Collective Responsibility

My approach to art is relatively simple. A mix of routine and discipline; to resolve and refine. This need to understand the landscape – to find order within the chaos – has always been a part of me. As a child I felt sick with the world. Each morning was like waking inside a kaleidoscope. The dizzying stream of endless possibilities and probabilities crippled me…

Yet there were times I would stumble across a certain arrangement of things on the ground and feel relaxed, or I would find excuses to return to a same small section of brambles in a hedgerow and just lose myself in the tangle. It was in these moments of recognition that I finally felt part of something, rather than excluded. Where the paintings became more about the reduction and control of this sense of stillness, photography developed into a more passive form of camouflage – where I align with the patterns and find my focus. It is where I feel safest. This blissful feeling of being both present and absent is the paradox that I am trying to explore.

These days I photograph more urban spaces. The same instinct remains, but the relationship with industrial materials and the built environment is more complex. The connection is based as much in empathy as overlay; the slow decay of a drip on a window sill, the wall fallen in part, the dropped tin of paint driven through by cars.

“Ultimately photography isn’t telling people what you think you know, it is about encouraging people to engage with the environment on their own terms”.

Our part in the rhythms, forms and processes are inescapable. When we see something smashed, not only do we calculate the point of impact, and interpret the forces at play, but the puzzle-solving part of our intellect tries to piece these things back together again. The camera will never reverse an action, but the more we invest, the closer we get to a reason. My aim is to compensate for the loss of balance by shifting my own. This is how I understand composition; not taking, or adding, but reflecting something of myself to maintain a harmony. It is not just about the necessity of how we see, but what we felt when we saw it.

If the first idea was about engaging with the environment and being a part of these banal and beautiful moments, then the second is more about shame and guilt and how we reposition to reassert that sense of the beauty in an increasingly ugly and private world. Both are are based on everyday absurdity and randomness. Trees fall by chance, and fly-tipping and vandalism, are, by their very nature, thoughtless. But what happens when I start to record the deliberate behaviour of others? how much of myself do I see in them? can my system of logic survive theirs?

For the last few years i’ve travelled to shoot industrial estates and yards. I’ve noticed how people collect, arrange and store differs from country to country. The japanese store their junk haphazardly, in all available spaces; from underpasses to alleyways. There is an almost incidental efficiency to their compactness. A repetition. Even if there seems little point or value to the things collected.

Iceland is brighter, more open and disciplined. Everything is laid out in its own space, colour co-ordinated and neatly separated.

Greenland’s landscape and climate is similar, the materials are the same, but there seems to be no discernible strategy at play. Their yards are in order of addition – no differentiation between new or old, large or small. Valuable things are stored alongside worthless trash. Nothing rots that far north, things just get added to the fade. There are no boundaries. Everything slowly creeps into the surroundings.

Britain by contrast is lazy and random. Things are strewn and piled, pushed and crushed. Fenced and barbed and heavily signed. There is a dirty and guarded desperation to the hoarding. Cctv records the rust and the overgrowth. The more you list the differences and similarities, the more obvious they appear.

It is clear the way we dispose or recycle is dependent on demographics, geography and economy, but there also seems to be a strong cultural element to how we gather; a consciousness built of these things that could pass as a national stereotype. This could be the start of a clever essay on collectivity – that we are all consequences of our circumstance – but i’m always wary of these kind of constructed narratives. As soon as we start to assume or premeditate the desire moves away from expression and becomes more of a conceit. The need for an audience overtakes the reasons to shoot.

It is tempting to be drawn into contemporary photography’s interest in social documentary – people like their stories – but editing to fit can too easily distract and distort the original motive. The increasing tendency toward conceptualism is making photography more about the spectacle and less about the moment. How we each see is unique, in the same way how people arrange bricks on a pallet will differ from person to person – so it is not really a question of whether ‘my logic survives theirs’, it is about the connections we can make through the work.

Ultimately photography isn’t telling people what you think you know, it is about encouraging people to engage with the environment on their own terms. I’d like to think the more singular and stubborn my own focus becomes, the more people draw from this certainty. Art is strange like this, it relies on selfishness to explore universal ideas. I prefer to think of the process like polishing; the harder you work on the surface of something, the more depth to the shine, until the point people don’t see your hand, but their own reflection staring back. I love writing about photography – but we are all working to a place without words.

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