise awareness of a more discerning issue, that which focuses on diet.

Dietary concerns have been raised in recent years with many woman’s and men’s health magazines seeking to promote a healthier lifestyle and targeting obesity, however many are concerned that bodybuilding also hides an undeniable truth that just like those who are anorexic, so too are bodybuilders suffering from an eating disorder, reverse anorexia, muscle dysmorphia and that constant impact on the body is actually a negative effect rather than positive.


The story is a valid argument, which raises concerns about many aspects of society, the use of drugs in sport and the concerns of dietary manipulation on the body and the effects from a physiological and psychological perspective. Visually the story should portray these concerns within the viewer, many questions and topics should ensue among those who have a key interest in this field.


The key research has been from the magazines themselves as well as key medical journals, which have been focused on nutrition and physical enhancement through dietary supplements, speaking with other bodybuilders and gaining access to a support group for sufferers of reverse anorexia and bigorexia / muscle dysmorphia.

A number of organisations are also based in Yorkshire, which support sufferers of bulimia nervosa. Initial contact has been made with the B-eat organisation, a charity that helps those sufferers of the aforementioned to gain a better lifestyle, through mental health support.

Looking at key photo-stories of the same subject and viewing documentaries on eating disorders will gain a greater understanding of those who manipulate the physiological aspect of their bodies and how it relates to mental health.

One in particular is the long running series produced by Channel Four, ‘Body Shock’. Perhaps viewing a couple of these episodes would enrich my thought process, and give me greater depth to the outcome of the story, I am documenting.

Another aspect is to keep a diary; this will help with my dissertation too, as writing will give practice, and a wider vocabulary will ensue whilst keeping this blog up to date.

Let creative juices flow…