"The work that I make tends to comment on contemporary issues that disproportionately affect young people," says Ollie Ma', whose big projects to date were inspired by Grand Theft Auto and Adam Curtis
A very modern strain of alienation runs through the images of Ollie Ma’, where everyday scenes are charged with an implacable and unsettling undertone. Ma’ first came to photography by taking press shots for a friend’s band, an interest which eventually led to him studying it at Nottingham Trent University.
“It seems that there is a connection to be made between the photographing of youth culture and the politics of the work that I have made since,” he says. “The work that I make tends to comment on contemporary issues that disproportionately affect young people.”
For his first project, Open World, he addressed questions surrounding the increasing encroachment of the digital world. He placed stills of characters and landscapes from the computer game Grand Theft Auto V alongside authentic photographs of models in real-life environments, questioning the proximity of the virtual and the everyday, drawing inspiration from Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom’s theory of simulation.
Everything Was Forever, his graduation project, is a continuation of these interests, this time questioning the idea of progress in a world that has been fractured by the inequalities of capitalism. The territory that Ma’ captures is one of brooding figures dwarfed by their surroundings, abandoned cars in banal urban vistas, unloved buildings left to deteriorate and the occasional pastoral landscape. Nondescript yet distinctly familiar, the images were made across the world, in the likes of Los Angeles, Miami, Spain and England, representing what the photographer describes as the “pervasive nature of capital”.
Ma’ attributes many of the themes in Everything Was Forever to Adam Curtis’s film HyperNormalisation, which explores a fascination he shares in the invisible structures that govern daily life. “What I found most interesting was his idea that Western politics has employed elements of theatre in order to manipulate reality until nobody is sure what to believe,” he explains.
Determined to make these structures visible, the photographer decided to insert his own elements of theatricality into the series, drawing on the ideas of Bertolt Brecht and the mechanisms of epic theatre – a form of political theatre created in the mid-20th century to confront contemporary issues. Using friends and strangers, Ma’ staged each photograph in order to draw attention to what might be bubbling beneath the surface. By “making the everyday strange”, he forced viewers to consider what they are looking at with a different perspective.
“Brecht believed that by distancing the audience from the action, through his use of the alienation effect, one would be able to regard the scene objectively,” Ma’ explains. “I have adopted this convention in order to make photographs that isolate a subject within a state of reflection. This creates a distance that can be read as either a disconnection between the viewer and the subject or a dislocation of the subject in their environment.”