Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Stags, Hens & Bunnies...A Blackpool Story

Blackpool, a place I can recall from childhood memories, spending hours either on the beach building sandcastles with my younger brothers or, paddling in the sea, or throwing pennies into the arcade games; Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and the like, very retro, but all the rage, nowadays. If it wasn't the arcade games, then it would be the water cannon or the crappy off-target plastic shotgun and it's very low supply of 'ammo' for a 'quid' ago.  Still, it was all so amusing at that young age, as the men in the family, would go for a couple of pints, and the women well, they looked after the kids as usual. Years later, I find myself sat in the car driving my way up to this very Northern seaside resort, think Lancashire accent, but all the dazzle and grit of Vegas. One might think I'm here for a 1UP reunion, to play a final farewell game of Space Invaders...but no, I am here on a mission to follow one of Britain's most intriguing contemporary photographers of the new millennium. Enter Dougie Wallace, aka 'Glasweegee', I first met Dougie at a Photo-Forum at a Calumet Camera shop on Drummond Street, NW1. It was a fantastic talk and I got to meet another photographer famous for his work; 'The New Gypsies', Iain McKell.  I was taken with these guys and actually those that attended especially Anne Heslop, an established photographer in her own right.

So several emails and chats later, I would follow Dougie to Blackpool, he was working on his project, 'Stags, Hens and Bunnies', the kind of in your face colour flash photography, for which he later became known for. His style is Bruce Gilden meets Elliot Erwitt meets artistic endeavour, very personable and very matter of fact, he isolates the subjects with the subtle use of flash. However, the scenes that play out and are captured show a dark side to the Britishness that myself and Iain McKell had chatted about post photo-forum talk, these photographs are not like the work of Keith Pattison; covering the miner's strike August 1984-1985, these show the nature of any would-be bride or husband to be, in a state of flux, to drink off into oblivion the last 'hurrah' if you will of freedom, before settling down to married life, as though it were a sentence to be getting hitched. The photographs depict a side to the British, for which the Brits have become notorious, drinking and debauchery, and over indulgence. It's not just the drinking, it's the ridiculous outfits they wear, as though it were an honour badge, to be dressed up looking like a failed superhero, ending up face down on the pavement, expelling liquids from every conceivable orifice.

However, most of the punters are happy for Dougie to document this last hurrah, as a keepsake for British society to reflect upon at a later date. He moves quite stealthily meandering through the drunken crowds, to isolate a particular perspective on the human condition; this is what I have come to like about his work. If you want it raw, if you want it 'in your face', here he is, head on to get some sense of what it's like to be out on the piss in Blackpool, there are fights, glasses thrown, punches met with weak teeth, and even the odd pissed up 'stag', cellophaned to a lamp-post on the parade, for all to see and admire. This is it, Blackpool in all its archaic glory displays a profligate, yet warmly welcomed northern city, which sees humanity and pathos in this popular seaside resort. After following a few parties, it's time to depart this place, I say my goodbyes and arrange to meet Dougie again sometime soon, he gives me a hint of a project, he wishes to conclude.
Dougie Wallace Book Signing© David Rothwell

Back in London, and am looking forward to viewing the book launch of  'Stags, Hens and Bunnies', a long time coming but all the more worth it, Dougie has arranged a number of exhibitions to launch his book, and to promote new material, or rather material he has been working on for a while, one of those nights is arranged at the Printspace in London, with an after party drinks session, in a local Shoreditch bar. Most of the staff from the 'printspace' attend too, and I get a sense that Dougie really is moving in artistic circles when I happen to converse with a few painters, who have come to admire his work and of course purchase said copy of 'Stags, Hens and Bunnies, a Blackpool story'.

Yet, I know there is more to come in the form of Shoreditch wildlife, a project he has been photographing of late, and the other project we spoke of and his visits to India, and how legislation is affecting the Padmini taxis, India is known for its high levels of vehicle emission air pollution. Although the  Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was passed in 1981 to regulate air pollution and there have been some significant improvements. However, the 2016 Environmental Performance Index ranked India 141 out of 180 countries.[1] This prompted Dougie to document the region formerly known as Bombay, now Mumbai and the phasing out of those Premier Padmini taxis, a majority of them are characterised by the garish interiors, and of course their charismatic drivers, but so too, the observing occupants indulging in the Glaswegian whimsical approach accompanied with a burst of flash from his flashguns. He would frame the subjects in such a way that would be not too dissimilar to the approach of Bruce Gilden; isolating the very subject. Often the images vibrant, colourful, and almost high definition.

This is what Dougie was born to do, to be immersed in his perspective of the world and to share that point of view, to show us what the consequences of the rising elitist 'one percent', are having on all who live in inner-city London, and it's economic and political demise through gentrification on the remaining ninety-nine percent. Dougie's work of late is critically acclaimed, whilst its true that not all who have viewed or read about his work in columns of various broadsheets, magazines, and the social media, it is, without doubt, that his work is getting some serious attention from the right kind of people; Dougie Wallace received an award from the inaugural Magnum Photography Awards alongside LensCulture for his work; Harrodsburg. The images are bright, brash and in your face, they point a finger at the elite and show us how ostentatious they are. They're colourful granted, but they also show how big a gap there is in the housing market, out goes the housing estates and communities,  to be replaced by opulent wood and glass super sheds built on a steel frame, and sold off to those who now see them as gold bar assets, rather than a place to live. Dougie Wallaces' work reflects what is happening in Britain today, we see how the mass appeal is to those Arabian oil barons who come to London, to escape the torrid heat of the middle eastern summer. We see many Qatari families shopping in Knightsbridge, and buying all the properties up in that Kensington and Chelsea postcode; pricing out what was once considered only for the upper-middle-class purse of the stiff-upper-lip Brits, has now become a currency free for all for the ultra-affluent Arabian Royals.

Certainly a far cry from...Stags, Hens, and Bunnies...a Blackpool story, Dougie has created a whole new documentary perspective on the super rich of the world, and there got it, flaunt it playgrounds. Whilst there is a stark exposé of the rich kids at play in Londons SW1 postcode, there is also the influence of Elliot Erwitt in Dougie's work, his latest venture sees him shoot the most elaborate, toy dogs, which inherently become fashionable to have in one's Louis Vuitton handbag, but remember they are just colourful as their owners. The photographs depict anything from Labradoodles to Chihuahua and Pomeranian mixes, then we have the bigger gundogs too. They're all there to see and just as brash as the owners.

So what next for Dougie Wallace, watch this space...

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Nineteen Eighty-Four

It's a great city to walk, to take in its sights, smells, sounds. It's a city that overloads your senses, even one's sense of taste, London's restaurants and fast food joints has much on offer to be sated in this bustling metropolis of London. Yet, here I am walking the Regents Park Canal walkway, and central London seems miles away. I could be in inner city London shooting backstreets, however, today I felt like walking and taking in all that it has to offer, and it was a good decision. I find a series of shots, not all yet edited or posted to this site because I like to savour what I have taken by walking away from them,  I often choose the medium of film to shoot, rather than digital. My camera choice is an old Pentax MX; its great I have two primes; a 28mm and a nifty fifty to boot, that's all I need to get by shooting and documenting the street. Get home count my rolls, then get 'em deve'd at home or at Lomo. It's great because you can scan them and see what you do have then, edit them down, this one, in particular, is reminiscent of a novel penned by George Orwell, that dark dystopian backdrop, then I suddenly remember why it was I chose to walk along the canal, to escape the dehumanising capital, and it's fervent politics, leading up to an insecure future in the form of #BREXIT, yes, even the very colloquial term has earned a place in digital society, and granted an official hashtag!

© David Rothwell Ninteen Eighty-Four
1984 © David Rothwell
However, it's the future that worries me, it disturbs me almost, as I realise I have many friends who are European, and Arabian some Islamic by default, others Christian. Okay, I admit I don't define religion nor do I define race, what does that mean exactly, is it a race to the very end to see which of the species can last or, has earned the right to this third rock from the sun? That's pointless, surely we're all in this together, the insects of this world are just as barbaric as humans, however, those insects work and live together cohesively for the benefit of their respective species. I revert back to my own species and recognise that this woman, though granted is Middle Eastern, she absolutely has every right to exist in a country where she feels that it will benefit herself and her family. This brings me back to George Orwell's dystopian novel Ninety Eighty-Four, incredible writing which makes one feel his imagination, whirring about inside your head, to envisage such a time and a place, here finally I get to use my other sense, that of touch and to be able to feel that dystopian time within the very frame, I have taken. 

A Tale of the City of a Hundred Names


Collecting photographic monographs by default is somewhat of a biased choice, I've been collecting certain works of photographer’s simply because of the aesthetic within the photographer’s photographs, what emotional or provocative content they contain or indeed what the narrative may entail to capture my attention, for example, if the narrative is one of a particular time and place i.e. the ground zero of 9/11 or the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. So, I ask myself these questions in order to come to a decision about how I want to be influenced as a photographer myself, what do I want from my photography, what do I want to give back if anything and, how do I want to influence others in return for the knowledge gained / shared? These are just a few thoughts I have when purchasing a photographer’s monograph. 

My earlier purchases have always been based on the photographer and his reputation as a photographer, think Robert Doisneau or Andre Kértész, I have always thought that my perception of documenting life in the city or its suburbs was a reflection of how it was done in mainland Europe, pre and post-world war two. Many a photographer of that period used analogue cameras that were robust but lightweight, and not too intimidating to the subject they were photographing. They moved with ease with a 35mm camera, that could easily frame its subject and thus capture an interpretation of the human condition. After all, that is the reason I purchased said photographic essays, not because of the way they were bound but, because of the human interest, I have in society on the whole. Having moved on from that influence of the monochrome photographs but, still referring to them every now and again for that particular aesthetic, I have a penchant for monochrome film…I moved on to another form of artistic endeavour, no not digital not quite yet, anyway but, that of colour. 

Alex Webb is a prolific photographer whose use of colour is outstanding for obvious reasons to those in the know, but also how the use of colour in his works seemingly takes on not just the aesthetic of the work, but, in some cases the very narrative of the work. So whilst scouring the many books some bookstalls have in the way of photographers think Koenig Books, London. I happened upon one of Alex Webb’s books none other than the work Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names with an essay by Orhan Pamuk, a recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. I skimmed a few paragraphs and thought yeah, this is interesting I’ll get this for my collection.  Once I opened up said book in the confines of my apartment, the sunlight peering in through the partially opened blinds and throwing up some sort of hazy atmospheric warmth within the space I was occupying, I settled down with a damn good mug of coffee and set about immersing myself within the context of Alex Webb and his tale of his adventures in Istanbul: The City of a Hundred Names. 
© Alex Webb

The Influence of Alex Webb

Istanbul a major city in Turkey that straddles both the Asian and European continents across the Bosphorus Strait, an old city which has embraced many empires and cultures throughout it's turbulent but diverse and culturally influential history. Perhaps this is what attracted Alex Webb to Istanbul, although he does speak of his influence in his work being that of borders and this is what is significant in his work, he is not just a colourist but, someone who utilises the same thematic throughout his work and, that being a country and its borders. Borders have long been of interest to a documentary photographer, the fractious nature of the subject a naturally occurring construct of division and of indifference towards your neighbouring country, or ‘other’. Ideally, a border is a point were subtle nuances of culture and sub-culture emerge and coexist in some pseudo-Utopian manner. Here then, is the very narrative that Webb strives to collate some form of integration between differing cultures at the very locale of the border. as they come together. Turkey is noted for its secular republic though Islam may have a majority, it is a country which has embraced both ancient and modern influences in its daily way of life. 

This is what I perceive as the appealing side of his documentary approach to his work, as we view the daily lives of the plethora of diversity in Istanbul from its Grand Bazaar hosting a labyrinth of glittering delights with beckoning sellers peddling anything that is both vibrant as it is colourful, from jewellery to spices to textiles and souvenirs. Much to see much to do, though if you’re here to shop you may miss a scene, so it is best to stay focused on those that are doing the bartering and shopping so that you can do the photographing of what is happening in this vibrant city. This is what Webb captures the mundane everyday existence of life in an incredible city, albeit he captures and represents its inhabitants and visitors with a hint of geometry, when I view the photographs, I can see the influence of one Henri Cartier-Bresson, it’s the structure of the photograph and how it is composed that makes me think this way, the sudden gesture of a man holding his hand to his chin as though stroking his beard or a woman carrying a child whilst the gaze of the child is transfixed with some other nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. 

They’re all there for us to see, and to imagine how the scene played out or what preceded the ‘event’ as it is, Alex Webb has most certainly built on what has gone before (see Hot Light Half-Made Worlds, The Suffering of Light among many others. There is also the homage to Turkish history and culture itself with several of his works containing some element of Istanbul’s heritage, all in all, I find his work fascinating, informative and definitely collectible. If this is what you’re seeking to influence your own photography or you’re looking to expand your collection of photographic essays then this is a worthy choice, of course a connoisseur would also perhaps have something which is even more obscure to many, for example, I have a copy of The Women of Molise by Frank Monaco, a photographer who visited his mother’s homeland of Molise, Italy to document his own heritage. It is by all accounts a wonderful photographic document which somehow relates to Alex Webb’s own experience of visiting Istanbul with his parents and falling in love with a country whose culture was different to his own. 


It is then an influential collection of photographs that depict a sense of familiarity in the style of the presentation and perhaps the emotional content and provocative manner in which the subjects present themselves, Webb focuses a lot as I mentioned earlier on juxtaposing his subjects with certain shapes or geometry, and pays homage to a host of colourists who has gone before, with just a subtle hint of subdued colour in low light, which I find very warming. If you have not seen the work of Alex Webb then this is a great place to start, however, I am prompted to inform you of Memory City which is a collaboration between him and his wife Rebecca Norris Webb, and is a study of Eastman Kodak and its uncertain future as a medium and is reflected in Rochester, New York, go seek it out.