September 28, 2019

Ever wondered what it's like to travel back in time? Well I've just managed to go back thirty years to a former synagogue off Brick Lane via a disused shop in Rotterdam. Just like Mr Benn.

Why was I there? Let me start at the end.

I don't often put my work forward for awards. I like to find a particular angle of interest. I'm a photographer obvs. Gus Powell's curation of a show in Los Angeles last year ticked a couple of boxes as someone's whose work I respected in a city where one of my daughter's was living at the time.

This year my eye was caught by Shutter Hub's STREET/FORM show featuring photographs printed on newsprint pasted around the walls of a disused shop in the south of Rotterdam, part of POW WOW NOW a festival of urban culture encompassing graffiti and spoken word artists, street dance, music and sports. I ran out of boxes to tick.

I selected work from New Europe I thought would work well in that format. Graphical, lots of tones and with a common theme.

I was really pleased three were selected and even more so when I saw them up as part of a group show of seventy photographers from around the world. The theme leaned towards the fabric of the street rather than people so it was interesting to see my work in that context especially as I'm trying to bring more of the environment around us into my pictures.

I also enjoyed the irreverence of using newsprint and sticking them to the wall with tape. It immediately took me back to one of my first photography shows in the late 80s in 19 Princelet Street in a place immortalised in Rodzinsky's Room by Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair

The former synagogue was in transition to becoming a heritage centre and we seized the opportunity to put on a show of painting and photography. I took the basement as a suitable space to reflect my aesthetic, taking pleasure in dragging pieces of corrugated iron down the stairs to paste my photocopied photos on to. Hey forgive me. I was young and crazy. I do remember taking a sack truck out of the building along Brick Lane and wondering about the circumstances it last made that journey.

I pause to reflect. Have I moved forward at all? I hesitate to use the world professionally so let's use the art word practice. It's the same technical approach using essentially the same cameras. The location is constant and any variation is again very similar. So that's the How. What about the Why?

I confess there's something obsessive if not insane about repeating the same task over and over again hoping for a different outcome. My pictures are to a large degree the same. I find it fascinating that my earlier work in particular has a timeless/locationless (is that a word?) quality. It means I miss out on a chance to submit to the tremendous Cafe Royal Books as they really don't work as site or date specific documents of those times. However for me they convey something more universal and that's taken me into the territory of a more oblique kind of storytelling: metaphor, suggestion, ambiguity. Not a radical departure granted but another way of seeing, another way of walking.

Another point of departure.

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Sean McDonnell

I've been pursuing a style of photography now called street for a number of years. A south Londoner by birth I am pre-occupied with the West End and spend too much time there taking black and white pictures on film. I nurture a hope that one day London will be recognised like Paris, New York and Tokyo as a great city of street photography but secretly like the fact that it is still the underdog. For someone who enjoys the solitary practice of his work I am surprisingly talkative about it - although not at the same time. Here's a collection of idle musings and distracting links.

These posts are a sample of my current blog PORTRAIT OF A STREET PHOTOGRAPHER. There are 10 years of posts so please visit!

Portrait of a Street Photographer archive

link to Portrait of a Street Photographer blog
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