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Photographing second best - We live in a world where if you're not number one sadly, no one, apart from your mum is really bothered. This need to be perfect made photographer Sandy Nicholson start a project where he only photographed those who were defeated. Here he tells ePHOTOzine why he made this decision and what it was really like to stand in the face of defeat.
|Cover photo by Sandy Nicholson.|
"I was photographing ballroom dancing and I noticed that the people who came first were photographed and the centre of attention. The ones who came second were crying in a corner and I thought this is something, we should be photographing," said Sandy Nicholson a photographer originally from Australia where he trained with an architectural photographer and studio.
This isn't the first unusual project Sandy has undertaken previous to this he photographed people in elevators around the world and also people and their sexual fetishes in the home. Both studies were turned into exhibitions which have toured Australia, Canada, Eastern Europe and Australia.
"I like to do things out of the ordinary that are often overlooked."
Sandy, who spent a year and a half photographing the not quite winners decided that in a world so obsessed with perfection a book all about coming in second would be an interesting cultural study. His book has pages filled with tear filled faces, disbelief and looks which could kill the strongest of men.
|Photo by Sandy Nicholson.|
"It's amazing to think all that seems to matter now is winning. I ask people the question do you remember the name of the second guy who stepped on the moon? Even his website doesn't mention he was second."
He tracked down the competitions while travelling to the places he spends time photographing.
"I photographed competitions in Miami, Florida, Toronto, New York and Australia. I photographed some pro athletes too but they were sponsored by big corporations and representing their country so when they stood on the podium in second place it wasn't really how they felt. They were false so I focused on high level amateurs instead."
Sandy asked the contestants to focus on the fact that they come second so the icy look of the ballroom dancer and the utter disappointment of the gamer who had spent all night trying to win are true, raw feelings. Second place is full of mixed emotions, everyone knows you have to be happy when you're number one but what should you feel when you're second? Of course many put on a gracious smile and shake hands bitterly with their competitor but underneath it all is a face of disappointment.
"There's some stigma against coming second. People actually prefer to come last, at least they can improve and everyone remembers who came last too. 3rd there's room for improvement where as people who come second ask lots of questions, what did I do wrong etc. Don't get me wrong they enjoyed the attention I gave them but that didn't change the fact that they were second best. You get a real look at their character, their identity and some were happy to be second but these were the ones who were new to the event, or it was their first competition."
|Photo by Sandy Nicholson.|
As well as people Sandy also photographed animals that were involved in sports and competitions to show how winning is also crucial for pets and show animals as without a win they're practically worthless. The same goes for the jockey who graces his front cover. If he comes second there is a real chance he will be replaced to ensure the horse wins next time.
"At that point the jockey couldn't think I'll do better next time as coming in second could mean the end to his relationship with his horse and the owner."
"When animals win they become more valuable and I like the idea of how this affects the animal and the owner. I wanted to photograph animals that are linked to their owners. I like the idea of people who create other things to compete with their identity linked to them."
The subjects are given a voice through the quotes that accompany each photograph. Something Sandy did to help tell the story and create a narrative behind the images. Something which helps you realise that these people he's photographing really do put there life and soul into what they do and for some the sport even shapes their life.
"The guy who came second in his high school wrestling was great to talk to. He was the first person who told me that this was for his future, where he finished in the competitions would change the rest of his life. Everything is really about coming first now even our television sets show us competitions where we vote to make someone number one."
|Photo by Sandy Nicholson.|
The contestants body language and facial expressions were exaggerated by the simple backgrounds chosen by Sandy.
"I shot on a background that related to the location. I didn't want them too detailed as I also shot location photographs but the background had to be solid and have texture."
His work was captured on a 16Mp Canon with prime lenses, Pro Photo strobes were his choice of lighting and as for post-production he occasionally smooths images out but most of what you see if the original, genuine poses and emotion.
"It's meant to be funny, which some of the contestants agreed with. In the end this person may have come second but they have had their picture taken and it's in a book and 1st place are now forgotten."