Photographs evince an attitude to the way we can document and express a city. It is telling that the four photographers involved with Archive-Sheffield seek different perspectives to explore social and cultural ideas within our town; Capa defined us in 1968 as Concerned Photographers. The city is a space we occupy in a variety of ways from the sheer physical to other more conceptual and psychological patterns that relate to how we function in and activate it. Some themes have preoccupied photographers for decades; one thinks of Atget, Hine, Smith’s epic Pittsburg and Richard’s New York. Closer to home we have Maynard and on a smaller, beautiful scale J A Mortram. I know, I’ve missed a few out!
I’m in my 50’s so my references are broadly what you would expect, or perhaps not, I work with young people after all and as a result am exposed to all manner of stuff, but still I return to those practitioners who explore the human condition because I firmly believe this is photography’s finest gift. Take Robin Hammond for example, winner this year of the Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, or the photographers involved in the Open Society Foundation.
Have you noticed that there is a theory for everything? Photography isn’t immune and when it is linked with post-modern ideas around “urban theory” or “grounded theory” my brain goes, just show me the photographs and I will decide if they connect or not. Theory is a distant thought when I’m next to a red-hot furnace or sitting in a caravan with someone doing cold turkey. It’s only here, in my dining room looking out on a wind swept garden, the apples being removed from under the tree by fat squirrels that I can engage with all that. And engage I must, my supervisors are getting suspicious; perhaps I’m not as bright as I need to be! As dear Mr. Nietzsche once said, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker…