Portrait Salon

David Severn

David Severn’s portrait ‘Ethan and his Mum’ (below) was selected for Portrait Salon 2013 and is part of a body of work that comprises two commissions by Dance4 and The Renewal Trust to photograph young people in Nottingham who are dancers with differing levels of ability.


Ethan with his Mum after Ethan’s first dance class at The Chase community centre, St Ann’s estate, Nottingham

‘The portrait that was selected for Portrait Salon 13, “Ethan and his Mum”, was shot after Ethan’s first ballet class at The Chase community centre on the St Ann’s estate. Ethan had visibly taken to the dance session and tried with impressive enthusiasm to perfect the positions he’d been taught. I approached Ethan and his Mum as they were leaving the centre and we set up the portrait on their walk home. I wanted to convey Ethan’s zealous spirit, so asked him to connect with the camera and demonstrate some of what he’d learnt. His Mum stood behind, proudly placing her hand on Ethan’s shoulder.’


Savannah, a participant in a series of outreach workshops with Birmingham Royal Ballet, presenting a ballet pose in the St Ann’s area of Nottingham.


Street dancers sat in the stalls of the Theatre Royal, Nottingham.

‘I was keen to make the portraits in various locations within the city such as the street, the community centre or the theatre, reflecting a shared community and sense of place. From young people taking their very first dance class to those with years of experience, these portraits depict a common interest among young people of diverse social backgrounds. Rather than becoming distracted by the artificiality of performance or capturing dramatic movement, these photographs present the quieter, more personal moments of creative expression and reveal the self-actualization of youth.’


Jasmine, a keen ballet dancer, outside the Sycamore community centre on the St. Ann’s estate, Nottingham.


Dancer resting between rehearsals, Nottingham Contemporary.

‘Many of the young people I photographed are from the St Ann’s area of Nottingham, a neighbourhood that is still being affected by the collapse of the local manufacturing industry and scores poorly on government measures of deprivation. During the project, Birmingham Royal Ballet ran outreach workshops at The Chase community centre in St Ann’s. I spent time getting to know the participants’ individual personalities and documenting their discovery of dance. It was striking to witness the level of engagement in the ballet sessions from the young people involved, breaking down stereotyped ideas of the art form being an elitist interest not meant for them. I made several portraits responding to the relationship between the perception of ballet and the built environment of the St Ann’s estate, posing subjects in their newly learnt ballet positions in front of social housing, shopping precincts and the community centre.’


Young people during tuition with Dance4’s Centre for Advanced Training programme


Teenagers warming up before a dance class and looking out over Wellington Circus, Nottingham.

‘The social aspect of dance is also a significant theme in the work, exploring the bond between dancers both during practice and in downtime. The familiar adolescent story of inseparable friendships, budding romances, and evolving identities plays out through the images and touches more broadly on the adventurousness and heightened emotions of young people.’


Sharmell, a street dancer, on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Nottingham


Enok on his scooter before dance class at the Sycamore community centre in St. Ann’s, Nottingham

David Severn is a documentary and editorial photographer based in Nottingham, UK. His work is concerned with working class culture and the places associated with it, both historically and today. He is particularly interested in the relationship between people, work and landscape. His current project explores life within coalfield areas in the British Midlands. David’s photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally including at Renaissance Prize exhibition, Royal Photographic Society International Print Exhibition and Singapore International Photography Festival. He has worked on editorial assignments for numerous publications including FT Weekend Magazine, The Times and MONOCLE. Recently David was selected as a winner of the Magnum Photos “30 under 30” award, an international competition open to documentary photographers under 30 years of age covering social issues.


Twitter: @davidsevern

Instagram: davidsevern

James O Jenkins