4 Sept 2021

five storeys high

This year's group show of my local photography group is literally a step up from my last one. Taking over the front of a five storey police station sounds a pretty subversive exercise but this is being done with their cooperation and the support of a great crowdfunding campaign.

I confess to ambivalent feelings about the project. Initially I was intrigued if this would ever get off the ground (OK, the puns stop here) so getting involved in the fundraising has been a real education. It's understandably seen as a community relations exercise so for me the project has become an opportunity to engage local community groups in their experiences of lockdown and unlock (last one) some of their thoughts using the photographs as a starting point. Photography has become for me more and more a means to an end, the images themselves just one point in the process.

I'm really looking forward to working with people on these and continuing to try and make some sense of our times using photographs. No pressure then.


9 Aug 2021

staycation fever

 A break in Scotland presented me with a opportunity to take some different kind of photographs. no it's not the landscape of glens and waterfalls. You can take the boy of the street but the streets are still...well you get the picture.  Here's a series of snaps from a bedroom window. There's a lockdowny (word?) feel but it was the composition of the view and a sense of time passing that struck me.

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In the back of my mind I'm sure was the wonderful TTP project by Hayahisa Tomiyasu.


4 Jul 2021

countdown to freedom

Approaching the last weeks of the easing of lockdown in England I have to be honest I have mixed emotions. The restrictions and fear people have had to contend with for so long are now coming to an end which is great news. It also means - be definition - the end of my project which I have so enjoyed. It's been both a journey around my neighbourhood but also one where I've had to think hard about the photographs I make, the why and the how.

It's an opportunity make a final visit to the areas of Ealing I've been a regular visitor to over the last seventeen months, From Southall to Acton, Greenford to Pitshanger and all points in between. The motivation to publish the books is still to raise money for Ealing Foodbank but they've also become a great way for me to reflect on these strange times with a humble first rough draft of history  

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Documenting evidence of the effects of lockdown on our daily visual experience has inevitably brought my attention to a range of social trends of city living. The rise of diversity in advertising, in parallel to the use of wartime imagery in lockdown resistance campaigns. How paper and print are still a viable way to communicate messages even with the ubiquity and power of online influence. The evidence of people's front windows and walls to reveal the personalities of their occupiers in very public ways.

Enough. There's work to be done. 


6 Jun 2021

remember this?

I've celebrated my own return to normal this week. Back in the West End with a camera - not a phone - using film - not digital - in black & white - not..well you get the picture.

Iford film canister

It was a poignant moment. Lockdown has really made me consider my practice of street photography. I'm more conscious of the privileges I have to work in the way I do. Ethics are implicit too.

However I confess that feeling, giddiness even, of giving yourself to the moment, going with the flow, getting in the zone, is still as strong as ever.

Is it too late to change my style now? Is muscle memory too dominant? I have to ask why do I still plough this furrow, like a lounge musician still playing the standards, after all these years. My answer has been simple, a little pompous. It's because I have to. But I don't think that cuts it today. My Living Lockdown project has been about using that privilege to give back. Maybe that's the way forward, my own new normal.

 

16 May 2021

season two on catch-up

I feel a little guilty. 

It's not quite ruin porn but I do feel I'm benefiting from the ongoing restrictions on everyday life in London. I feel the way to turn that into something more altruistic is to publish a second Living Lockdown book to raise money for Ealing Foodbank in what's becoming a version of a series of unfortunate events.

Living Lockdown August 2020 - January 2021 Book from Sean McDonnell on Vimeo.


I've picked up the story from the end of my first Living Lockdown book last July and...well I'll let the author speak for himself

So on I run around Ealing, through the slow release of the first lockdown into the tiers of autumn.  

My routes are familiar but the streets are changing.  

Help yourself items on garden walls are rarer now.  

Chairs have been taken inside and the chalk games washed away in the rain.  

Gloves are out of fashion. Masks are all the rage.  

Social distancing is second nature as pavement circles peel and fade.  

Shop windows play with time. Advent calendars on sale before Halloween and late-night Christmas openings that never happened.

But change is coming.

I've followed a similar selection and editing process to last time, as you can see in my collection of albums on Flickr. I think the sense of fatigue that we speak about comes through with moments of despair and humour. Very wartime.

Buy now and donate.

 

25 Apr 2021

portraits in their place

"How does one inject oneself momentarily into someone's life and come away with something that resonates with some real aspect of the individual?"                           Dawoud Bey 

I've recently had the privilege of experiencing a new work by Dawoud Bey called Street Portraits. It's a collection of powerful photographs of African American individuals and couples largely from the streets of Brooklyn and Rochester made between 1989 and 1991. I use the word powerful carefully as he also describes his work as about 'not only the picture making part but there was very clearly the social part'. His portraits give a sense of agency, respect and yes power to the people photographed. I have a real sense of a collaboration, understanding and empathy between them and the photographer through their eyes, gestures and poses. 

Dawoud Bey Street Portraits book cover

For me this makes the images incredibly uplifting. It's more than the composition of the photographs and their reproduction, which are both magnificent, but they really speak to me if I can use such a contrived phrase. The titles of the images are at the back of the book so all the viewer has to work with on initial viewing is the pure photograph. Granted I still acknowledge the social and political context in a very simplistic way and having spent a short but significant part of my life in New York at this time there's a further, tenuous chord they strike.

Coincidentally I've been enjoying a series of online talks and discussions courtesy of Paul Halliday from a range of photographers including Bas Losekoot discussing his recent book Out of Place. I love the way the images have been brought literally off the page using different size pages to overlap each other and simulate the chaos and serendipity of the street. The insertion of improvised film scripts as a commentary on the photographs as stills is another neat angle.  

. Bas Losekoot Out of Place book cover

However for me the making of the images was a throwback to a way of working which I admire but find it harder to reconcile. Dropping into a society for a short period of time and finding ways to depict it, to give it meaning, can lend itself to decisions on subject and composition that make for interesting images but are open to question on representation of those cultures. It made me think of work by Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Alex Majoli which I enjoy but now find wanting...

I'm certainly not one to throw stones as it's a style of working I've been privileged to follow for a number of years The motivation behind my last book New Europe 2015-19 was to find a way of giving more social context to my photographs beyond the pure aesthetic of street life from different cities. I still have lots to do and I accept the limitations of this kind of photography. Street portraits used to be an oxymoron for me but Dawoud Bey's work is inspirational.

 

 

30 Mar 2021

augmenting realities

Little did I know my last gallery experience pre-Lockdown was a portent of things to come. The Deutsche Börse show in 2020 featured the work of Mohamed Bourouissa and my review included a piece of augmented reality that transposed itself into the space. Now 12 months on that at-a-distance experience is all we have by way of a gallery going event. This year's Format Festival was virtual and the gallery dedicated to the to the pandemic was is a particularly poignant site-specific setting for the work. 

Format Festival gallery screenshot

I joined a tour where some of the photographers spoke about their work as we were guided by a hidden, dextrous hand around the space. The selection was really interesting. I had an immediate response to Chris Hoare's Street Cleaners in Bristol. The images play on their hi-viz appearance but the low visibility of their appreciation. It's a well made point. Ironically when I see a street cleaner my heart sinks as I feel they've just swept away a moment of detritus, a piece of history of our times. Whether it's another Deliveroo receipt or a broken Corona bottle, they're all potential representations of the mundane that in future we'll look at with different eyes.

It was great to see Jaskirt Boora's Birmingham Lockdown Stories featured having found her book very moving. These documentary style pieces were then bridged into more personal responses in Playing Their Part by Shaista Chishtyjuxtaposing representations of people of colour in the context of World War 2 and the pandemic. It's a valuable perspective on the wartime spirit that's been evoked over the last twelve months.

The other piece I responded to was Field by Jemima Yong transforming the observed into something more symbolic, combining the consequential images of isolation and social distancing into a piece of performance art. Evoking for me Hayahisa Tomiyasu's TTP project it's a much more significant piece as the context of it is a profound commentary of life lived now. Do watch.

Virtual galleries do present challenges, comparable in a way galleries in the real world - as we've come to call it - do in terms of accessibility. However the opportunity to hear photographers talk about and show their work to potentially a global audience should not be ignored. The last year has and continues to expose me to work I would not have had the opportunity to before so it's one, at least, upside to our current life.

Indeed, it may become a habit.


 

5 Feb 2021

street photography 4 good

Well for a serious issue my fundraising event for Ealing Foodbank seemed to tap into a real need for a break from the latest Netflix must-see. I "sold" over a hundred free tickets for my chat with Mel Giedroyc and over 60 people joined us for a walk through my book of photographs of the streets of Ealing in lockdown last spring and summer. Thanks to a few technical rehearsals with my family the evening went well. In addition to the reactions and questions during the evening I was really pleased that we raised over £200 in donations. A few more book sales afterwards took the whole campaign to over £1,000 to help people in crisis.

Street photography with a social conscience is traditionally the domain of the French humanist school. Pre and post war it's influence is still very much evident in the slice of life style of street photography. Ironic, humourous. It's a great way of cutting across cultures and boundaries to find a kind of universal truth. Personally I'm more interested in a style that is just as prevalent today but can be characterised as the New York school from the 50s & 60s. Alienated, anonymous. In a way it's just as romantic.This is how I felt when I started using photography to figure out a way of relating to New York City in the 80s. Ironically perhaps that's now not as distant a gap as it felt at the time.

Manhattan street image

I don't know if #streetphotography4good will ever trend but it's an interesting development for me personally. This isn't New York, hey it's not even London any more. Whatever happens next it won't be the same place for a while. My style really will be an anachronism. To be honest it's about time I questioned it myself and use my privilege for something more than just another print on the wall.

Meanwhile Book 2 beckons


17 Jan 2021

be more us

Lockdown rolls on and it was inevitable my response to my photography group's challenge to pick 9 images to represent 2020 would feature them. However instead of replaying a selection from my book I thought it was an opportunity to reflect on how much the familiar has changed. 

I've found the transformation of advertising an interesting reflection of that. No new films, plays and exhibitions to promote. Seasonal holidays, retail sales and sports events are now all out of sync. We're left with those spaces - especially by bus stops - giving public information from physical health to mental well-being. For me it adds to that wartime atmosphere, or at least my imagining of it. I'm fortunate the closest I've been to anything like this are my family holidays in the 70s.

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COVID references are also seeping into advertising not as a warning but a selling point, almost as a new subculture is absorbed by the mainstream to appear more 'edgy' or 'relevant' but in our upside down world the relevancy is about hygiene, safety and security. Fear is further played upon with a new service to document your grandparents' memories, now ironically the most valued members of society - no longer the forgotten or neglected, for a while at least.

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My final image of looking forward to 2021 is a genuine reflection of a feeling of a lot of people but again it fits with the trend of brand advertising that isn't about the product but in some tangential, sometimes tenuous, way connects to a broader societal issue. 2020 provided plenty of opportunities to do that.

Roll on 2021.