Richard Armitage: Two pictures, two fantasies. Fantasy 1

This is an attempt at something I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since I read this post in December 2011 and had a visceral reaction I couldn’t explain. Frenz removed one picture from her original post, but the basic features of my reaction still hold, I think. I couldn’t write about it back then out of a combination of emotional overwhelmedness, other things going on, and of course the premiere of The Hobbit trailer (December 2011 was a big month in Armitageworld), but maybe I’ll try it now.

Caveat: this musing intends only to describe my reaction(s) to these photos. Your mileage may vary and I stress that you are entitled to your own reaction(s).

[The other matter is that I usually don’t post candid or personal photos here that I don’t have rights to, although I respect the rights of other bloggers to do as they see best. (Explaining why I usually don’t and link instead would involve a lot of words that probably no one wants to read, and I have not been entirely consistent in self-enforcement of this rule, either, but I’ll say that I’m making an exception this time because I’m writing about what the images mean to me (as opposed to just referring to them) and because I think potentially the post is not easily comprehensible without them, and pictures or videos I’ve simply linked to before have been removed from their original locations. If you own either image and wish the picture removed, don’t hesitate to contact me via the form at right.]




The photo above was posted by Andrew Whiteoak on Twitter with the caption: “found an old Polaroid of Richard Armitage looking very youthful.”

Andrew Whiteoak is a wigmaker and makeup and prosthetic artist of nineteen years experience who has worked extensively with the Birmingham Rep. He lists his productions here, and refers to both productions there that we associate Armitage with: Hamlet (1998) and The Four Alice Bakers (1999), so this picture may date from that period. (Whiteoak also lists involvement on Frozen (1998), but I’m concluding that this production was something other than the 2005 film with Armitage in a supporting role, both because according to the film credits, the script for Frozen was workshopped after that, Whiteoak’s name does not appear in those credits, and also because does not list Whiteoak on its roster of Frozen crew [although Whiteoak admittedly does not appear to have an imdb entry].)

The picture itself is fairly consistent with Armitage’s appearance as “smug man” in This Year’s Love (released in 1999), so it’s plausible to associate it with the period immediately after Armitage left LAMDA.

This Year_s Love00017At right: Richard Armitage in This Year’s Love. Source: Richard Armitage Central Main Gallery.


BIKuY8OCEAAEpK9.jpg_largeBeyond offering that relatively uncontroversial historical contextualizing information, it’s not my intent to say anything much about Richard Armitage’s mood itself in the photo. I don’t think we can. We don’t know all that much about what the original purpose of the photo was. Polaroids were typically used to take photos for immediate use in some context, where the quality of the image was less important than having the rough image of what it reproduced quickly. (I remember a college professor of mine taking Polaroids of us on the first day, as he said, in order to work on learning our names. Now a computer program gives me the same information, based on student ID pictures.) Given its origin it might have been used to capture an image of Armitage that could be used for initial makeup / costuming planning. Polaroids were also “fun” images — people took them to be spontaneous or to remember particular moments and have the photos to share immediately. So it could have been made by someone who was a friend or becoming one to capture a funny or memorable moment. Or, or, or, or.

Additionally, we don’t know all that much about what Richard Armitage was like as a person at the time. What someone elsewhere called Armitage’s “Mona Lisa expression” here makes it really hard to say much about that, as does his reserve, which is the main vibe I derive from this photo. One person’s shy is another person’s aloof, and as so often, he seems shielded or enigmatic here. This expression could be one of confidence, arrogance, fatigue, happiness, amusement, triumph … there are a lot of ways to read this particular frame, if I’m trying to learn something about Richard Armitage, a lot of ways I could (mis)interpret, based on my needs.

But yeah. Ahem. Wow.

I had the same reaction I had as when I saw the candid picture of Richard Armitage from the era of 42nd Street (ca. 1990-1): as if I had been kicked in the stomach. That feeling was hard to take — it reproduced way too exactly my reactions from the beginning of Armitagemania — and when I had it, as I have several times over the years, I thought to myself, “You can’t take this. You have to get off Armitage. You have to stop blogging.”

Now, for those who weren’t around yet (I can’t believe I’m writing stuff like that now), December 2011 was a big month in Armitageworld. And for me: on the day I saw that photo, I had just drive a very long distance, for the Chanukkah / Christmas conjuncture, and switched frames from work to home. But in Armitageworld, the appearance of those pictures occurred shortly after Jonia broke the photos from Use Me as Your Cardigan (2002), so more youngish Armitage, which also had hit me very hard for several days. And just a little after this, we were to see the first trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and #richardarmitage trended on Twitter for the first time.

The picture above hit me just as hard this week. And while I didn’t think, “I’ve got to stop this” this week (I think I’ve finally resolved that question in my mind — though my emotions move at such a glacial pace that it took years), I had the same reaction.

This photo joins a sequence of data for me, beginning with the 1990-91 photo, with the dorktastic dance video, to which my reaction was also immediate and highly emotional, and the apparent glimpses of him in the Sarah Brightman “Captain Nemo” vid and in the Cats rehearsal vids. Young Armitage. Returned from Budapest with Equity card, slogging it out over his first professional steps in London. Jubilant and joking with excited friends and coworkers after a presentation. Being silly in low stakes situations, concentrating and working hard in high stakes ones. Happy at a party, face flushed as if he’s had just a drink and is cheerily muzzy on New Year’s Eve. Getting more serious, realizing he needs drama school to get better roles. Soberly saving money for that, auditioning, getting in, honing his skills.

Then this photo. Who is he here? Given the considerations above, let’s make Richard Armitage 27 or 28 in this photo. I want to think — this is Richard Armitage upon finishing up, looking eagerly for work to get his feet even wetter. Doing whatever he can. Small films, tiny extra role in a big film, stage roles at the Birmingham Rep. Auditioning for Darren Denison. The future looks bright; he’s got solid representation; his reach may occasionally exceed his grasp, but his sober self-estimation and a reserve and a not-always-calculable capacity to audition successfully are balanced out or trumped by the intensity of his daydreams and ambitions and artistic aspirations. In this picture, in my mind, he’s standing backstage or in the hall of an annex, he’s been hired. He thinks he can do it this time. He will concentrate (see pic) and if he just works hard, the small roles he’s getting now will gradually turn into bigger ones. He doesn’t need to preen or posture — he just needs to keep at it, get experience. He’s the man for the job, he can do it. And a year or so later, he’ll join the Royal Shakespeare Company as a beginner.

My emotional addition to those data: Armitage is a basically happy young man, ambitious, but also eager to see the city and taste everything in it after growing up in the provinces, eager to learn, eager to try new things. He loves to dance, he likes to club. He likes the Depeche Mode and The Smiths stuff from his school years, but he’s also eager to dance to the increasingly edgy 90s dance music in London. He loves the euphoria and feels a certain kind of inner adventurousness that frees him from the mundane moments of his life — making his rent, driving a clunker, unpleasant odd jobs — and London is a great canvas against which to do this, as is the provincial stage in Birmingham, or the Edinburgh Fringe. I imagine him rocketing from place to place in his spare time to do a role, not ever quite getting enough sleep but still standing up every morning with the indefatigable vigor of the twenty-something who thinks he’ll always be able to do it — his body and his spirit and his optimism will hold him and it will all work out and somehow it will all be more than enough.

A great fantasy — but what it brings me initially is always visceral feelings of loss of breath, nausea. Why? If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you might be able to guess, since I’ve moved to the position that fandom is really a fantasy of self and so fantasies about the object of the crush reflect shielded moments of self-recognition that we might excavate if we had the courage to look at them closely.

Think for a second about what you were doing at that age (mutatis mutandis — I was 27 two years before Armitage was). I know what I was doing.

Always the studious type, I’d completed a double bachelors in four years, then moved on immediately to graduate school, where I’d submitted a 120 pp. thesis and gotten my MA right on time and taken my comprehensive exams on schedule as well and passed “with distinction.” I’d won my first international fellowship when I was 26, broken up painfully and violently with The Physicist, and moved to Germany, where I met a whole new crowd of people, including ex-SO and the people from the synagogue as well. I was riding a bike every day for the first time since I was eight. I was going without speaking English for entire fortnights or longer, and immersed in the middle of my dissertation research. My Latin was getting better. I was seeing things for the very first time. At 28, the fellowship had been renewed and I was continuing the research and starting to write the dissertation.

I felt like I was alive like I’d never been before with the exception of the time I spent studying in México. Exhilarating years in many ways. I thought on some level: I can have it all. I can be a great academic and a great writer, I can fall in love and marry and have children and work a lot and love and play a lot and my identity struggles will work out okay and I can be a Jew in a Christian family and cook like a gourmet chef and learn seven more languages and read all these hundreds of books that are waiting out there to be read. I can learn to speak German perfectly, so that no one will be able to tell I’m not a native speaker. I can jet back and forth between all these settings and never really lose track of who I am in any of them. I will find a job, the right job, and I will be great at it. My research will always fascinate me. I will always love. And no, I’m not getting enough sleep, but my body will hold up and it will allow me to sustain this level of adventurousness and my energy will never subside and I’ll always be this curious.

What’s uncomfortable about it: the way the pictures remind me, as a woman on the lip of middle age, of all the possibilities that are out there. That are maybe still out there. That I can maybe still remember to believe in. If I can take the risks, if I can recover, even as an older, wiser, sadder person, that late twenty-something joie de vivre that is both enthusiastic and beginning to be mature.

Those years for me were also poor years, painful years, hard years, struggling years. But above all: years of an all-sustaining hope. That’s what I see when I see these pictures, I think. What kicks me in the stomach is the sudden reminder of the longing I feel for that kind of unburdened relationship with the universe and fate.

~ by Servetus on April 21, 2013.

35 Responses to “Richard Armitage: Two pictures, two fantasies. Fantasy 1”

  1. That joie de vivre is still out there – and sometimes it’s inside us, too 🙂

    When i saw that polaroid of Richard, I immediately thought of what I would have looked like then as well – and that whatever picture that would have been taken of me then, it would not have looked even half as good as he does in that one.

    Which reminds me – now I need to remind high school and college friends to stop posting darn pictures of me back in the day on FB…

    But seriously, Servetus, I hope you find what you are looking for. Hugs!


    • I suppose what it says (this has been a theme lately, along with the “leading with the emotions” posts) is that by reclaiming that capacity to hope I also open up the capacity to fail badly again. I’ve been feeling like I couldn’t take another so spectacular crash — but maybe what this reaction says is that I can’t get anywhere without taking that risk.


  2. Oh, yes! *sigh*
    Touching post, (((Servetus)))
    PS: I’m sure that this happy tomcat 😉 from the picture above had a very ambitious plans for the life,


    • Well, I hope he did! I think evidence suggests that he did. But ultimately we’ll never know — and I do like this fantasy.


  3. Myself at 27, a wife and a mom of a 6 year old. No plans just getting by. My husband at this time was not even thinking of going back to school yet, that would take another year to think of that. Add some years and how things have changed most for the good. I now have a plan even if it takes awhile to finish. I am also thinking more about how I have to take care of me, I am not there for my family’s every need, they can work out things for themselves.
    Take Care of yourself and I hope you can find what you need for you.


    • Ditto.

      I admire that you were organized enough to have a baby at 21. I would have been completely overwhelmed.


      • I am not sure if I was organized or not at this age. I had been parenting my parents for awhile by 21 and it was good to have my own son. Now saying that I (we) was still to young, in some ways we gave up a lot. It was not till I had my two younger boys at age 28 and 30 did I realize that 21 was very young to be a mom.
        I don’t know that I would have gone to school at that time, to much negative from high school that I still have to fight now, but I am more willing to fight it and make higher learning a way to better myself. It is the fear of failing that keeps me from trying. I did want to go to collage after high school and in 9th and 10th grade I did have plans, my grandma the wet blanket told me there was no money to go to school. After that it all went down hill.


  4. The prospects are still there, but they may be different, evolving every day. If we are thinking, feeling beings, of course our hopes and dreams are tempered by our experience. Our joys are shaded by knowing the down side, for ourselves and for others, and yet they persist. For me, it was a triumph to be alive at 27. I dreamed of much more, some of which I happened and some of which didn’t. I am still here, still living in hope that I can make a contribution to the plus side of the ledger.

    Wishing you hugs, hope, and the faith that what you want is not beyond possibility.


    • Well put, and thanks. It’s true that my big dream of 27 is now emphatically not on the list of desiderata … I also realize more fully how hard it can be to identify and maintain even a small, personal dream, of course.

      We live in hope — I’m sure you’re going to make your contribution as well.


  5. Servetus – I am happy to see you benchmarking and looking back to recall the voice of the greatest guide you may ever have – your own inner voice.

    At 25, I was in and out of hospitals as my immune system failed (via mental breakdown) while adjusting myself to the notion of ‘assisted breathing’ medical intervention for the foreseeable future. These were not good years for me.

    For some reason during this time – I recalled a quote I’d heard in passing many years earlier (attributed to David Geffen) which goes “There’s your plan, and then there’s God’s plan, and your plan doesn’t count.” 😉

    I have no idea why, but this quote gave me a great sense of relief and peace in understanding how much control I ever had in my own life and destiny.

    You are uncovering all these pieces again, and what a wonderful journey to remember and recall. Seeing them again for what they were then and what they are to you now.

    I am looking forward to the next installment!


  6. on this topic: also this:


  7. Oh Serv! … I am slightly at a loss of words here. You have captured something in your post that I feel every day. The loss of my youth. Which is one reason why I do not like to be reminded of other people’s youth, even if the people in question are the same vintage as myself and basically and probably suffer the same nostalgia. I can’t tell you how much and how thoroughly I agree with you in your sentiments. And I also would like to say that I think you have interpreted Armitage in his younger years beautifully and believably. Whether it is all as you/we surmise, we will never know, but it would be nice if it was.
    Also this: “Fandom is really a fantasy of self and so fantasies about the object of the crush reflect shielded moments of self-recognition that we might excavate if we had the courage to look at them closely.” I love you for putting this into words. Yes, yes, YES. Armitage as mirror. That is a suitably cerebral explanation of this phase in my life that manifests itself in something that looks like fangirling but is introspection in the shape of external inspection. You’ve given me lots of food for thought here. Thank you. Oh, and I hope that your own path takes you further to conclusion through this, too.


    • I think one of the effects of these photos is that they carry enough dopamine delivery with them to help me weather the shock of feelings that are potentially unpleasant. Because it’s not that I either squee or shy away from photos like this — of course I’m curious, so I click, and I see the picture, and I get the rush of pleasant feelings — and then I get the kick in the stomach.

      There are a lot of pictures of me from this period (relatively speaking — like probably a dozen as opposed to none) but I don’t think i could look at them right now.


      • It is definitely a love/hate thing. Certainly LOVE seeing the RA image – but rather HATE being reminded of own ageing. And still, I even do that on my own pics – I am nostalgic that way, continually “hindsighting” my own images from the past. Only to get sentimental and sad. Doesn’t get easier just because you do it often, so I think your approach probably works better. Vogel-Strauß-Methode…


        • the key is to prevent pictures of one being taken 🙂 although I probably shouldn’t be saying that to a photographer.


          • No, the key is to find your own “Schokoladeseite” – the way you find yourself looking best in photographs – and then to always position yourself like that in all photographs, whether professional or candid. It may mean experimenting with your own camera on automatic release to identify the most flattering pose and perspective, but once you have that sussed, that can be *your* way of controlling a photograph. (Btw, I totally do that. I find myself notoriously unphotogenic – hence I work *behind* the camera – but that is my way of minimising damage!)


            • I think the issue for me at those moments is that I don’t like myself period, so I want to erase evidence of it from the historical record in advance. There’s no “good side” in that context. Photo ops bring that fundamental problem right straight to the surface. It doesn’t mean I’m never plagued by the sense that I’ve lost some more hopeful past — it just means that it’s not photos of me that accomplish that task 🙂

              It’s interesting to me — there’s a sort of meme going around called “get in the picture” that is supposed to address the issue of thinking you don’t look good enough or thin enough to be in the pic — to me that sort of misses the point very slightly, or maybe it’s that it reverses the causality?



              • Thanks for that link, Serv – that was a really interesting read. I relate very much to that – as a mother. The situation is exacerbated in my case by the fact that I *am* the photographer (of the family) who *always* controls the camera. Mr Guylty does not have a camera. Consequently I am *never* in the frame. I am very conscious of that – and not particularly pleased, despite my vanity.
                Anyhow, but your issue is another. Because the “missing moms” are, I find, more of a vanity thing than a general mental abhorrence of photographic evidence of one’s self. Given the chance, most of us weak and vain people, would avail of a professional make-over and hand ourselves over into the capable hands of a pro photographer who will make us look gorgeous (they really can, I promise). Your dislike seems to me to be less motivated by vanity but by something else.
                There is no real solution to that. Personally, I sympathise with you, and I think I understand. I have made my own peace with the problem, for various reasons. It has helped me to think of photographs as documentary. I may not like how I am represented, but it is me at a given point in time. I console myself with the fact that *all* humans look better in RL. Alive, moving, active. That’s the *real* me. Myself in a picture is a “persona that looks like me”. Working behind the camera has also helped me – I can see how uncomfortable other people are. I am not alone. And I have also found out that there is nothing more annoying than someone who is making a fuss about not wanting to be in a picture – and thus drawing even more attention to themselves. Defeating the purpose. While it is everybody’s personal right to refuse being in the frame, the gracious thing to do is to slink out quietly. Or to play along and accept possible unsavoury outcomes simple with resigned, enlightened dignity. “Grin and bear it”. No silly tantrums like the recent Beyoncé reaction of banning pro photographers from her concerts and controlling (censoring???) all official photography.
                Again, I think I am missing your point. There is no proper advice or argument to convince you to embrace photography. It could be a phase. It may right itself once you feel balanced in your own self. It may take the right photographer at the right time to wreak his/her magic.


                • yeah, I don’t fuss to stay out of pictures I can’t avoid — that would be rude and call attention to the problem. If other people insist on documenting me, I get it over with as quickly as possible. (Graduation pix of students being one good example — and they’re tolerable because I almost never see them. My image serves a need for someone else but I’m not confronted with it.) I just try to stay out of situations where I know there’ll be pictures or I make sure I am in the bathroom at the time 🙂 The phase began sometime while I was living in Germany. 1997 or so. (shrugs). Ex-SO was always photographing, that might have had something to do with it …


                  • Come to think of it – your last sentence might be the point. You may have been turned off by an over-exposure to photography (pardon the pun). Plus subsequent break-up. My SO displays similar symptoms, and your statement has just brought home to me that I may be bullying him with my constant documenting and photographing for which he hasn’t even been asked for permission. Rather thoughtless and selfish of me. Hm. Like a personal paparrazza. Yuk.


                    • Hmmm. Didn’t mean to make you question yourself there. !!


                    • Haha, no, that is fine. Only child like me needs a bit of food for thought every once in a while 🙂 It is useful for me to understand people’s reaction to photographers and photography, too.


                    • FWIW, I also felt like Germany was extraordinarily photo-friendly. The Germans I’ve known seemed much happier to be photographed (and look at photos afterwards, even in the days when they still had to be developed) than most Americans I’ve known. But that’s just my anecdotal impression.


  8. Servetus, thanks for bringing this up. This is brilliant! ….and it hurts…
    I love what you read into this never before seen picture of a rather youngish RA. For me it first and foremost implies the rare moment of catching a glimpse of something more private, a moment that took place long before we became aware of him and is now long gone. It is the short elation of maybe having the chance to discover something new, of getting a little closer to him, or of to somehow look behind/inside the conundrum and mystery Richard Armitage represents for us. Just the short flash of grabbing the opportunity to purportedly approximate our beloved „projection surface“, to reveal it and to possibly hold fast on it. This excites. …and yet it’s not working satisfactorily. I love euphoria and know exactly how it feels.
    Like you pointed out, at the same time I’m confronted with my own history, my own neglect of doing certain things and the continuous falling over the same questions and the non-existing answers. Still feeling lively, but admittedly too afraid for taking any bigger steps……
    For us older ones (add a couple of years to the ones you’ve accumulated, Serv! 😉 ) I would say, it always automatically comes with a bit of a sad feeling and melancholy (Hi Guylty! Du Jungspund!!), about where all our wishes had gone and whereto all our dreams had vanished (getting kicked in the stomach), as you so aptly describe it Serv, At the age of 27/28 I haven’t had a fixed plan for my life or the longing for a career and I actually haven’t thought much about the future. I wasn’t as determined to learn as you were, while I was working in a stressful job and was leading a rather stressful relationship!!
    BTW you are quite right, we used Polaroid cameras a lot in the theatre in the 80’s and 90’s for the make-up and costume department.


    • yes, that feeling of getting to discover something new is really strong — and that’s what makes me so eager to click on these things, I mean, it’s not like I try to avoid them. In this particular case, the photo either leaves the conundrum in place, or enhances it, because he looks pretty well-defended here. I didn’t mention the crossed arms, but of course that adds to the impression (even if in his case it seems partially that he often doesn’t know exactly what to do with his arms and this is one way to place them, so that I’m not convinced that when he shows this body language he is naturally intending everything it typically implies).

      I’m always telling my students (who have been told by their parents to study as quickly as possible and get out and start earning money — a dynamic exacerbated in this institution, where most parents did not attend college) that they will never have their twenties back and so they should not be all work and no play, or if they are all work, it should be for something they really believe in … For awhile in the 2000s when international airfares were cheap and there was a student travel office on our campus I used to tell them every Monday what the cheapest fare for a week to an international destination was. I don’t think many listen but I try to tell people …


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  12. […] Immediately after that you write two fantasies based on photos of Richard Armitage that refer to your youth and feelings of being carefree, and to pressures on the self for cleanliness and order that in turn link to other fantasies about […]


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  14. […] middle-aged, I find, at least so far. I’d never seek the powerlessness of childhood again. Sometimes I think it might be fun to be twenty-five or twenty-seven again, insofar as I would feel l…, but looking back, I realize equally how unrealistic my picture of life was. I was more frivolous […]


  15. […] Richard Armitage, while at the Birmingham Rep, photo tweeted by Andrew Whiteoak, April 18, 2013. More information about the context of this photo is here. […]


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