Katherine Macalister was granted exclusive access to question photographer Simon Annand about his extraordinary work and his yet unfulfilled ambitions. He answers her questions – including which actors turned him down

Look him up on Wikipedia and he’s not even mentioned.

Go to his website, and there is nothing about the man Simon Annand himself. But go to his portfolio and it spilleth over with the biggest showbiz names on the planet.

Which is presumably why Simon, right, is such a magical photographer, being anonymous and unassuming enough to blend into all surroundings, enabling him to capture the world’s greatest stars and thespians as honestly as possible before they step on stage.

They are featured in an astonishing exhibition coming to the North Wall this week entitled: The Half.

‘The Half’ is the call actors get 35 minutes before the curtain goes up, and over the past 30 years Simon has had unlimited access to the greats, including (and take a deep breath because it’s a helluva list) Martin Sheen, Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Craig, Daniel Radcliffe, Colin Firth, David Tennant, Jeremy Irons , David Schwimmer...and so on.

The results speak for themselves, as evocative and self-explantary as photographs should be. But if they aren’t, here’s our question-and-answer session with him:

How did you achieve such unlimited access? Slowly. Trust – knowing the rhythms of the theatre, respect for their space. Always asking the actor, not the agent.

Did anyone object, or was it A case of your reputation preceding you? Reputation. Over 25 years, only three said no: Albert Finney wanted to be paid £500. No-one is paid, even me. Alec Guinness wanted privacy. Paul Scofield was too tired.

Was it obvious to everyone who knew you that you’d become a photographer? I was a gardener before taking photos. My first exhibition was 1982, and my first paid job was in 1987. What do you look for in your subjects to take a perfect shot? The relationship they have with themselves (rather than with the camera or ‘being an actor’). I try to be open and not dominate the person with any pre-researched ideas.

How critical are you of your own work? I allow a long time before assessing the material so as not to confuse the quality of the images with the subjective experience of taking the photos. With each session it becomes more of a challenge to add to the narrative of The Half. I hope I am critical enough to allow the material to keep on growing.

What’s it like wandering around a gallery with the past 30 years of your work on display? Satisfying if it has been hung well and the photos create different layers of meaning next to each other. It is a body of work which relies on my own choices and casting so there are no compromises. When you are taking pictures, do you forget about the end result? I take the images which please me and hope this has resonance for others, particularly other actors. In my mind all the actors are just men and women, even if they are well known.

Do you prefer to remain anonymous, and has this helped you with your ability to slip in and out of these people’s lives? My photographic style is to have no style so the viewer looks at the subject of the image. There’s no need or desire to be anonymous.

You don’t give much away about yourself on your website or elsewhere. So a bit about yourself please  . I’m 57, born in Crowthorne, started taking photos at 28 – first paid job was for Jonathan Miller at the Old Vic. Now live in Newington Green with four parrots, two micro-pigs, three dogs and a garden.

Is there anyone you didn’t do justice to and who do you still want to photograph? I’d love to shoot Bob Dylan, the Manchester United football team backstage, a Prime Minister in the first year of office. Nearly messed up Charlotte Rampling shoot, but the photos show her vulnerable side.

Do you ever allow yourself a pat On the back? No, except when the person was a pain to be with and I managed to remain sweet.

  • The Half: Photographs of Actors Preparing For The Stage by Simon Annand opens at The North Wall on Wednesday, September 5, for a month.
  • Call 01865 319450 or go to www.thenorthwall.com