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.  
2020-06-17_03-20-40 IMG_20200624_064120
2020-07-05_11-14-28 2020-06-07_08-03-18
2020-07-07_10-29-40 2020-06-20_10-16-56
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.

25 May 2020

life during lockdown

London street photography. A London street photographer. Phrases I feel proud to associate myself with. Yet - like a lot of life at the moment - I took for granted what they meant. 
Let's look at London. I roamed the West End, celebrating the choreography we each practice to navigate our individual paths through the city, filling the veins of its streets with energy. My London is now as far as I can run to and from my home. Places that some would dispute even are in London! The life on those streets is now represented not by faces. Those I meet are often masked, on their way to work, a memory for me. The frontline feels an apt description as the journey and workplace will mean exposure to the risk of infection and possibly worse. 
Street photography for me now is, with grim irony, just that. There are no people in my pictures. The streets themselves take centre stage. The only constant in a future still not fully comprehensible. Along the way there are signs, some explicit, others less so.
Chalking's making a comeback, another echo of an era of austerity, fear and of making do but now I see another meaning. A moment of uninhibited expression in the fresh(er) air away from the confines of the house and family. Front gardens double up as mini circular economy models or impromptu safe distance conversation stations.
2020-05-13_07-37-29
2020-05-24_10-26-39
High streets and malls are also redefined, shop windows frozen in time, succumbing to a nuclear wind at the moment of the lockdown announcement. Messages of hope to customers, some corporate, some heartfelt. Shop displays decay, winter coats a dissonant reflection of our summer selves. Book pages curl, scrolling themselves into messages for bottles. Plants die and thrive recalling a prophecy from David Byrne.
Doorways and windows have been repurposed as pick up points for the outriders of the gig precariat. Combined with reversing supermarket delivery vans and emergency services vehicles traffic has a disturbing characteristic. The sound of sirens. 
2020-05-19_07-47-57
2020-05-21_07-17-23
2020-05-24_10-33-04
It's a world that's familiar but, as referenced a month into the UK lockdown, strange. I feel the current direction of my work is a prelude, documenting a phoney war to adopt the language of our time, before the consequences of these days take hold. As is my style I photograph the everyday, arguably the surface. The New Europe project considered how that's not necessarily opaque. 
It reflects and refracts

14 May 2020

life skills

One fascinating consequence of the advent of social distancing is an acute appreciation of our bodies in proximity to others. It's second nature to me, and it's been a major motivation for my work, so it's really interesting to observe this go mainstream. I'd love to find out how different cultures are adapting to these circumstances. Is the motivation purely self preservation or a more altruistic? A recent article by Gia Kourlas, the New York Times dance critic poses a great question How are we using our bodies to navigate a pandemic? 
Two figures in London street

Ways of walking is for the moment no longer an independent exercise in getting from A to B. It's now reliant on mutual cooperation, overt or implicit, akin to the social nuances of a Regency society ball. Head-on passing by is sometimes facilitated with eye contact or gesture. The more agile take it upon themselves to pre-empt any confusion and step into the road. This is also a shrewd tactic when overtaking but that domain is replete with the risks of incurring a worse fate by crossing the path of a newly habilitated cyclist or jogger. 
link to my Museum of London street photography show selection
How long this behaviour lasts for, like a lot of our new ways of living at the present time, is a matter of conjecture. Situational awareness is no bad thing. Consideration of who we share the streets with, those levelling moments, are a force for change. How we share those streets again is no longer an April Fool.