Back in 2006 I was contacted by young female arts student who had come up with a novel project for her photography degree which involved darts. I provided her with some people who I knew would be able to help and was then pleased to tell her story to readers of Darts World…
SMILE PLEASE LADIES – GAME ON!
Jenny Parrott, a 21 year-old student from Gosport, Hampshire has a passion for photography. She is currently studying at The Arts Institute in Bournemouth on a two-year Foundation Degree in Commercial Photography. According to Jenny the Institute has an excellent reputation which is why she chose to move there and pursue her academic studies; studies that led her to the world of ladies darts. Jenny told me, “The course is focused around self-led projects, and is very much open to each individual. I have always pursued in my photography subjects that do not necessarily conform to society’s expectations.” Not surprisingly then, after some thought and deliberations, Jenny chose women’s’ darts as her subject because, she told me,
“It seemed a curious culture and provided an opportunity to consider contemporary culture from a number of interesting perspectives. Elements such as gender identity, class and stereotypes were considered when undertaking the project. I am interested in those who do not ‘fit’ within conventional social boundaries.” Women darts players certainly do not fit within a common social culture because darts is traditionally a masculine sport, closely associated with masculine pub culture and the notion of the competitive male. Jenny remarked that
“The stereotypical images of a professional male darts player include large quantities of beer drinking, resulting in ‘beer-bellies’, cigarette smoking, aggression, and there are even certain hairstyles and clothing which may be associated with him. It was interesting that this stereotype then appeared to be extended to the female equivalent, yet there is very little coverage of women darts players to prove this. I wanted to pursue this through my photography.”
Jenny contacted Frank Branscombe (Hampshire) and Claire Spencer (Dorset) and it was thanks to them that Jenny met various teams and individuals. The timing for the photo shoot (April/May) meant that a good number of end-of-season competitions and tournaments were being held. Jenny said “I went to a number of local competitions in social clubs in and around the Bournemouth and Portsmouth areas and was also lucky enough to go to a county game, Dorset v Cornwall, at the Trinity Club, Dorchester.
”Also a friend happened to know former ladies’ darts champion Jane Kempster. “I felt extremely fortunate to meet Jane” said Jenny, “and was pleased to feature her image in the series that comprised my final project.”
Of the actual photo shoot Jenny said, “Its purpose was either to prove or disprove the preconceived idea of the female darts player and to produce intimate and honest images. In all of my work, I aim to portray a sensitive side to the subject and present the idea that we all share common attributes. My final images show certain emotion, for example pride, insecurity, passion, which we all share. I want people to be able to relate to the images on a personal level.” Jenny photographed intimate portraits, action shots and the fly-on-the-wall type images. “I thought these three elements allowed room to illustrate the kind of women who play darts, how this play is then carried out and also really delve deeper into the notion of pub culture and class.”
Jenny went into the project with no pre-conceived ideas. She told me, “That’s what made it so exciting. I was aware of the preconceptions people have, but I am careful never to be too influenced by these. Not knowing any ladies darts players personally, I had no idea what they might be like but they were all very friendly and I was received by them very well. They turned out in the majority not to conform to that preconceived idea.” Jenny added, “Most of the ladies were really friendly, and had no problem with me photographing them. I couldn’t believe how open and happy they were to have me there. Some even found the idea of my project hilarious! I found that whilst the women did not conform to the male stereotype, they did certainly belong to a strong darting sub-culture. They take their games very seriously, even in small local teams, and there is a great deal of passion for the team and the game.” In addition Jenny found the whole culture of darts and the pub very interesting and consistent, the way the teams interacted ‘generally competitively’, the half-time pub food ‘very consistent’ and that there was ‘much beer drinking.’
The project also made Jenny appreciate the skills involved in the sport, Jenny commenting “It’s a very difficult sport indeed, no matter how easy they make it look!” With her project completed, by the time you read this article, Jenny will have graduated and, after the summer break, will be looking forward to one more year of study as she begins her BA (Hons) in Commercial Photography at The Arts Institute this coming September. She then intends eventually to move to London to work initially as a photographer’s assistant and then as a freelance photographer continuing to shoot documentary essays looking at unusual and unconventional people. It is encouraging to see that darts is helping at least one young lady to achieve her personal ambitions and – Who knows? – Jenny might be found in future at the edge of the stage at Lakeside photographing the next Ladies’ World Darts Championship.
© 2006 Patrick Chaplin (Text updated 2012)
All photographs on this page © Jenny Parrott