Juror’s Pick (Anthony Bannon), 2011 Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Work-in-Process Prize
“Whether in or out of the water, [Olympic Dreams] works with wonder and with purpose, and that is a winning combination. It is held tightly together by the grace of humor, awe, and consistent style that hold out promise for the work’s completion.”—Anthony Bannon [director, George Eastman House]
Sport funding in the United Kingdom increased dramatically as a result of winning the 2012 Olympic bid; much of it has been used to identify exceptional youth talent. Since 2008, James Dodd has been following the British junior diving team in Sheffield. His series Olympic Dreams will follow the divers to August 2012 and beyond.
Here, Dodd talks about the project with Duke documentary studies student Kelly Cobb:
Could you describe your start in photography and what your goals are in the field?
When I was younger I was always the family member designated by design or desire to take the family photos. For years I never really appeared in any, which became a bit of a running joke with my parents. As time passed, though, I stopped picking up the camera, and I suppose it wasn’t until about six years ago that I picked one up again while I was at university. But I didn’t give it much thought at first; it wasn’t on my agenda. I was studying for a degree in computing and running my own IT business. Photography crept up on me I suppose; I was losing interest in my studies and wasn’t pursuing work as much as I once was. Photography was consuming me.
In 2008 I bit the bullet to attempt to make a career out of photography and signed up to study on the National Council for the Training of Journalists Photojournalism course here in the UK. My goals then were different than what they are now. I wanted to be a press photographer—I felt like it was a chance to try and make a change in the world and for myself. But after a year in the industry I found I wasn’t working on the stories I wanted to tell and that in reality it wasn’t going to change anything. So I left that part of the industry and started looking at ways to tell the stories I wanted. And to be honest, telling those stories is my only real goal now.
Do you feel you are focusing on the harder and darker sides of being an athlete in training?
I was never interested in presenting a fact or providing answers through this work, but more interested in raising the question of the subject as a whole. I tried to mix images that have a negative feeling with those of a positive feeling. I feel I’ve left enough ambiguity within the work for people to come to their own conclusions and make of the work whatever they want. I’ve heard from people who say that upon seeing it their children were inspired to become divers or take up photography. I’ve even heard from older divers who thought I’ve captured the feelings and emotions of the sport, which was more of what I was going for than a literal image.
What is your perspective on sports and London’s hosting of the Olympics in 2012 specifically?
The 2012 Olympics, for me, could be seen as both a blessing and a burden to our country. It’s a fantastic opportunity for our athletes and sporting structure to receive some limelight, but at the same time it couldn’t have come at a harder time with the world economics where they are right now. We’ve had arts-funding cuts to help pay for the sports, which is a strange thing, and further funding has been set aside to contribute to the cultural legacy of the Olympics.
It’s been interesting to see how some aspects of the Olympics have been handled thus far. I neither won any tickets to attend as a spectator nor received press accreditation, while massive companies and sponsors seemed to dominate this field. Major photographers failed to gain accreditation, too; while that put me at ease, it did raise certain questions. I personally know no one who won tickets in the bidding process, but I know a few who were handed them through corporate connections. Things like this make me feel it’s not an Olympics for the country, but for a select few to profit from. I guess time will tell.
When following these athletes around, how involved do you permit yourself to be involved with their stories, or do you keep a more objective standpoint?
I try to be as objective as possible, but it’s extremely difficult. I know that my presence will ultimately be having an effect on them and what they do on some level, but that’s something I couldn’t really get away from. I don’t pose the children; I actually don’t ask them to do anything. I do, however, make sure they’re all comfortable with me being there. They all know to tell me when they don’t want flash to be used during one of their dives—it can distract them, which could result in disastrous entries. Getting the children to become comfortable with my presence took me a while. I remember the first few days of shooting the work, when every single one of them would perform up to the camera, pulling faces under the water and generally being silly and having fun. I took the photos, and though they aren’t part of the series they were an important part of the process.
Are there specific groups of people that you’d like to view Olympic Dreams?
At the moment I’m extremely interested in presenting the work within public spaces, moving it off of the gallery walls and into the streets.
Click here to read more about James Dodd’s work.
CDS undergraduate student Kelly Cobb conducted this interview as part of the “Multimedia Documentary” class in the fall of 2011.