The portraits now sit permanently on the exterior of Mountview Theatre School in Peckham, back in the site of their original home. Why is this so important and what’s next for UNDEREXPOSED ARTS?
Franklyn: If you can see yourself on the building, you can see yourself in the building.
Fraser: It empowers you, which is what we’re about. This year we became a charity and we’re looking at the programme and we’re going to do the next generation [of portraits] next year and we’ve got another project in the works. So we’re just doing work that focuses on representation and identity and if we can, as Frank says, facilitate aspiration from people who have seen our work, then that’s it in a nutshell.
And now they’re going to be exhibited on Britain’s biggest shopping street. How does that feel?
Frasers: If we can arrest someone’s progress through Oxford Street with a striking image and get them to stop briefly and think ‘what is that’. If they can engage with it and seek to find out more about it – and hopefully they will – because of Frank’s images.
Franklyn: There’s a language attached to portraiture and that language is often embedded in when portraiture began, or people began to engage with photography and portraiture, and that was around the Pre-Raphaelites. So, you realise that even when you look at most photographs, the engagement is based around that pivotal aesthetic moment. So, what I thought I’d do, why not shift that moment and look at developing aesthetics that work outside that? I loved the idea of African masks and what that means to create lines on the face. In African culture, what those marks allude to are rites of passage and status. So, I thought wouldn’t it be amazing to use that way of thinking and attach it to the portrait. An actor engages with a role and gives life to those words and creates a space where we can connect with an emotion and that visceral nature of what it is to make that translation. I thought wouldn’t it be amazing if we could create an aesthetic, so rather than playing a role and that role is often a mask that is donned, I said: ‘what if you wear your own mask?’ What if that mask actually belonged to you? So, all the masks and the lines create and connect to that African aesthetic, but rather than actually leaving the mark, the mark is made in light. Each person when they leave a sitting, they become part of the UNDERXPOSED tribe.
Fraser: It’s an audience that hasn’t seen them before. An international audience that won’t have seen them before. These ‘Gems of Knowledge’ and how they support the portraits is key as well.
The ‘Gems of Knowledge’ really give the portraits a voice…
Franklyn: It empowers across the board. Those 'Gems of Knowledge', being able to read and be inspired from that, is such a powerful thing. To see this icon but think I can also hear what they have to say about overcoming. What does it take to overcome? Some of those quotes shift how you think about circumstances that you may be in.
Fraser: My 'Gem' at the time was: ‘There is no deodorant for desperation.’ That was based on my current instruction for myself before I went into an audition because I would say to myself: ‘Don’t be desperate. You can’t be desperate, you have to be cool, you have to breathe, you have to play things nice and easy.’ My ‘Gem of Knowledge’ to myself now would be: ‘Don’t be afraid to be great.’ I know what I can deliver as an experienced artist of over 30 years now. When I come onto a film set, I know what I’m capable of. So now it’s just a question of how good can you be? It’s not a question of can you deliver it and whether or not you need to be concerned about being desperate in a room, it’s how great can you be in any one moment?