Project Z is a programme to inspire and support the next generation of Leica photographers.
Joshua Osborne is a born and bred London based photographer with a distinctive style influenced by social realism, documenting his subjects with a unique sense of honesty and sensitivity. Mr & Mrs H is a project visually chronicling the Howlett family on the Leica CL in the build up to the NABBA South East bodybuilding Championship.
Can you give us an insight into how the project Mr & Mrs H came about?
Jay Howlett aka Mr H was a fireman colleague of my father’s so I’ve known him since a young age and I started seeing more and more videos of him and his wife Carly on Facebook and Instagram working out in the gym together. I always thought it was an interesting dynamic in this gym culture to see a husband and wife that train together and when the opportunity from Leica’s Project Z came around I started to think about a bigger personal project that I can work on and everything clicked so it started from there. I had a very brief conversation with the family themselves and they were preparing for the NABBA South East Championship, so they were really excited by it, it was an opportunity for them to have more content and good advertising in their quest for stardom. It worked for both parties and we got straight into it and I started spending more and more time with them, just observing what they do day to day and how they operate as a family, what their routine in the gym is like.
It looks a very intimate project, the family seemed to have welcomed you and you embedded yourself very well, can you tell us a bit more about the structure and how you went about doing this?
It was a month long process and I started every other day with them but by the end of the project I had moved in with them and it was all day every day, following every last move from the normal mundane things to going to the gym, going to work and family life, so it was a gradual process. It was quite an organic process, working out the best way to do it, there was no set rules. When I first started I would just drive up there every other day and spend a few hours at a time with them and slowly understand their world, the routine, what time they’re up to do their workout, what time to do the school run, then to work and so on. I was working and slowly blocking out their routine whilst also learning about the gym and bodybuilding side of things. I had no experience and no real knowledge of this world, so watching them doing leg day, then back day and all the different muscle groups and the diet, the strict diet and having to lose water out of their body, this was all new so I wanted to start slow and learn bit by bit. Then after a few weeks I decided to move in and take it to the next level and stay with them permanently in the build up to the competition. I was sleeping on their sofa and in the home at all times, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything in the lead up to the show.
Touching on the subject of family life you have discussed here, two things that stick out are the intimate portrayal of the family life in contrast to this very strong macho world of body building, if you could touch on that and if there’s any underlying themes you think we haven’t mentioned?
With this project in particular, there was a lot of themes that I don’t think have been associated with a lot of photographers working on the bodybuilding subject. For me I’ve only ever seen the aftermath or the day of the show and you see them backstage and you see the finished product but this was all about the preparation as well, and so there are other themes that come into it. Just the sheer determination and discipline that goes into that sport but also the family life. It’s about balancing their passion with responsibility as there are not that many families out there that can do the job of raising three kids and putting food on the table, and then also being in good enough condition to compete. A lot of their competition are young guys living with their parents so they don’t have that responsibility, one of the main themes was that balance of responsibility with their own passion, their highs and lows, a lot of love and a lot of tension that was shown that I had seen. I think that is normal for what these people are putting their bodies through and what they have to do.
How did the family feel about your portrayal?
The family seem really happy with the final project, as anyone in that world is there is definitely an obsession and appreciation of their appearance so it’s really important. The quality of the image for example, they’ve never seen anything like it before because it’s usually done on an iPhone so to have professional portraits taken of them, I took around 2,000 - 3,000 so they were really happy. I think it also showed them a side to their life that they might not have known before, visually anyway. Me capturing candid moments that would usually go unnoticed, or what they just see as normal life but for someone else from outside that world it’s really interesting and striking.
How did the Leica CL help capture the project?
It was my first time ever shooting with the CL and I had the Summilux-TL 35 f/1.4 and the Elmarit-TL 18 f/2.8, I usually work with a 50mm only so the 18mm was really interesting, it was able to capture the bigger picture as it were. Just using that wide range to get more into the story telling aspect and not just doing intimate portraits all the time so that was a real new challenge but I loved it. The CL in itself just really surprised me because of its size and it’s a lot smaller than these bigger and larger SLR cameras. To see the quality that came out of it was really amazing but also the fact that I was able to be hidden in the room at times or if I’m in the car and they’re arguing, I was able to observe in the background and not have this massive kit that was going to keep making people aware of me. It’s a very silent camera so it made me agile and able to get in and out and observe certain situations without being too noticed, I loved it.
People that know your photography associate it with a strong portraiture edge, I just wondered how that 50mm lens helped with that?
It was beautiful, I don’t usually shoot with digital either so this was the first time in a long time. With the 50mm lens I managed to capture some of the best portraits I’ve taken to this day, specifically the one of the younger son Charlie with his top off flexing.
What’s next for Joshua Osborne?
Right now, I’m just trying to balance commercial and personal work, I took a month off to do this project and maybe two months in total with all the prep and after pieces, right now my main motive is to keep building the commercial work, this project has already got me quite a lot of attention.
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