Sometimes when unexpected things combine, in this case a barber shop in Newport, a first year documentary photography student from Germany and the same fringe (excluding the bald guy) unusual things sometimes happen. The unusual thing in this case is a project called Clear Cut by Christoph Soeder who produced a small ‘accordion’ book of portraits of men going to the same barber shop, getting what looks like the same haircut.
At first the images cause little confusion due to the seemingly banal subject, then the deviations starts to appear. The unusual lively red background sitting above the zebra patterned protection gown, combine to create a vividly natural and surprising combination.
What was once seemingly familiar event becomes extraordinary in its ability to allow us an alternative vantage on a taken for granted pattern.
The slight tilt of head juxtaposed with the uncomfortable straight fringe can only belong to a young man exuding a form of confidence that has no place in reality while the anonymous background confirms the exaggerated unfamiliarity. Haircuts like all fashion give us the option to make a choice and, whether we like it or not, we choose to belong.
Regardless of what the media tells us, the most amazing thing about fashion isn’t the creativity or the new designers from the London colleges creating new collections, it’s the photography created while a particular fashion is happening. The photograph shows us a snapshot of history, to place a time or event due to the length of hair and/or sideburns, whether we think of family members or ourselves as fashionable the photograph showing the ridiculous fringe says more about our belonging to a particular group and time than we can ever feel comfortable admitting. I can guess all I want about the men in the photographs but nothing will tell me more about them than what time has to say.
A limited number of the book Clear Cut by Christoph Soeder is sold via the photographers website
Christoph Soeder was born 1989 in Avranches/France and grew up in Germany. In 2012 Christoph obtained the 2nd award ‘Close Up! – Young photojournalists at the 62nd Berlinale’ and exhibited his work together with other participants of the programme at C/O Berlin. In 2013 his book ‘Clear-Cut’ was shortlisted for the Unseen Dummy Award and exhibited at the Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam. Christoph studied photography for one year at the Berlin Ostkreuz School of Photography and is currently studying Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales, Newport.
Paul Salvatore is a Welsh based photographic and video artist whose work primarily focuses on the smaller communities seen within Wales. A graduate from Newport’s Documentary Photography course his latest video piece highlights a key figure in a local boxing club. Salvatore has developed a style of working that has been inspired by the works of Richard Billingham, Tony Ray Jones and David Barnes. In forming these long lasting connections with the people he photographs Salvatore attempts to portray them in the most honest and fair way he can.
What is your connection with Sammy Sims, how did you first meet him?
I first met Sammy when I was starting a Uni assignment called the ‘grid project’. For this project we were given an area around Cardiff or Newport and were asked to find a worth while photographic project within this area. I was scouting my area one day and peered through the window of a closed pub. Inside the pub I saw a poster advertising a local boxing show that was on in the area later that week. I called the number on the poster to see if it was ok for me to turn up with my camera and got through to Sammy who kindly allowed me. Thats how my friendship with Sammy started.
What was it about his history that inspired you to make a video about him?
When I first met Sammy I didn’t think straight away that I’d complete a short story about him. I was more interested in the local boxers and their place within their community. I began to visit the local boxing gym that Sammy managed and got to know everyone there. Here my friendship with Sammy grew and I began to realise that he had a very interesting life both in the present and in his past. He was a former British featherweight champion during the 80’s. Photographs of him in his glory days are scattered all over the gym walls and he also began to show some old videos of him during his time as an aspiring champion which I loved. To answer the question I think it was a combination of both his history and his present life that inspired me to create a video. I was drawn to the juxtaposition of his former and present lifestyles and wanted to show in some way the journey of a boxer throughout their life. I didn’t want it to be a film that spoke solely about boxing, I wanted it in some way to speak about community, belonging, memory, identity, growing old and finding a different route. The life of a boxer is very short lived, in terms of their career, and when it ends it ends very quickly. I wanted Sammy to be able to talk about the journey through his career, his transition out of it and how he dealt with these uncertainties and anxieties. Today Sammy is a professional and amateur boxing promoter and makes a living organising shows and managing his gym.
How important do you think it is that this was captured on video as apposed to just photographs?
Initially I did just complete a photographic series on Sammy by shadowing him and capturing images which spoke about his story. I knew something was missing in these images and I wasn’t able to communicate as well as I hoped with photographs alone. I think that a video allows you to communicate a lot more effectively. Your able to use much more media such as music, speech, etc. I also feel the timeline of a video gives you a good foundation to be able to structure your story, for example a beginning, middle and end. I felt that for the message I was trying to get across, video was definitely the best medium to use.
Could you talk us through the process of working with archived materials and present day footage to communicate his story?
I thought it was important to use the old footage I found of Sammy as it really put his life into perspective. The contrast of moments of his life could be put aside one another but you could also compare the parallels, the things he holds onto, the things in his life that give him his identity. Fortunately the footage of him when he was an aspiring champion was very rich and fruitful. It gave me a lot of material to play with which helped me communicate the story of his life with a lot more detail. The switching of past and present within a few seconds helped to magnify the passing of time. The archive footage gave his past evidence which worked with the present footage to give my story a real sense of undeniable truth. It certainly helped make the video more convincing which in turn would raise the emotion of the viewer which is ultimately what I hoped to achieve.