Contortion, 2021

Who doesn’t marvel at the physical art of contortionists, their elegance and gracefulness, but above all the way they can manipulate their bodies into such unbelievably dramatic positions, right down to the curl of a finger. Contortionism is one of the oldest physical art forms, dating back to ancient civilization as illustrated in paintings and sculptures from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. Apart from the bodily characteristics of flexibility, strength and apparent double-jointedness, a contortionist requires years of dedication to extremes of discipline and training, often beginning in childhood, to acquire the fluid artistry needed to create a serpentine dance of the human body.

In the past, contortionists were associated almost exclusively with circuses and fairs, where it entertained by incorporating elements of humour, drama, shock, sensuality, or a blend of all of them. Nowadays it has also become a hobby much enjoyed by many youngsters. Very recently I had a teenager dramatically perform in my short film, The 1814 Frost Fair, shot in late 2019 as the culmination of my mammoth Old Father Thames project.

When Covid-19 first struck I found myself reflecting on the pathos of her performance on that day. In relation to the pandemic I felt it highlighted our heightened sensitivities to this previously unknown threat to our existence. Feelings of extreme anxiety, vulnerability, loneliness, and depression were only partially offset by our innate inner strengths of humour, fortitude, combativeness and an overwhelming desire just somehow to cope with the situation.

Inspired by that performance I invited a troupe of young contortionists to shoot a series of stills as they showed off their skill set of physicality, humorousness, sensuality and exuberance. My images of their performance arouse in us a heightened optimism and belief for a better future once we have conquered the uncertainties of our present lives.