One of England’s older tennis clubs has just gotten a very rare treat: a professional photographer has documented it. Ray Spence is a freelance fine art photographer who just shot the Leamington Real Tennis Club. Award-winning and constantly exhibiting, he lectures at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design and is the author of many photography books.
In July 2012 Spence exhibited photographs in Leamington Spa from his LRTC project.
USCTA: When did you first hear about or get involved in tennis?
Ray Spence: I knew of the existence of real tennis for a number of years but had never really taken any interest. My sports were Judo, rugby and squash.
About two years ago, I did some photography for a client on location. The client happened to be a member of the Leamington Real Tennis Club and the location was the club in Leamington Spa. I knew of the existence of the club, but had never been inside or really taken much interest.
USCTA: What were your first impressions of the club, especially the court and the sport it contained?
RS: My first impression was that this was a gentleman’s club which was a bit of an anachronism in the twenty-first century. The court was very impressive and reminded me of playing fives as a boy.
USCTA: Tell me about the project.
RS: For some time I have been photographing the changes in many of the buildings in Leamington Spa. I felt that the Leamington Real Tennis Club was unique and I wanted to document it as it was in 2012, the year of the London Olympics. Fortunately I was able to secure some funding for the project from Birmingham City University where I worked as a lecturer.
I aimed to document as many facets of the club and its members as possible in the six months I had available. It was not meant to be a sport documentary, more a time capsule of a society in 2012.
I expected some reserve from members, but was pleasantly surprised by the cooperation I received, particularly from Kevin Sheldon, the club professional. I was particularly impressed that the sport was played by players of all ages and fitness using the handicap sytem.
The aim was to produce an exhibition and a book, both of which came to fruition. There were some events that I would like to have photographed, but they did not occur within the time frame or when I was available. However I was able to achieve most of my aims. The greatest challenge was to photograph events and people in as natural way as possible and not to be intrusive. Hopefully I was able to do this. So far I have received very favourable feedback from members on the exhibition and book, which is a relief.
USCTA: What was the end result?
RS: I produced thousands of images, about a hundred making it into a book Caught in Time which is available online through Blurb.com.
For more on Ray Spence, see: http://www.rayspence.co.uk/
The hardback book on the Leamington Real Tennis Club is 106 pages long and costs $71.29 (and $7.99 for shipping). See: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3396360