Life though a lens

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Joe Armitage was a novice with a camera until he decided to chronicle a year of his life in pictures. Now with his first solo exhibition having just opened he talks to Sarah Freeman.

Eighteen months ago Joe Armitage had barely picked up a camera. Now he has a portfolio of thousands of images, his first solo exhibition and a friend he should either thank for inspiring a new interest or blame for having caused photography take over his life.

“It was all down to Pip,” says the Sheffield-based graphic designer. “When I was younger I took a GCSE in photography, but back then it was all focused on the dark room and it felt like I was learning more about chemistry than I was about art. However, I run the 50s and 60s Boneshaker club night in Sheffield and the posters I designed to advertise it started becoming more elaborate. When I began using proper models I realised I would have to invest in and learn to use some decent kit. That was when Pip said I should think about Blipfoto 365.”

The philosophy behind the photographic and social networking service is simple – record your life in pictures by taking one picture every day for a year. And that’s how Joe found himself on August 12 on top of a windy car park with a woman dressed as Catwoman and why on July 12 he found himself lying in the middle of a field covered in horse muck taking pictures of a pole dancing woman.

“Ah yes, that was my cousin, Elizabeth. She lives on a farm and happens to run pole dancing exercise classes. One day she happened to mention that she’d got a new portable pole and it got me thinking. I wanted to photograph her on a cliff top or somewhere really dramatic, but it turned out that while the pole was mobile it was also pretty heavy so we decided to stay a little closer to home. Elizabeth cleared the paddock of horses and off we went.The final image looks quite magical and ethereal. People always ask whether I’ve altered it in anyway, but I honestly haven’t.

“Photographing Catwoman was another evening I’m unlikely to forget. She’s actually a friend of mine, the Sheffield DJ CherryRed. She wears her own costumes when she performs and is massively inspired by comic books. That night it was incredibly windy, which was not good for the lights I smashed, but it did mean her cape looked pretty spectacular.”

There are many who begin the 365 challenge, but most run out of steam, the initial arty shots giving way to hurried snaps out of car windows or snaps of the office. While Joe admits that there were days when he struggled for inspiration, he always pulled an image out of the bag. He reckons about two photographs every month were ones he’d deliberately booked in, but the vast majority of the collection were taken on the hoof and many feature his wife Charlotte and children Evie and Finn.

“Charlotte has really striking features and she was also more than happy to be photographed. Within the overall portfolio there are a few mini-collections including one called the Seven Days of Charlotte. One of my favourite pictures of her is called Frozen. Charlotte suffers from ME and one of the side-effects is that she struggles to keep warm, so she takes a lot of baths and showers. One day I asked if I could do a close up of her face in the water and the result was really striking. The water looks almost like ice.”

One of Joe’s early subjects was David Sinclair, exhibitions curator of the Barnsley Civic. He kept a close eye on the development of the project and a few months ago asked if Joe would be interested in staging an exhibition.

“I can’t thank David enough, he has been incredibly supportive, not least mounting 300-odd photographs. It was quite an odd feeling seeing them all together and while I’m not sure there is any particular theme which emerges, there is a definite style running through the work.”

Having begun the 365 project on January 1, Joe will take his last photograph on New Year’s Eve and given the success he’s achieved in such a short space of time, does he now think he has a professional future in photography?

“It was funny, not all that long ago I was out walking with Charlotte’s brother who’s a professional Formula One photographer. I asked him why he didn’t have his camera with him and he basically said he said that because of his job taking pictures feels like work.

“Of course I would love to do private commissions, whether that be portraits or fashion shoots, but I’m not kidding myself, I know how difficult it would be to make a living at this.

“In the last year I’ve discovered a real passion for photography and I really don’t want it to become something I have to rely on to pay the bills as I know it would take the enjoyment out of it.”

Joe’s Boneshaker 365 exhibition runs at the Barnsley Civic until January 3. 
To see more of his work go to www.boneshakerphotography.com