Anna Shilonosova is a documentary photographer and a lens-based artist originally from Russia, currently living in the East End area of London. She has produced a photo book, 'Contact Sport', and will be giving an artist talk and presenting her project on October, 27 2022 in the Lord Nelson pub (1 Manchester road, E14 3BD) at 19:00.
From The Vaults
beginning the project
I spent a season with the Millwall Venus rugby team taking photos of the matches, training sessions and capturing glimpses of the team life off the pitch.
After almost two years of lockdowns, being isolated at home and away from most of my family and friends, I longed for physical contact. Seeing people face to face, interacting with them was a healing and invigorating experience. Therefore, doing a project about a team sport that probably has the most amount of varied physical contact - rugby - seemed an obvious train of thought. Telling a story about a contact sport played by women was another powerful message I wanted to get across.
The way I perceive it, despite the latest efforts and general strive for equality, women's position in sports, especially contact sports, is still not level with men. Among the consequences are less funding, less resources to support and promote women, and sometimes even not taking female teams seriously and downplaying their achievements. I humbly hope that my book may contribute to amplifying the women's presence in sports, especially in rugby.
I never regretted my decision to do this project. Watching those powerful, beautiful humans experience a broad range of emotions; being fierce and ruthless one second, switching to being fragile and caring the other was exactly the contrast I was seeking to capture. I wanted to display it through touch, often opting in for a close-up rather than a wide angle, searching for refrains in the surroundings; capturing quirky and sometimes ironic details of the team's life. I intentionally stepped away from the standard sports reportage photos you would see in newspapers and on sports-related websites.
In exploring the subject of vulnerability, I started with joining a taster session in July 2021, and went home with a heavily bruised leg as an entry point into the contact sport world. Throughout the season I observed the players' attitude to injuries. In their group chat they often bragged about the bruises and cuts they got after a match or a training session. I felt that such a spontaneous, organic way to acknowledge one's fragility and their body's resilience needed to find its way into the book. Chat messages about upcoming after-training pub crawls were another snippet of the team's inner life that caught my attention. Having gotten the team's permission, I added a few screenshots to the physical version of the book.
It so happened that all the matches the team played weren't home matches due to ongoing repair works at their home pitch changing rooms. To display this, I included a map with locations of all the rugby pitches the players had to travel to. For me it's a physical proof of how determined the team was to keep going.
The narrative in the book is open-ended: though the current season is over, the team keeps training for the next one, their inner dynamics ever evolving.
One of the most significant photos from this series is the one with Windsor castle, which is known to be the late Queen's main residence. One of the castle towers is outlined by the goal posts: for me, it's a strong metaphor of female strength, resilience, persistence and buoyancy in the world built by men, for men.
The project is published as an artbook and a set of prints, which will be exhibited at the location where the team spends their time off the pitch together.
about the author
Anna Shilonosova is a documentary photographer and a lens-based artist originally from Russia, currently living in the East End area of London. One of Anna's artistic interests that spiked after the lengthy London lockdowns is exploring physical contact in its many forms. Another area Anna is drawn to is women in sports. Other areas include social and political topics and the way people experience traumatic events, specifically the current war Russia started in Ukraine.
Anna will be giving an artist talk and presenting her project on October, 27. in the Lord Nelson pub (1 Manchester road, E14 3BD) at 19:00.
The event is curated by Anna Nesterenko, a Ukrainian London-based curator, focused on contemporary art and performances.
Half of the profits from the photobook and prints sale will be donated to Vet Crew - a team of exotic animal veterinarians currently living and working in Odesa, Ukraine.
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