Standing distractedly before the camera, the girl stares off into the distance, frowning. Her small frame is dressed in clothes that seem too grown up and formal, despite the bright red of her tie and the matching windowpane check of her jacket. Her jodhpurs and accessories tell us she is a rider – her outfit a statement of her dedication and intent – leather gloves, hacking jacket, and horse’s bridle slung over her shoulder like a handbag. And yet, despite all this swagger, something is slightly off, her pale yellow jodhpurs twist around her leg, her jacket seems too big, her tie is trying to escape from her collar, and her hair seems trapped in the tight hairnet that encircles her head.
It is just this sense of individuality within a rural community, that photographer Jooney Woodward is fascinated by. ‘Shannon, Royal Welsh Show,’ is part of her project ‘The Riders’ shot between July and November 2013, a portrait series showing scenes from a range of horse shows and tournaments at both amateur and professional levels in southern England and Wales. Jooney says of Shannon, ‘her pose is a bit awkward…she drifted off…was in a world of her own.’
Jooney seeks to make a connection with her sitters, as she says, to strike up ‘a mini-friendship, ‘ to put them at their ease. Chatting as she watches and waits for the right moment, she takes only a small number of frames of each sitter, as she says, ‘I don’t like chasing the photo.’ She works on a bulky Mamiya RZ 67. More used to small digital cameras capturing their image, sitters pause and interact with her – ‘people see you with this massive camera and they react differently to it … I think my stuff is quite composed, rather than action shots. The camera is so heavy that wouldn’t be possible…It’s all about the opening few minutes of a relationship. I want to capture how they were feeling before I came up to them’ –when something about their appearance, ‘their look’ made her choose them as subjects.
Interestingly, dress plays a significant part in this exchange. She often spots people because of the way they have styled themselves, or a striking aspect of their appearance – as in Shannon’s case – the hairnet seems both part of an accepted norm for riders, yet weirdly out of synch with the wearer. Jooney uses clothes to start the conversation – ‘I spotted you there, and I love what you’re wearing, it makes you stand out from the background’ is an opening gambit that eases conversation.
And clothes are also an important aspect of Jooney’s own intuitive approach. Over time, she has realized that wearing ‘bright, happy, non-threatening clothes,’ make people more willing to stop and speak to her, and more relaxed when she takes their picture. As she says, ‘people have a certain look, and I think that’s what I want to capture.’
See more of Jooney’s work: jooneywoodward.co.uk