Meanwhile, just down the riverbank at Southwark crown court, eight members of London’s well-known DPM crew were tried for an estimated £1m in graffiti-related damages across the country, and sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison – the biggest prosecution for graffiti that the UK has ever seen.
The Anti-Social Behaviour Act defines graffiti as “painting, writing, soiling, marking or other defacing by whatever means”. Anything from a quickly executed “tag” to a detailed mural could be deemed illegal, and the artist subject to a £5,000 fine or prosecution. Despite this clear-cut definition, there are double standards in the way graffiti is perceived, and the law creates pockets of permission for some artists while penalising others.
Ban it, legalise it or put it behind glass! No matter what city councils or the police do, graffiti remains the scapegoat for all manner of urban ills, from burglary on one extreme to gentrification on the other. There are, however a large majority of us who enjoy bringing the outside home, to decorate our own walls with artistry from the streets.
Presenting ‘Friday Street’
‘Friday Street’ is a collection of urban art from the youth of Leicester. Friday Street is situated on a semi-abandoned Jitty close to the Centre of Leicester. The area has seen multiple arson attacks, gang violence and street robbery. Yet Friday Street itself is an entrance to a beautiful public park, which attracts thousands of visitors on a regular basis.
Legal or not, as graffiti seeps into the fabric of our neighbourhoods, it becomes a natural fact of everyday life, a cultural practice appreciated and legitimised by young urban dwellers.
This “gentrification graffiti” is representative of the cycle of transformation in cities across the world, whereby artists are caught up in contributing to their own displacement.
Following from the successes of previous Exhibitions “The Eleventh Hour” and “Finding Focus” this year, Award in Photography Artists present: DISTORTED VISION.
Distorted Vision celebrates the final year of our collaborations together over three years as our qualifications are achieved and we are delighted to invite you to our exhibition which is held from 22nd to 26th June 2015 at The Old Library Café & Galleries, 54 Belvoir Street, Leicester, LE1 6QL (map).
The artist’s work on display contains a diverse range of photographic genres including portraiture, self-portraiture, street, documentary, still-life, conceptual, art photography, landscape and post-photography. The artists also use a wide variety of techniques both in camera and by digital manipulation to produce the work.
Our teacher, Zoe Van-De-Velde has said “There was no intention to just teach students how to use their camera and to ask them to take the standard shots. Their work should, though their creative process be a reflection of them. By this method the students could, over the time of the course become themselves though their images and ultimately forget their tutor’s existence.”
Of my own work, three titles shall be presented, “Left to our own devices”, “Road To Nowhere” and “ID²”
We do hope you are able to attend, should you live or work in this area. Samples of my work can be seen at my portfolio: www.tomrobson.com. If you have a project and feel my style is suitable for your needs, please contact me. Selected artworks are available to purchase and I am available for hire.
‘Road to Nowhere’ evolved from four separate ideas.
Motion Performance, New Year Resolutions, Political Correctness and Austerity.
The above titles did not translate well into photo projects, intentions were thought out and I’ve wrote about the concepts (unpublished because they do not relate photographically to this set).
What has become clear is that photographic projects may not always be appropriate despite a valid reason for the concept. For example, “Political Correctness” is more ideal as an essay rather than photo project. The photographs taken for “Motion Performance” did not effectively demonstrate what I wanted to achieve within a single exposure, nor did it provide an adequate set of abstract images.
Photography as a practice and format is currently in a state of flux, just as my own aspirations in photography are. Last year, I compiled a 26 part photo essay titled ‘Coming or Going’. The photographs represent a dream like state of two way traffic which asks the question “Are you/we/them coming or going”. At the time I didn’t fully understand what I wanted to achieve with my photography and due to the sporadic nature of my own processes and cancelled or failed projects I decided to revisit the set and create a new ‘Post Photography’ set of images.
Recently learning about the importance of photographic display and the nature of photography (or more correctly, post-photography), I decided to search for alternative meanings in previous work while drawing on the inspiration of others. Charles Grogg has said (referring to ‘regrowth: 2013’) that damaging or altering his photographic works brings his attention to them once again. In his images, he manipulates the printed photograph to add further dimensionality to his photographs.
Adding dimensionality to existing photographs is a regular practice within post photography. Brendon Fowler has said he uses photographs as material for sculpting work (Fowler: 2013). This practice ensures the produced artwork is more than the original photographs.
For ‘Road to Nowhere’, I knew I wanted to damage my original photographs as a demonstration of my own approach in that certain projects may never materialise or simply be a facsimile of the original idea. “Coming or Going” is ideal to develop further to add additional meaning.
By destroying the environment, by burning the roads, by eliminating the method to move within my photographs I and showing you that while I often hesitate in photography, the idea is still there and relevant to me and to the viewer today, just as it was when the original photographs were taken.
Technology has a capacity to make us feel isolated and lonely. “Left to Our Own Devices”, is inspired by Banksy, who vandalised a youth club wall with a painting depicting two contemporary and smartly dressed individuals apparently embracing yet looking directly at their smart phones. (Banksy: 2004). The image is familiar, it’s near identical both in colour, fashion and simulated lighting to Phillip Toledano’s image of a disenchanted couple staring anxiously at their devices for the May 2012 Atlantic article “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely”. (Atlantic: 2012)
Left to our own devices takes online social isolation and places it in context with a photographic portrait. In these photographs, the devices themselves isolate the subject with its ‘captivating bubble’ yet the photographer also is present. In these photographs, we see a reality of human-machine interaction and a void, surrounding the subject.
Typical commercial portraits intend to flatter its subject whereas conceptual portraiture is designed to entice you into the story. There is a certain composure, often ignored yet seen daily which has only surfaced within the past few years. This is what Toledano and Banksy have suggested with the message of preference to digital interaction than that of personal.
It is interesting to see how people really look when they are ‘engaged’; they see not the device or the technology in their hand but their connections to friends combined with new and old strangers, motionless as expressions and body language cease.
Edvard Munch originally pencilled his artworks both vertically and horizontally providing the central character with the illusion of motion. “The Scream” was painted in nature, underneath a blazing red sky placing it in fear of its surroundings or of desperation from isolation. (Prelinger: 2010)
Left to our own devices releases an inner scream, silent – kept still by the inaction of the subject while encapsulating them within its source of light to the exclusion of all else.
The stillness of the photographs is also a reference to the passing of time. John Berger argues that original paintings (I infer photographs here) are silent and still in a sense that information never is. (Berger: 1972).
We can remain static, fixed within the bubble. Away from the physical, away from the vanity of outward appearance and existing behind a screen, true expressions secluded, sitting within a void.
This is our portrait for the duration of time online. How we really appear on social media yet how we’re perceived to those around us, in our comfortable and social environments. Portraits evolve and we no longer show our most flattering side to the photographer. The tangible self is lost to what’s inside, a mental space that no longer requires our bodies.
The world will go on without us, in fact Jean Baudrillard has spoken when humans disappear, when reality is left behind, our bodies are merely a phantom limb. (Baudrillard: 2007). Once the photographer has identified the subject, they have already disappeared and what is left behind is a malady of the self which is never projected online.
Obliviousness of users purchasing fruit and robots.
Yet unable keep to keep up the payments for their focus.
Enrolled into a clique and don’t know who the top dog is.
How low will we go, don’t you know it isn’t joy this brings?
Kids are taunting other kids for the fun of it.
They don’t use stance or wit, they just switch it on and put it in their fist.
They’re trying to get in the loop but can’t, and they are dismissed.
We condemn because we know, and we revel its killing them.
Why are so many people addicted? This shouldn’t have to be.
Is this us now, the human race, behaving naturally?
This is the information age, check the gauge,
We’ve got to upstage, while on-stage.
Living apart from friends, never making amends.
Eating each other alive just to survive the nine to five.
Every waking moment is on the screen, it’s routine.
Spending all our currency in front of us, a slot machine.
Trolling, complications and accusation.
Dividing our people, freedom of speech is in fluctuation.
We use it peace yet we contact the police.
We thought we got freedom, we thought emancipation.
Masses of sheep are together with hate.
Deceptions and indecision, no department of state.
The clock is ticking, but there is no ending,
But we will survive to see another day!
People being born today, already plugged in and afflicted.
Family roles and values are so conflicted.
Take out my battery or plug me in.
I’m busy on Twiter, this is my skin.
We’re disconnected from us, we’re hyper-connected to strangers.
Whatever happened to exchanging with your neighbours?
Disillusioned ourselves with the screen of pleasure!
And the damage that we’ve done will last forever.
Previously, I had decided to highlight that photographs cannot be stolen due to the method and creativity which underpins each photographer.
It is stimulating to take inspiration from another and recreate a derivative or new work of art. What then is the difference between stealing or copying an idea or paying homage to another artist?
We all see the world in different ways and from the outset that was a core theme.
This project, enabled me to realise that just as I sometimes dismiss others photographic work, it’s ok for others to do the same of mine. In fact, I encourage it. This is just what I do, and there is a need to do it. Who cares if it’s accepted or not? It’s ok to photograph the mundane, the depressing and the state of our world today which for many is of personal routine and the uninteresting. What then of destroying the artistic ideals of others when attempting to display an emotion. Not an emotive image, simply shooting a replacement photograph to break the original idea.
I consider it impossible for viewers outside an extremely small collective to fully appreciate these photographs but different conclusions and questions may arise nevertheless.
We all see things in different ways, two different people can view the same object, or have an affinity for a thing, a person, an event or a way of living and process their experience differently, eliciting a difference in perspective.
The difference is in the way in which things are seen, not just visually but the way we see things mentally, and how we respond, both inside and out. A humorous photograph may elicit a favourable response, an insulting photograph may cause offence and an emotional photograph may change a mood. Does the photograph produce a fixed frame of mind for every person or do viewers create them for themselves? The response to the same photograph is different for each person and it’s different if the viewer knows the photographer. Insight is gained if the photographers’ temperament is known.
At the start of this project I knew that it would be challenging to combine ideas from 10 different artists and explored ways of harmonising the set to ensure that my presence is felt within the new photographs that I was creating. That it may be too difficult to combine different ideas from different people and found myself exploring ways to harmonise them. I never settled on an idea, initially it was to invade the photograph with my presence, with shadows, with fingerprints and even with my own blood.
A sweat, blood and tears overlay concept was considered to visually connect the images together, I found that this did not work as I wanted to convey that photography is more than what can be seen externally as photography really isn’t just about what you can see.
“Way’s of Seeing’s” theme was in conflict until I felt something I wanted to photograph. I’ve not taken many photos lately, I’ve simply not been in the mood. Life got to me and I began to shut down, piece by piece. I became emotionally fractured, damaged and I ceased to be myself for a long time. I was emotionally broken. It’s what I felt, and who wants to take photographs at a time like that unless it’s a method to release pain and angst? In these images I wanted to convey the sense of my own inner conflict, the sense that I am broken and this became the over-arching theme for the final photographs.
The more photographs I take and the critical photography theory I read such as Susan Sontag, Jean Baudrillard and other journals, the more I understand how to think about and use photography conceptually. I photograph best when I’m in pain, and they are my best photographs. Not unlike Sophie Calle who has said “Grief is inevitably a better subject than joy”, she argues. “When I’m happy I don’t photograph the moment to share with people on the wall of a museum. It doesn’t translate so well.”
It’s interesting, the more you get to know a person’s motivation for creating photographs, the more you see that reflected in their work. Not just what’s in the frame, but in the way they create photographs and what people think about before even conceiving the photograph.
I’ve suffered with depression for a long time, I’ve tried medication but it doesn’t work well for me. I can function though, I don’t need for anything, I work and more importantly, I play. Who knows if it’s a genetic trait or the product of my terrestrial existence? Depression is one of the driving forces for creating photographs and you may already understand that depression is a thread that runs though many of our great artists, I believe this is what attracts me to them.
It’s why I’m dismissive of some photography when presented with a sunset, or fantastical landscape, or macro of a small insect on a twig. These are all technically perfect I’m sure but they just don’t make me feel anything. My camera is an engine for me to express myself, not a tool to configure. I don’t care about tack sharp images, I don’t obey the ‘rule of thirds’ I enjoy photographs which make me feel something, and I’m attempting to do the same with my own work.
My own work? – I often take down things, re-organise and dismiss my projects as worthless. Sometimes I go for long periods without creating anything and leave gaps in places where there should be photosets. People tell me my work is good, (I’m even qualified) yet I shun any praise because I do not believe it, when people tell me I have something to offer I tend to shut it out and stop taking photographs.
Low self-esteem, withdrawal, feelings of loneliness and worthlessness are all symptoms of depression. Depressed people don’t function like ‘normal’ people and it’s incomprehensible to people who have never suffered it, you just can’t snap out of it – that would be too easy!
Yet, there I find strength, my inner self – the source of my creativity and if I were ever given the option to rid myself of this fucking disease I would pay harshly because my camera requires me to be this way. It’s comforting to release myself to the camera (any camera) and let it flow on the rare occasions I do. It’s not a therapy but it does allow me to see myself in a different light and it helps me to understand the world around me, it’s my way of seeing.
Consequently, these photographs have become very personal to me, even though they steal the idea and invade the visual aspect of others peoples photographs. I couldn’t have created these photographs without first feeling something, and at the time I was broken. The final photograph combines parts one and two of this project as it’s renamed to “…Broken”, completing the full set of twenty photographs, “Here I Am …Broken”.
I forgive myself for the erratic nature of my creativity, and I’m glad I’ve got this off my chest!
Presenting, “Finding Focus” a photography exhibition” held between 20th June to 4th July 2014 at Flint Hall, Belvoir Street, Leicester.
The work is a celebration of the projects and achievements of the Award in Photography Artists as their qualifications are achieved. The artist’s work on display contains a diverse range of photographic genres including portrait, self portrait, street, documentary, still life, conceptual, art photography and landscape. The artists also use a wide variety of techniques both in camera and through digital manipulation to produce the work.