In his latest book, Gap in the Hedge, Dan Wood looks at how a place affects the way you see the world around you, how it can open your mind to new vistas, create spaces for your imagination to run wild, and make an identity that is rooted in the landscape in ways that can be expanding or limiting.
The title refers to Bwlch-y-Clawdd, the mountain pass that joins Bridgend to the former mining communities of the Rhondda Valley. Built in 1928, the road was Wales’ biggest construction project at the time, intended to lift the Rhondda out of its over-reliance on coal mining. And it was some reliance. At its coal-mining peak, South Wales produced one third of global coal exports, with large numbers of migrants moving in to mine the coal, making it a surprisingly diverse community for a place that is still regarded as quintessentially Welsh.
“Your memory isn’t like a file in your hard-drive that stays the same every time you revisit it. It actively changes,” says John Houck, whose images, just like our memories, can be deceptive. His pieces are made cyclically, by photographing and rephotographing objects, paintings, and sheets of folded paper, adding and removing elements with each iteration. “It’s a way to get at the way in which memory is an imaginative act,” he says.
The paradox of otherness is at the core of Maria Sturm’s You don’t look Native to me. Her subjects belong to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the largest tribe in the region with around 55,000 members, with their name taken from the Lumber River of Robeson County. Starting in 2011, Romania-born, Germany-raised Sturm spent time in Pembroke, the economic, cultural and political centre of the tribe, photographing their daily lives. It opened up questions about visibility, identity and stereotype in the US, where Native Americans are romanticised yet often dismissed. Many tribes remain officially unrecognised, though the sense of identity within the communities is very strong.
On her first visit, Sturm was struck by two aspects. “One was that almost everyone I talked to introduced themselves with their names and their tribe. The other was the omnipresence of Native American symbolism: on street signs, pictures on walls, on cars, on shirts and as tattoos.” She attended powwows (where leaders pray to Jesus, another surprise to Sturm) and spent time with locals.
“I love how the city is in perpetual metamorphosis. It’s always moving and glowing,” says Jean-Vincent Simonet, who visited Tokyo, Japan for the first time in 2016, and quickly decided he would shoot at night. “Giving a liquid feeling to the photographs made sense to me. It reinforced the psychedelic experience of being in the city”.
People in Japan describe Tokyo as a “living entity” – not just because of the earthquakes and typhoons that regularly stir the capital, but because it is a city in constant flux. At all hours of the day and night, streams of people and cars rush down its huge neon streets, which sprawl out like tributaries into pedestrianised roads, stacked 10 stories high with shops, restaurants and karaoke bars. Vibrant city centres seem to emerge right off the back of darker inner-city suburban streets, which are all connected by colossal highways, and an elaborate train network that dwarfs most other capital cities’.
In the first of our interviews with BJP International Photography Award 2019’s judges, we meet Russ O’Connell. His impressive career has seen O’Connell in editorial roles at celebrity weekly Heat, music magazine Q, and men’s lifestyle guide British GQ. He is currently Picture Editor at The Sunday Times Magazine – which, as the UK’s first colour supplement to a national newspaper, has long been leading the way with editorial photography. O’Connell has worked with superstar photographers from David Bailey to Nadav Kander, and regularly direct shoots with Hollywood actors, world-class musicians and prominent politicians, including – among many others – U2, Rihanna, and Hillary Clinton. When pushed for a career highlight, he can cite memories that most can only dream of: joining Bruce Springsteen on his private jet, and hanging out with Daft Punk in Paris. We spoke to O’Connell about the benefits of entering photography awards, and what he’s looking forward to during BJP IPA 2019. What are the most exciting things happening in photography at the moment? And what trends do you think we’ll see …
Sara Palmieri’s Scenario is the latest instalment of an ongoing photographic experimentation with the nature of the invisible and the mysterious. Her investigations began with M, a work based around family archives depicting her grandmother’s hair. Subsequently Palmieri, who was born in Rome, attended a year-long workshop at the ISSP International Masterclass in Latvia, which was headed by Aaron Schuman, and where she produced La plume plonge a la tête and Scenario.
The projects share a vocabulary of darkness and shadows, with a weighty element of construction: each work produces its own internally functioning visual universe, where everything is significant and no element is left to chance. “I’m interested in the non-visible aspects of reality that I try to represent through a process of time, memories and intuitions, the unconscious and revelations, fragments and recompositions,” Palmieri explains.
“I see the bastard countryside everywhere I go,” says Robin Friend, pointing out of the window of his studio in East London, where an ivy plant has climbed up a nearby wall and is wrapping its vines around a rusting CCTV camera. “I ran with this idea of city and countryside splattering into each other, creating this hybrid nature,” explains Friend, who has been producing photographs for his book, unknowingly at first, for 15 years since he started started his BA in Brighton, where he studied under Jem Southam.
“Bastard countryside” is a phrase coined by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Miserables, in which he describes the city of Paris as an “amphibian”, stretching out into the countryside and devouring everything in its path. It is a zone in which the urban and rural mix, the manmade and the natural, clashing and colliding to create a strange form of beauty and ugliness.
Michalis Poulas has lived in Crete for much of his life. It was here that he first learned the technicalities of photography from his father, who opened a film-processing shop on the Greek island in 1988, and here that he built a career as a professional photographer. Shooting mostly on digital, in 2014 he decided to revisit the world of medium format, and with all the languidness that such work entails, it seemed natural that the island should serve as his subject.
The result is Infinite Perimeter, an as- yet-unfinished series which looks at a decade of sociopolitical unrest on the island with a cool objectivity. While all the images were taken in Crete – 90 per cent of them within 10 kilometres of Poulas’s home – this is neither documentary photography, nor a series about Greece specifically. Rather, it’s about the instability permeating the Western world today.
For Toby A. Cox, one of our first Portrait of Humanity People’s Choice Winners, photography and travel are inseparable. Having grown up in the US, she only started taking pictures when she travelled as a student. Since then, she has come to use photography as a way of exploring different cultures. The Guardian editors picked her image, which captures two young children waving through a car window, as one of the best Portrait of Humanity entries so far. The picture, taken in Kyrgyzstan, captures a moment of joy. Cox has made it her mission to confront rising Islamophobia by documenting day-to-day life in Muslim-majority countries, tackling what she sees as an ‘us vs them’ mentality. Her photographs show that regardless of race or religion, we all experience the same emotions – making us far more similar than we might think. Can you tell me about your background as a photographer? How and when did you first get into photography? I took photos when I started travelling, but mostly of landscapes and things, not people. Until …
US-based photographer Anna Mia Davidson was voted as our People’s Choice Winner, after The Guardian editors picked her image as one of the best Portrait of Humanity entries so far. The image shows a farmer and her grandson harvesting flowers. Bright and rich with colour, the portrait celebrates its subjects. As with many of Davidson’s portraits, the image captures a bond – in this case, between grandmother and grandson. Family is where photography began for Davidson, whose father – a professional photographer – encouraged her interest in the medium from an early age. Davidson has published two photobooks, Cuba Black And White, an eight-year project focusing on life in Cuba during the United States’ embargo, and Human Nature: Sustainable Farming in the Pacific Northwest, a multi-year portrait project about the people behind the sustainable farming movement. Davidson’s chosen topics tend to be weighty and complex, but her photographs are optimistic, and the resounding message of her work is that crisis can be overcome by the power of community. Can you tell me about your background …