Film writing

John Hurt

British film production

David Puttnam

Bill Forsyth

Peter Greenaway

Professor Colin Young

Yiddish Cinema

London's MOMI

Clare Park

Film writing

Clare Parks by Dominic Joyeux

I was inspired by the photographs that Clare Park was taking for the RSC's season of plays in the Summer of 1996. I interviewed Clare at her house and the director, Steven Pimlott, on the phone. I then sent the resulting text to The Guardian. They liked her work too, and printed the article to coincide with the RSC's season of Stratford-upon-Avon productions that year. Here's my text…

A Fine Body of Work

A fine body of work

When the Royal Shakespeare Company chose a photo of a naked woman, eight months' pregnant with bandages wrapped around her head, to represent Steven Pimlott's production of Measure For Measure in 1994, they little realised the storm that it would provide.

'That' photo was in fact a self-portrait of photographer Clare Park, taken a couple of days before the birth of her second son. It brought dozens of letters complaining that the image was "crude and offensive towards women and degrading pregnancy", prompting the Advertising Standards Authority to ask the RSC to "take care when using approaches which might shock or be open to misconstruction."

So why had Clare Park created such a strong image? And what was it that drew the RSC to her work? In their defence of the picture to the ASA, the RSC said the interpretation explored the idea of women's sexuality and loss of identity as a result of sex and pregnancy - ideas which were integral to Shakespeare's play. Besides, it neatly fitted the RSC's new upbeat advertising profile, which included describing Coriolanus as "Natural Born Killer Two".

The Measure For Measure picture began a relationship between RSC and Park which has culminated this month in a celebratory exhibition at the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. The themes raised by the pictures are as much part of Clare Park's life as they are of her work.

Programme photo taken by Clare Park

Programme photo taken by Clare Park

Now 40, she arrived at photography via dancing with the Ballet Rambert and modelling - a route that took in a near fatal bout of anorexia nervosa. With hindsight, she now says: "I have always set high standards for myself. Even when I was a dancer I was a perfectionist. What I didn't understand at the time was that I already had the ideal figure needed to perform classical ballet. Instead of appreciating the body I had, I got sucked into the dieting that is part and parcel of the ballet world. And being the perfectionist, I dieted too well.

She left the ballet world at the age of 20, when she won a contract to model for Vogue magazine. For nearly a decade she channeled her energy into modelling, criss-crossing the world to publicise beauty products such as Oil of Ulay. It was towards the end of this period that she bought a camera and started taking portraits of those around her - enrolling at the Royal College of Art in the late eighties.

After two years of "technical competence", she turned the camera on herself and all the strands of her life fell together. "I piled my old ballet shoes beside me and clutched the letters that my mother had written to me, urging that I eat more. I set the timer and, in more ways than one, that self-portrait helped me to find myself. From that moment on, the pictures that I've taken have involved some element of myself."

As you like it

Clare's programme and poster photo

The pregnant self-portrait, she explains, demonstrated what it felt like to be a vessel for a hungry child. "Everything that I ate was being consumed again inside me. I was overcome by total exhaustion. I was so afraid that I was going to stay like that forever that I took the picture. A few days later, I was to have an emergency caesarian when it was found out that my son had a prolapsed umbilical cord."

In the batch of photographs she has just completed for the RSC's Stratford season, her six-year-old son Dominic, wearing a skull mask and hiding behind branches, eerily evokes Macbeth's infanticide and the moving trees of Birnan Wood. And for The Comedy of Errors, her husband - the mime actor and director Toby Sedgwick - confronts his own likeness in the form of a plaster cast.

Steven Pimlott, director of the 1996 Stratford season, explains the brief given to Park for her seven posters. "Because Clare was shooting her pictures many months before production, we asked only that her photographs were sufficiently vague about settings and faces: the rest we left to her artistic interpretation. The result is a set of insightful and thoughtful themes that contain many layers."

Park calls her style "classic and modern". When it is pointed out that a lot of her pictures feature subjects with few or no clothes on, she laughs. "I don't even think of it as nudity. My pictures are to do with starting with a lot of information, paring it down and reducing the picture to its simplest form. Clothes are often too busy, they give away the class of the person or the period they are living in. Getting rid of such references helps make a picture timeless."

Clare is still taking stunning pictures, check out