Saturday, 23 March 2019

More Than Documentation

Danel and Erin, Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize Exhibition 2018/19, National Portrait Gallery, London

The portrait of Danel, 9 years old, a survivor of the Grenfell Tower from the series ‘Children of Grenfell’ and the Portrait Erin, 12 years old, a survivor of the Manchester bombing was submitted to the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2018.  Both images were successfully shortlisted guaranteeing the inclusion in the exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery, London.
The Danel portrait inclusion highlights the disconnect between ordinary people and the establishment graphically illustrated by the official response to the Grenfell disaster and the circumstances that led to the fire itself whilst at the same time its presence in a national institution reminds all those affected by Grenfell that they are infact valued. Further, the inclusion in such a prestigious international prize brings an increased level of exposure offering the visitor* an opportunity to engage with Danel’s portrait as a vessel for our empathy and sympathy for all affected.
In the presence of children it is impossible to not consider their potential; this was pronounced as I faced Danel with my camera during the capture of his image, his future has been inevitably altered by his experience. Photography can be more than just documentation and the inclusion in a prize exhibition is more than celebration of craft and ego. The process of creation and the bringing of the work to the gallery space offers an opportunity for further understanding and potential for healing.
Danel with his mother and brother were invited to return to visit his portrait for the first time in the elitist gallery environment. It is both a celebration and examination of the processes that are defining them. The gallery was specially closed to the public to allow them time with the work. A film crew was invited from ITV news to record the event.
” I feel like a celebrity.” – Danel
*The portrait was voted as the favourite by the visiting public.
The inclusion of Erin’s portrait emphasises the therapeutic possibilities of photography. Similarly to Danel and the other children survivors of Grenfell, the act of attention during the photographic act itself offers the possibility of healing and Erin as a print is the focus for empathy for all those affected.
Erin’s unique circumstances as a survivor of a terrorist attack have left her (as with other survivors) with diagnosed PTSD. The inclusion of her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition offered an opportunity to invite the subject to consider attending the private view event that could have parallels to the Ariana Grande concert. The National Portrait Gallery offered Erin and her family a special space available to her exclusively to recognise her value to them in attending and to help her manage the experience of being once again in a large crowd in a confined space.
Erin had trouble liking her own image but since has requested a print and the family have put it up in their home.

Waffle House Index

WAFFLE HOUSE INDEX TYPOLOGY from American Road Trip © Richard Ansett
The typology is pastiche, tribute and critique of Ed Ruscha’s classic Twenty-six Gasoline Stations, 1963. No architecture better expressed American’s burgeoning love affair with the motor car and similarly I focus on a contemporary architecture of the road trip satiating a 21st century obsession with consumption. I reflect on Ruscha’s seeming casual, objective record as part of my exploration of ‘The American Roadtrip’ as an overworked and exhausted photographic genre.
Further I discuss whether historic art, literature and films have assisted in defining the prism through which we view the contemporary American landscape that obstructs a relationship to the now. There is an aesthetic recidivism that hides the uncomfortable truth that we are unable to perceive present reality as valuable or even beautiful without the crutch of established aesthetic convention. This snap shot and blunt cliché of the architecture of the open road undermines the genius of Ruscha’s original work and his once radical vision has become the sentimental yardstick and stalwart of any photographic right of passage. Perhaps this is the fate of any great artist whose work so completely influences the zeitgeist.
This pastiche masks a contemporary narrative. ‘The Waffle House Index’ is an informal metric used by FEMA the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine the effect of a major storm and the likely scale of assistance required for disaster recovery. The geographical concentration of Waffle Houses and their 24 hour, 7 day a week opening times combined with their fixed menus makes the Waffle House chain an invaluable resource for the evaluation of the effects of any major storm on communities, through the assessment of any change in opening times and menus.
These 9 Waffle Houses were photographed with 1 hour and are no more than 2 km apart. Each restaurant has its own unique number.