20 Aug 2020

take a walk on the southside

Books - as well as virtual tours - are a great resource for me right now so I was so pleased to see Paul Treacy had created another wonderful handmade book of his life in south east London.

 

I've written about his work a couple of years ago when he published SE26. I suppose it's one of the benefits - for me at least - of this blog that I can take time travel back to my state of mind over the last ten years and in a way a long time before that too.

I was thinking then of my roots and that concept is very much back on my agenda, courtesy of our current hyperlocal lifestyles. I identify with London, of being a Londoner. Although I'm not quite sure what that means right now. Where I was born in an area of south east London - not central, not suburban - gave me an outsider's perspective of the city. Reinforced to a large degree by my parents' status and a big motivation behind my photography. I've since started to appreciate where I live now in west London over the last few months....again through the medium of photography. 

The outsider-ness is still present (I blame reading French existentialism at an impressionable age) so maybe that's here for good now but to be honest I feel I need to dig a bit deeper, beyond my surface and that of the world around me. The New Europe project was a step in that direction. 

I need to keep walking. 

 

24 Jul 2020

kind of normal

I feel the Lockdown project needs an endpoint - as I'm sure we all do in this endless time.

The phrase getting back to normal is becoming more common even though there's plenty to contradict that. 
 
The streets around us are telling a very different story whether it's the shops that are not coming back to life or the social distancing measures to deal with people still absent. Talk is of the second wave of a surge in cases and local lockdowns in the Autumn. Government support for individuals and businesses will start winding down then as well. The reality of the new normal will soon dawn. 

I've decided to use my pictures to help raise money for Ealing Foodbank as a small way of directing this work into something practical. I'll make use of the experience making my New Europe zine (hey that feels from another planet right now) to make something affordable and hopefully interesting enough to buy.

My challenge will be to distil over 900 images into some kind of narrative. To put that in perspective it's more than the number of my final prints over the last thirty years! I like the flow of the slides I put together for the Ealing LIP group so that gives me a start.

I tried to segue the themes with images that had an ambiguity about them. The easier option would be to present them in separate categories e.g. shop windows, walls, schools etc. If I was being more savvy another route would be to organise the images by area or by street, perhaps with a map or index for people to look up their own neighbourhood. 
 
Needlesstosay neither option is satisfactory for me. It's back to my jazz metaphor. Create a tempo. Build a mood. Solos. Counterpoint. See where it takes us.

 

7 Jul 2020

reality check

In a year when the 4th of July has been vigorously challenged as a day of liberty for all there's an uncomfortable parallel with England's own Independence Day billed as the Day We Smiled Again by some and #SuperSpreaderSaturday by others. 
Whatever the outcome it marks a moment in the Lockdown story. Whether it's the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning we don't know. It does feel timely to reflect on my experience expressed through my own documentary project 
I confess I've become a little obsessive. Each morning I think I've taken all the photographs that can be made of household belongings on garden walls, of socially distant pavement markers, of going out of business/opening soon shop window signs. No. They keep coming.  
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I don't want this project to become a kind of dystopian scavenger hunt. Behind all these signs, symbols and ciphers lie people's livelihoods and lives. It's so moving to observe all this so vicariously. Is it a very English breakdown of society? Polite. Apologetic. Decent.  
There's been plenty of allusions - and illusions - of war. The nation coming together. Spitfire flypasts. No room for dissent. The hidden social impacts have still to play out in public.  
I've always looked forward to summer. Lately I've come to regard the sun with more portent. Now the weather feels more part of a bread and circuses strategy. To distract and to palliate.
Ah yes. How could I forget. We've been here before.
Humankind cannot bear very much reality. T.S. Eliot

12 Jun 2020

eye opening

There are far more significant impacts on peoples' lives in lockdown but, for the privileged, access to collective experiences of any description are one that people miss. The last exhibition I saw feels in retrospect both prophetic in its content and historic as an example of a world since turned upside down.
Our experience is now like a lot of things screen based so I was impressed by the approach Four Corners took to switching their Another Eye exhibition to an online version.
Another Eye exhibition
Another Eye exhibition catalogue cover
A survey of women photographers displaced from Germany and Austria in an era of anti-semitism and political persecution to make new lives in Britain in the 1930s caught my attention as another reflection of our times. The perspectives  and subsequent influence of these women was fascinating to discover. I confess the only one I was familiar with was Dorothy Bohm who I had the fortune to hear speak a couple of years ago at Street London. 
Another Eye exhibition - social documentary
Illustration from Another Eye
The significance of Gerti Deutsch, Elisabeth Chat and Edith Tudor-Hart on the development of Picture Post was my highlight of the show. I love finding copies of this magazine which is such a rich resource of social history and discovering their work was another wake up to the (un)recognition of women in the history of photography.
This work are great examples of the humanist tradition of photography that publications such as Picture Post and Life championed. However nowadays it's a form that is rightly challenged. The rights of people to control the representation of their lives is paramount to help empower them and dismantle stereotypes. However for me the work in this exhibition has an integrity that does not dilute its effectiveness. It's a salient illustration of what an outsider can do using their own experiences of alienation. 
Empathy. An important word for our times.

8 Jun 2020

waking up

The death of George Floyd and subsequent reaction has brought home to me the privileges I've enjoyed as a white man with or without my acknowledgement in all aspects of my life. Thinking about it in terms of my photography feels like an indulgence that illustrates exactly that position of entitlement. To have the time and means to pursue my passion in a public space that for a lot of people is a hostile environment that needs to be negotiated everyday cannot be ignored. 
Black Lives Matter sign
I've been really pleased to see the rise of groups promoting the work of women street photographers. I need to wake up to the liberty I enjoy, especially in my most recent work taking pictures in residential streets and shopping areas in the early morning across my London neighbourhood. Little notice is taken of me as a suspicious person in the better off areas. Conversely on some streets I pose a threat as some kind of state snooper.  
Apologies for the public hand wringing. I know I need to use my privilege so those structures are changed. Education is a start. Action has to follow.