Figure 1 Frank Soo by Allan O’Neill February 2017
Description of photographic submission
This is a constructed photographic image that re-imagines the life of Frank Soo and contributes to a growing movement that intends to give him recognition as a major sporting role model to the British born Chinese community.
Background to subject
Frank Soo was a true pioneer of English football representing England 9 times between 1942-1945 and playing 326 club games between 1933-1950 of which 173 were for top-flight club Stoke City where he was made club captain in 1938. Frank also served in the Royal Air Force in the Second World War and captained the RAF football team during this period.
Born in Derbyshire in 1914 Frank had a English mother and Chinese father and is still the only British Chinese footballer ever to represent England.
Football writer Susan Gardiner recently wrote about this extraordinary man in the book The Story of Frank Soo (2016); Gardiner says, “Frank Soo is in many ways the forgotten man of 20th century football. In his time he was a household name, his life chronicled by national newspapers in Britain.” (Gardiner, S. 2016)
“Whatever the reasons for Frank Soo’s disappearance from the narrative of football history, this book is an attempt to rekindle interest in a significant figure who was a hugely admired and skilful footballer, a charming and charismatic man, and a role model.” (Gardiner, S. 2016)
On a different level this assignment explores identity, representation and role models within the context of social culture and the experiences of the British Chinese community.
I was born and brought up in Lancashire with a Hong Kong Chinese mother and English father so this story is of significant personal interest as it offers an opportunity to consider some of the factors that would have impacted my own personal identity.
How we can also explore the limits and the role of the photographic image
On a further level we can also consider certain theoretical issues around the photographic medium such as how mainstream social and cultural history effectively obscures or airbrushes certain things – people, events – completely out of our social reality and allows entry only on the terms dictated by conventional norms and thinking.
Through a process of re-imagination we can question previously stated facts and histories as we examine alternative viewpoints that may conflict with or contradict existing narratives.
We can explore whether photographs can ever be objective representations and we, in effect, question the nature of the medium’s authority.
We are encouraged to consider what isn’t included in the photographer’s frame and in turn what history may have chosen to exclude.
So by constructing this image we also explore the veracity of the photographic medium and it’s uneasy relationship with the real or reality.
Artistic inspirations and themes
This is a challenge to the conventional belief in an objective, universal and unequivocal picture of social and cultural reality and history. The following sources provided the specific inspiration for the assignment and relevant research articles have been posted on my learning log as indicated.
(1) S. Gardiner’s book The Wanderer: The story of Frank Soo. Author Susan Gardiner re-animates the scene where Frank Soo represents England for the first time. “Whether these were the proudest moments of Frank Soo’s career as a professional footballer it is impossible to say but they must surely have been among them.” (Gardiner, S. 2016:1) (SEE HERE)
(2) Artist Zoe Leonard and film-maker Cheryl Dunye collaborated to create photographs which provide a narrative chronicling the life of the fictional character Fae Richards, an African-American actress born in the early 20th century through to her old age and involvement in the civil rights movement. Dunye attributes her photographic falsification of a life history to the lack of information recorded in real life.
“The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.” (Cheryl Dunye)
Through the use of photographic and archival conventions Leonard and Dunye successfully borrow from the lives of historical figures to create a believable narrative that explores questions about what is actually left out of history and it’s records. (SEE HERE)
(3) The idea of re-animation originally came to mind when I first saw Trish Morrissey’s Seven Years (2001-2004) and then later again in her Ten People In A Suitcase (2016) where she was responding to an archive of historical photographs recording the lives of people from an industrial town in Finland.
Morrissey says, “In order to create these new photographs, I had to imagine the events that led up to this moment in the character’s lives, and in doing so, felt closer to the town itself. The photographs transcend mere re-enactments, they are embodiments of real individuals who are more than just their snap shot.” (Morrissey, T. 2016) (SEE HERE)
An artistic and visual theme of this submission is this idea that new photographs that can re-animate and inhabit lives and events from the past.
(4) Neil Kenlock who photographed the lives of Black Britons who faced severe racial discrimination whilst living in Brixton during the 1960s and 1970s.
In her book Susan Gardiner says that, “In 1975 Frank told a reporter of the Stoke Sentinel that he believed that there was one reason why he had not been picked more often for England: because of my Chinese blood.” (Gardiner, S. 2016:2)
I reflected on this quotation with Neil Kenlock in mind when he said in an interview for the BBC, “I was trying to capture strength and proudness and that I decided that I would never click the camera unless I see strength in that person’s eyes and body. And if you look at my images you almost know it’s one of mine because the subject is always very sure of themselves.” (SEE HERE)
The construction of the image
Figure 2: The kit
I purchased an old photograph of Frank Soo from Ebay (£3.65) and made a visual space for reflections and to develop a familiarity and personal bond bringing myself closer to Frank’s life.
From the internet, charity and sports shops I developed costume and props and I purchased a vintage style Stoke City shirt, an old style pair of brown leather boots and a brown leather football that were complimented by non-branded plain coloured red and black shorts and socks to complete the 1940s look.
I visited local pitches before settling on a football ground that had an old style white single bar fence surrounding the pitch but with no modern stadium or advertising. This would give the feel of an old-fashioned football training ground.
I persuaded my son to be the model although we had to wait two months for his hair to grow so that we could achieve the brylcreemed short, back and sides hairstyle of the 1940s.
Each aspect of the proposed image was tested through photo shoots assessing each component. I tested the costume and props in a dress rehearsal as a sense check; to make sure that the overall concept would work in the way that I imagined.
Stance, posture, gestures and gaze were all experimented with prior to the final shoot to avoid creative amnesia and to control as many components as was possible. I wanted to portray a character that possessed a self-respect, inner strength and determination but that also carried the sense of a modest and grounded character. With this in mind I wanted to avoid making the subject and image appear too self-indulgent or dramatic.
I also used Kate Peter’s Olympians as a sort of reference point but did n’t want the subject to appear too gladiatorial.
I experimented with different exposures, viewpoints, and depth of field by using different lens and settings before I finalised a selection of 50mm DX lens (effective focal length 75mm), 1/250, f3.2, 100 ISO suitable for portraiture whilst using off camera flash.
Figure 3: Full body shot
The final crop was selected instead of a full body portrait, which I felt was too isolated and ordinary. I wanted to develop a more dynamic, intimate and nuanced portrait that had an intensity and focus around the facial expression, gaze and the red striped shirt.
Surrounding space was required to add to the context but I wanted to avoid isolation from the subject as again I felt that this would create too much emotional distance from the viewer. I decided to opt for an 8×10 aspect as again I just felt it was more successful having also experimented with 1×1, 4×6 aspects.
I practised extensively with off camera flash with an octobox so that I could light the image empathetically and gently lift the subject out from the background without making the scene appear too unnatural. I wanted to avoid over dramatic lighting that would dominate the image and it’s subject. My final consideration around lighting was that I would make the final shoot in overcast conditions to achieve the effects of diffusion.
For post processing I used Adobe Lightroom in manipulating the saturation of the reds and greens to create a sense of the past without resorting to a black and white conversion. By making a colour image I felt that a contemporary feel would be retained.
The challenge was to construct an image that re-imagined a moment from the past but was also a contemporary image. I wanted to recognise and re-imagine the life of the subject whilst leaving a creative, reflective space for the viewer without causing confusion; so that the viewer could ask their own questions and make their own interpretation.
As a final sense check that the project worked I presented the image with supporting notes to the OCA discussion forum and received some very positive feedback all round. The process of receiving critical feedback definitely assisted in forming a deeper understanding and relationship with the image.
There was a very useful debate around the goalposts in the background with opinions offered on both sides of the argument and the dilemma was simply that the image background was potentially cleaner without them. At the same time without them the scene then began to look more like a horse racing course instead of a football pitch and therefore lost relevant information and some of it’s context.
Figure 4: No posts
This I felt would cause the image to lose part of it’s individuality or hint of nuance and therefore it’s intrinsic character would change. Ultimately I decided to include the section of goalposts in the image background as I decided that there was not that much of a critical disturbance to the visual balance and not to lose the information was much more important to the image.
Also one of my peers noticed an awkward hand holding the ball that she felt was an effective way of implying the construction of the image and whilst I completely agreed that this was a great point – I had not planned this.
Frank Soo’s legacy does not match his career achievements as the only ever English Chinese footballer to represent his Country and as such the British Chinese community have been denied what should be an established role model; but recognition for Frank’s life and career has begun to gain some momentum.
Within mainstream social culture many minority groups are denied a balanced representation and at times even the most basic recognition. This process denies the development of positive role models that are essential for the progression and voice of these marginalised groups and this silencing ultimately denies their place in social and cultural history.
Lui Hai Luang wrote for New Statesman ‘Where exactly are my British Chinese role models?’ (2013). By recognising Frank Soo’s life and achievements we confront this process of marginalisation. (SEE HERE)
Through this process of re-imagination we have created an image that questions previously established histories and offers an alternative viewpoint that effectively conflicts and contrasts with existing and accepted narratives.
In this particular case that generally accepted narrative would be that English born Chinese footballers have played no significant part in the National team or indeed in football’s history.
In a nostalgic comparison of football in modern and historical times T Glynne-Jones in the book Football yesterday and today includes only 3 images (in a book of over 200 images) of non-white people to illustrate the English game; the images of Asian or Black players are used primarily to depict football as a game played in Asian, African or South American countries.
Going forward I can see there is huge potential for development around the question of identity and representation and how photography plays a role in the creation of role models, stereotypes and social and cultural history in general and I am very keen to explore this further possibly in different ways.
This assignment focuses on a number of universal themes and it’s relationship with the game of football is almost co-incidental; but with the sport’s huge social and cultural influence and history perhaps there is more to explore within this global phenomenon also.
This has been a hugely important project that has benefitted myself on a personal level as well as in photographic and artistic terms and it has proved to be a fitting end to the excellent Context and Narrative course.
Appiah, K,A.(2016) Reith Lectures/Mistaken Identities: Creed, Country, Color, Culture – lecture 4: Culture. Radio 4 website transcript can be accessed AT:
Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The key concepts. London: Bloomsbury Academic. (pp. 67-86).
Baylis, G. (2016) ‘Hidden People’ In: Source The Photographic Review issue 87 pp. 30-39.
Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now. London: Thames and Hudson. (pp. 18-46).
Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph As Contemporary Art (3rd ed.) London: Thames and Hudson. (pp. 49-79, 81-113)
Gardiner, S (2016) The Wanderer: The Story of Frank Soo. Stowmarket, Suffolk: Electric Blue Publishing.
Frank Soo: The unknown Chinese footballer who represented England Feature by Susan Gardiner for http://www.Weareresonate.com (12/7/16) online AT:
Glynne-Jones, T. (2010) Football yesterday and today. London: Carlton books.
Neil Kenlock (2016) interview for BBC documentary series Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusgosa [online] AT:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04jrbl9/player (accessed 13 January 2017)
Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996) (accessed 5/12/16) At:
Luang, L.H. (2013) ‘Where exactly are my Chinese role models’ New Statesman [online] At:
(Accessed 17 December 2016)
Trish Morrissey artist’s own website can be accessed online AT: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/index.html
Kate Peters Olympians can be seen at the artist’s own website AT:
http://www.katepeters.co.uk/project/olympians/#25 (accessed 7 January 2017)
Tsang, M. (2012) ‘Interview with Lord Wei’ East Meets West: A project celebrating the heritage, identity and aspirations of the British Born Chinese. [online] AT:
(Accessed 8 January 2017)