The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Dr Stuart Clark as Isaac Newton

Last week I watched a programme on BBC2 called "Isaac Newton: The Last Magician" (available on BBC iPlayer for another couple of days), and one of the contributors was Dr Stuart Clark, who wrote the historical novel about Newton, The Sensorium of God.

I met Stuart at last year’s Wigtown Book Festival when I was photographing different writers as part of the "Authors as Characters" project, and Newton was his choice.

I managed to piece together the costume from various sources, but the biggest stumbling block was trying to find a wig. In many of the portraits of Newton, he’s wearing a huge great curly thing on his head. But try as I might, I couldn’t seem to get hold of one. Pantomime wigs are easy enough to come by, but they are invariably Georgian in style – which is nearly a century too recent – and look entirely different.

However, just as I was beginning to despair, I found some other portraits of Newton from when he was a bit younger where he seems to have natural, shoulder-length hair, not entirely dissimilar to Stuart’s, so I felt comfortable in abandoning the search.

Stuart brought an apple with him, as the story of one falling from a tree and inspiring Newton's Theory of Gravity is probably one of the most famous stories about him, even if it is based more in myth than truth.

So in between rain showers, we went out into the garden of Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop to do the photo shoot.


Jacket and waistcoat provided by Erwin Van 't Hoff
Shirt provided by Lochside Theatre, Castle Douglas

Scarf provided by Maggie Ayres
Apple provided by Dr Stuart Clark

In a rare departure from my usual style, I felt it worked better if he stared at the apple rather than into the camera...

14 comments

Kateri Von Steal said...

What a great pic! I agree with your choice to not go with the wig. In my mind Issac Newton would have been perplexed by the need for one of those!

I could also (in my head) see a shot of him sitting underneath a tree, with him out of focus, but the focus on the apple... with him staring at it from behind. (I know you probably don't see what I see... hard to explain in words.)

Kim Ayres said...

Kateri - I can picture it quite clearly :)

Sitting under a tree wasn't really an option because we were between showers and everything was very wet. However, I did try various shots where the apple was in focus and he wasn't, and the other way round, but in the end this one seemed to work better.

Eryl said...

I can't say I wouldn't have like to see him in a huge curly wig, but I like the photo very much.

eletheia said...

Samuel Pepys, according to his diary, was already wearing a periwig in 1665 - at the age of 33! However, I agree that Isaac Newton would have been a bit young (age 24) - and poor - for such fashion in 1666.

hope said...

With this one, I truly feel as if I've stepped back in time.

rosneath said...

the apple (if it fell on his head) wouldn't have made such an impact through a wig ... anyway the Kneller portrait of 1689 suggests his hair was au naturel at the age of 46!
Your photo is a perfect reconstruction!

Theanne said...

you have such a wonderfully keen photo eye...it's perfect that he's looking at the apple...truth or myth or somewhere in between...everything fits in your shot!!!

allencapoferri said...

He looks great the way he is. Great photograph!

Claire B Tilley said...

Brilliant composition... love the way the red draws your eye up through the photo.

Pat said...

What a fascinating face.
Sad eyes reminiscent of Mischa Auer. Must check spelling.

Pat said...

Gee I spelt it correctly!

Kim Ayres said...

Eryl - curly wig would have been fun, but I'm relieved it worked without one :)

Eletheia - never having been particularly fashion conscious, I'm sure if I'd been around at the time I'd have been made a wig faux pas...

Hope - it's 1967 all over again ;)

Roseneath - a wig-crash helmet combination! :)

Theanne - thank you :)

Allen - thank you :)

Claire - thank you :)

Pat - I had to look him up, but I see what you mean :)

Guyana-Gyal said...

I read this when it was just posted, and I thought I'd left a comment. It's the bit about the wig that fascinated me, I'd never thought that the wigs from olden days would have styles and would be dated. To my uneducated eyes, they all looked the same - big and curly.

Would you believe...when I was a child, I imagined that Isaac Newton looked like Dr. Clark.

Kim Ayres said...

Guyana-Gyal - so often we don't realise about significant differences until we are forced to investigate more deeply.

Many years back I did some stone carving. I knew there were different kinds of rock - granite, slate etc - and that sandstone was softer and easier to carve. But it was only when I started collecting bits of rock to carve did I find that sandstone was incredibly varied - in colour, in densitiy, in size of grain. Some would crumble and some would blunt the chisel. But until I started to physically try and manipulate it I had no idea of the amount of variation existed :)

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