This project originated from a conversation with a dear friend who was recovering from cancer. It was a lazy Sunday morning, we had just finished breakfast and I looked down and complimented her on a particularly elegant pair of shoes that she was wearing. This started a conversation…
So which shoes are significant? There is no simple answer to this. They can be any pair of shoes, from high heels to slippers, wellies to pumps, boots, sandals, trainers or mukluks. Anything. It is the stories about them that make them significant and every one is different. This book includes stories that are: bizarre, risqué, tongue in cheek or outrageous. Often a pair of shoes reminds us other happier times, important days; days of wonder or extreme sadness. What is clear from these stories is that as far as women and their shoes are concerned, shoes are not just things to put your feet in!
I created a small portable studio and travelled round the UK. A number of professional firms hosted women-only networking events and I was a guest at the Women’s Institute in Cambridge. At every event I asked all the attendees to bring along one pair of shoes that was important to them. I also asked them to complete a short questionnaire and provide a paragraph about why this particular pair of shoes is significant. I included questions about the make of the shoes and how long they had owned them. In an effort to establish how much of a ‘shoe-addict’ my participants were I asked then how many pairs of shoes they owned (approximately).
While I was frequently surprised by the age of the shoes, the question that seemed to create the most interest, if not concern, was about the number of shoes owned. This produced the greatest variety of answers. The answers were obviously often guesstimates and sometimes women acknowledged woeful underestimates if not downright untruths. Sometimes we had discussions about how many pairs were a lot and does this sound about right (i.e. average) or can I just put a plus sign to indicate more than X. In these instances I thought discretion was needed so just went along with what anyone said.
I hope you enjoy this. I had a great time making it and indeed I am still taking photographs.
On the Shoulders of Giants
On the Shoulders of Giants was commissioned by the Fitzwilliam Museum as part of their celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the founding of the University of Cambridge. I have always had a fascination about portraits of people in their place of work. These are environmental portraits so sometimes the sitter may be quite small as I wanted to show as much of the space as possible.
It took over a year to get permission to do this project, although I think Duncan Robinson (the then Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum) took about 5 minutes to make up his mind when I eventually showed him a portfolio.
It took about another year to do the photographs.
Some people were obvious subjects whilst others were chosen primarily because they were the current occupant in a historically significant location, for example, Darwin’s sets or Watson’s and Crick’s room. Everyone was hugely generous with their time as we worked together to select the locations, camera angles etc. For those interested, this was shot almost entirely on medium format film.
A selection of portraits from a variety of assignments and projects
Projects and Portfolios Howard