A Little English City - interview with the photographer
Q: What was the motivation
behind the project ?
A: A little English City stemmed from a desire to do something to mark the new Millennium. Over the past ten years I have rarely had the opportunity to take pictures for myself, and very few in this country. It set out to be a personal investigation of the safe haven to which I returned after working away but actually turned out into something very different.
Q: In what way was it different ?
A: It took me a long time to understand what I was doing. I had originally written a list of subjects to methodically work through and thought I could produce an impartial visual record of the year. As the project progressed I dropped the list finding it far too constraining and moved from subject to subject as it naturally evolved. Patterns of social behaviour started to emerge with which I became drawn and tried to record as best I could. I think in the end most of the photographs could have been taken anywhere in the UK, leaving a much more general study of our sociological makeup around the turn of the Millennium.
Q: Can you give examples of behavioural patterns you photographed ?
A: Yes there are two that emerged very early. Our obsession with TV Screens was something I had never considered, but soon became apparent as I started to look at the pictures. As I processed film I would choose ten images from each subject to post on an evolving website. Time and time again, as I looked behind the picture I would find a screen, dominating the environment of my subjects. The second example was rituals which I was very used to in the developing world having been the subject of many of my photographs. I was genuinely shocked when I found rituals to be so much a part of our daily lives, rich and as colourful as anywhere else in the world. They follow us from birth to death.
Q: You mentioned the website, how did this effect the way the project developed ?
A: The website was a timely experiment in audience participation and contribution to the words that accompany the pictures. The theory was that people would log on to the site after the pictures were taken and contribute captions, therefore giving the community some sort of ownership to the project, and moving it away from a single person's perspective. In reality it worked and still does as a virtual interactive gallery and little more. It continues to have a great number of visitors, probably because it features a great number of people who know it exists, but as you will see from the information pages, very few have contributed text.
Q: What did you find hard to photograph and what were your favourite subjects ?
A: Often the two were the same. I have always believed feeling nervous as you approach a subject is often a good sign. A good example was the punk festival in Morecambe. Arriving at the Dome I soon realised the photographers pit was the space between the beer throwing audience and angry spitting performers. I don't like to think what was in my hair that night but I came away with some great images. One of the hardest challenges at the start was to try and look at my home town with strangers eyes. I remember arriving in the Gaza Strip as a young photojournalist and being fascinated with the donkeys and carts. The locals thought I was mad photographing what to them was a car in the street, but for me it was a fresh visual experience. The project was aimed at a future audience and therefore had to address the everyday as well as the unusual. This is a lot harder than it sounds. I enjoyed most of the subjects I was involved with. This was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to get to know the subject well before picking up the camera. Without doubt my favourite subject was football supporters who provided me with pent up emotions the British rarely let out in public.
Q: How do you feel future generations looking at your photographs will feel about our society ?
A: This is hard to tell, though some of the pictures have already started to age in our fast changing world. I think different pictures will become more important, many of the photographs I have not even printed yet, as they have no relevance to today, will be exhibited and published in the future. I hope it will be used an important social document, though I think future generations will find it harder to translate the visual content of the pictures. I know there has been many photographic studies of different communities but none that I know of that is as in depth as this by one photographer. I believe this is important as most photographs have as much information about the photographer as they do the subject. If you therefore know and understand the photographer, it is easier to find meaning in the pictures.