“Before I got Parkinson’s, I was never interested in anybody who had Parkinson’s and hardly ever gave money to charity. But when you get something like this, it changes your whole view, of course.” I’m talking to Tim Andrews – a man who likes having his photo taken. And he’s turned a debilitating condition affecting his nervous system and a passion for photography into something rather wonderful.
A partner at Surrey law firm, worsening Parkinson’s Disease forced him to retire in 2006. “When I retired, I was so thrilled to think I wouldn’t have any stress and could do all the things I wanted to do. But all these things were solitary occupations. What I missed was the contact with people”. The following year, he happened across a Time Out advertisement from photographer Graeme Montgomery, who was compiling a book of nudes featuring ordinary people. The idea intrigued Andrews, so he turned up at the studio. “He said he’d photograph the first hundred people that came through the door, and I happened to be number one. We spent the next two hours with him photographing me in the studio. It was such a good experience.” In the following weeks, two more similar sessions were advertised, which he also took part in. Then he thought no more about it all. A year later, he saw an advert in his local newspaper from a student who sought people with illnesses for her final year’s project. Further research revealed there were plenty of photographers looking for interesting models. The idea of being photographed by different people across the course of his illness began to take shape.
This relentless drive to capture his life even crossed over into some of his most vunerable moments. After the progression of his illness overtook the medication Andrews was prescribed, he underwent deep brain stimulation surgery. “While I was in there, I spoke to the anaesthetist the day before my operation and said ‘could somebody take a photo of me during the operation?’” Obligingly, the hospital’s official photographer came in and captured the project’s 300th image during the procedure.
So, what did he learn about himself during the process? “I’m not quite as vain as I thought I might be. Each photographer has photographed me as they’ve seen me. Sometimes it’s been without any clothes on, and I’ve got a fat stomach, or I look a bit scrawny and old. That’s never worried me.” This sprawling project has also seen him making an appearance on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, to raise money for Parkinson’s UK, giving talks and exhibiting some of his images. “I do have some favourites, obviously. But I can’t choose one. I’ve loved the shoots, and meeting these people has been the best thing about the whole project.” Now this show, Over the Hill: A Photographic Journey, comes to Brighton Fringe. Running from Fri 5 – Fri 26 May, at Hove’s Montefiore Hospital, this free event features 40 extracts from the project, the bulk of which have not been previously exhibited.
Although the project ended last June, he is still being photographed, admittedly on a more ad-hoc basis. It’s an apt way to stay in contact with the people he’s met on this extraordinary journey. “I never thought I’d do anything like this in a million years. There’s one great photograph of me from early on. This student was doing a project on obsessive compulsive disorder, so she wanted to photograph me wearing pyjamas, as if I’d woken in the middle of the night and had to paint a wall. I was standing in her hallway, thinking ‘Who would have thought two years ago, when I was sitting at a desk in my solicitor’s office, that I’d be standing in a hallway in Bethnal Green, wearing pyjamas and painting a wall?’ It’s the most weird thing.”
Tim Andrews’ Over the Hill: A Photographic Journey comes to, Hove’s Montefiore Hospital on Fri 5 – Fri 26 May, as part of Brighton Fringe.