Monday 26 November 2012
Today I feel very privileged to announce Mike Seaborne as one of our collaborative photographers. His recent exhibition London: Landscapes in Transition at the Host gallery was a little gem. The Thames Estuary series used the whole ground and the London Facades were shown downstairs. I didn't know Mike's work until I received a newsletter from Foto8. I was very surprised to experience such great quality prints where the finish, framing and sizes have been thought carefully to transmit the right effect and message. Mike's landscapes take us to those grey areas of the urban that I personally cherish. Places of non-apparent function or derelict that reveal a raw left over merging with the flow of the natural process and create consequently something unique and industrially bucolic. The Thames Estuary pictures simply revealed an harmony through the layers of time just outside the megalopolis. Difficult to access and mostly ignored they take suddenly a new dimension as they reflect our disdain for the non-profiting and non-entertaining. In fact thanks to Seaborne's eye we rediscover the nearby and start thinking further.
Mike Seaborne's body of work around the End End is rich and vast. The images selected for our collective project come from the London Docklands series shot in the 80's. I strongly recommend you pay a visit to his website. This post will focus on people and their involvement in the community and dates from between 1982 and 1984.
What struck me first is the dedication with which Mike documented the area. Similar understanding with Peter Marshall in documenting a different aspect of London full of significance and stories. Looking at them now we can question why those pictures didn't become more widespread. They tell much more about the real London in its beautiful raw complexity and constant experimental process. What Seaborne captures in those black and white images is the end of an era of heavy industries where the sticky past struggles and holds its last days. A doubt is found in the characters' gazes who question the future. Not sadden nor bitter those people are now living a life that doesn't suit or reflect the environment anymore. Those images are vacant but full of life and emotional conflicts. Something will change eventually but when will it start and what will it mean to them? You can also find this duality in the way Seaborne photographed with his 35mm camera. The compositions are beautifully balanced, almost too composed, but he introduces an extra layer which is psychological. His images suddenly take a new direction, more human and more ambitious. As if the technicality of the medium is slowly being put aside to concentrate on the sensitivity and the ineffable. The subjects gain more space and control over the compositions. His visual language adapts and joggles between capturing body language and mind interpretations of the critical moment.
Seaborne's photographs become more vivid and active. He finds a way to capture the time duality of the void left behind and the modern aspirations that are taking shape. The transitional state helps consequently in emphasizing the human dimension and reveals it as being at the heart of his concerns. It proves that a landscape doesn't exist without the human perspective. Seaborne nurtured that land long before it becomes an Olympic icon and shows that the East End is a area of real human dimension without facade. Somehow the East End carries that truth that the City belongs to the people first and that they are the agents of change, and not necessarily the way the outsiders would understand it. This very same question is being addressed today after our Olympic Summer.
Once again we find in those pictures a genuine charm where we can all recognize our doubts, absences and private joys. The East End was, and still is I hope, that source of inspiration, humility and respect. Seaborne's images manage to show us a glimpse of the long past turned obsolete and its merging into the unknown where the people suddenly have more to reveal than they working identity. Seaborne, like all the photographers of the collective, had the audacity and talent to collect those moments that very few would have found interesting back in the 80's. To be a great photographer you don't need to travel the world and feed the news. To be a great photographer you need to be visionary and care for your subject. Mike Seaborne is a great example to follow.
Monday 5 November 2012
I first saw Williams' work in the Art of Dissent book (bottom image). Only one image was published and I wanted to know more about the artist, I was quite intrigued by it. I knew that very awkward corridor outside the Olympic village she photographed. It would take someone special to capture that oddity. That small piece of land showed the past, the rejected. This portion represented like the ultimate and highly concentrated amount of energy that was about to be obliterated by the new landscape. I took few shots myself of this vanishing entity but Henrietta managed to capture it in blossom. That open but inverted non-space was the perfect symbol of what the rejuvenation intended to make disappear, the commonly called wasteland. Henrietta reveals its hidden beauty where the anarchy and the organic make suddenly more sense than the modern background arising. That one shot stayed in the back of my mind and I wanted to see more. Eventually we met and I then discovered a broader spectrum that convinced me that Henrietta was someone really talented and dedicated.
It appears then that her work is, again, as most of us in this collective, very rich, versatile and local. That last point is highly relevant as it makes us as much artists as responsible citizens by being involved in our communities. This is the desire to transmit a true information to a wider audience often put aside from the mass medias. Williams' work deals as much with the landscape as with its inhabitants. She not only frames the views independently but also includes its protagonist in a reflective mood. As when she concentrates on the land only she succeeds in capturing an almost human quality to it that I have rarely experienced. As if visages unconsciously emerge from the surface of the concrete. The emotion produced by the colours are quite warm and welcoming. Her landscapes in re-invention do not intend to collide with the politics by straight opposition but they emphasize on the true inner beauty and peculiar identity associated with the East transformed. Like an archeologist she digs and presents an emotional state of the land that is a result of the various communities throughout its original past.
As when she portrays locals, despite presenting them in a classic fashion, they all show a personal dignity and reflection on the landscape. They question their own background, the actuality of the situation they are in in order to manage their near move. That is this dialogue between land and people that makes Williams' work so powerful and intelligent. The complexity and inter-relation of those two parts are the best described in her profound and caring investigations.
Henrietta Williams is a photographer and writer based in London. Her work has been widely exhibited and published in the UK and been featured in the Guardian, the Evening Standard, Open Democracy, on the BBC and in the architectural press. Her work about security in the UK led her to a project documenting evictions and exclusions in East London in preparation for the Olympic Games.
Henrietta is continuing this work and is now working closely with the Carpenter's Against Regeneration Plan, a group of residents who are contesting the demolition of the Carpenter's Estate in Stratford, East London.
You can see more of her works by clicking on her link above.