From the moment Mark Tedeschi captured his first shot at the age of 12, he was besotted. In his latest exhibition, Onside with the NRL, Tedeschi breaks down the stereotype that Australia’s league stars are all built from the same conventional mould. The series of portraits sidelines 20 prominent players, turning the spotlight on the men beneath the jerseys, and their ambitions off the field. Time Out scored a chat with the acclaimed photographer.
Is this the project of a diehard football fan?
The football world was totally foreign to me, my last contact with football was when I was at school, and I was in the reserves for the under-13s team. I was surprised at how easy it was to get along with the players. A lot of them have a great sense of community involvement, are contributing to charities and being ambassadors for this, and ambassadors for that. A lot of them are really remarkable people.
What then inspired you to work with the NRL?
It goes back to an earlier series that I did called Legal Chameleons. I photographed 20 barristers in their robes, not in a professional capacity, but pursuing their own interests, hobbies, activities, sports – whatever.
What I like doing is capturing people’s real emotions and their real underlying selves. So, when Nicky McWilliam from Eva Breuer Art Gallery suggested we approach the NRL, I said that I was happy to take some portraits of the players, not on field, not in the locker room, not in the shower with ducks, but doing their own thing.
Knowing nothing about the code and the players, did it turn out as you expected?
What I find is that you have to have a certain acceptance, that the day will take hold of you, and take you in directions that you never expected. When I photographed Frank Puletua, who is a curator at the Casula Powerhouse, I had planned to take him in his uniform, in front of an exhibition that he had curated. When I got there, he didn’t have his outfit, and the place was completely empty, not a single piece of art on the walls. We came in to a room where children do artwork. Frank just fitted in to this room as though he was a part of it. I got home and realised, that leaning up against the wall in this room was a completely blank canvas, and I thought that’s where I will put him.
What is the secret behind your candid shots?
Chutzpah! It basically means having a thick hide, or balls, and it means you are prepared to get in there and embarrass yourself if need be, and you don’t care. If you want to take a really good photo of someone you have to get in close. I have been invited to photograph artists functions, not just because I get really good results technically, but because I will stand in front of people whilst they are engaged in conversation, and I don’t care if they find me annoying, or boring, or invasive.
Is there still the same feeling of elation when you capture a shot as when you were 12?
It’s different, there is a build up of tension, because you see something that you want to capture, you know it’s not going to be there for long, you know that you might lose it. I sometimes have a feeling almost of grief, or loss if something escapes me.
You have achieved success in your professional role as a QC. Did you set out to be a successful photographer?
When I first started doing it seriously, I didn’t really have any aim to be successful in the conventional sense of selling, or exhibiting my work. Come 2005 when I went to Italy, I can remember the moment when I was in the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican, it was choc a block full of gob smacked people. I wasn’t snapping away at the room, I was snapping away at the people’s incredible looks of awe, and surprise, and different emotions. I decided then and there that I wanted to capture as many emotions as possible, and I want to exhibit them. I want to exhibit these, and I want to exhibit more. It wasn’t a decision I made at the beginning it just evolved.