Category Archives: portraiture

Dying Matters

Exploring how photography can help us make sense of loss, with pictures by: Anastasia Taylor Lind, Lydia Goldblatt, Briony Campbell and Guy Martin.

 

Having suffered loss and photographed loss I can understand the importance that photography can play in helping us come to terms with losing our loved ones. When I think of my parents (who died in 2010,  very close together) the memories are often linked to photographs I have. For me at least my memory is sparked by imagery, and photography, being a medium that is very well suited to exploring the passing of time, is the natural partner to this process of remembering.

In my project Before They Were Fallen, exploring Remembrance, the passing of time and loss is revealed very directly in the comparison between two pictures: a family snap and its recreation taken after a death in action.

Before They were Fallen , Afghanistan Remembrance

HELENA TYM AND ROBIN THATCHER from Berkshire, are the parents of Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher who was killed on June 2nd, 2009, in an explosion whilst on patrol in Helmand province. He was 19. Before: Helena, Robin and Cyrus at home in Reading, Prom Night, May 2006. After: At home in Reading, July 2015 “We haven’t taken many photographs since Cyrus was killed, because all we see, when we look at them, is the one face that isn’t there. That’s why, when we were approached about this project, we wanted to do it, because it conveyed exactly how we feel. There is this space all the time, and I feel it very physically, so to be able to show it in a photograph is really important.”

Elsewhere in the project I used photography  to explore the potential for objects to store traces of a loved one.   The pictures consider the  possibility that we can  lock memories within a solid form such as  an object of significance.  They then store emotional potential like a reservoir  for thoughts and emotions, to be released by touch or through a visual connection.

UK _ Remembrance Objects of Significance , TONI O’DONNELL

Stones and Stuff “Gary loved to collect fossils, stone and shells form the places he went. He would be able to tell you exactly where each piece came from.” Toni O’Donnell, lost her husband, Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary ‘Gaz’ O’Donnell GM, from 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, when he was killed on Wednesday 10 September 2008, in Helmand province.

I know from the interest I have had in the story both from the participants and the audience  that photography as a tool to explore loss can be very effective and that there is a huge appetite for imagery dealing with this issue. When I was invited to be a Judge for the Dying Matters photography competition along with Rankin, Lisa Pritchard ( and several judges  from outside of the  photography industry) I really wanted to support it, believing apart being a from fund raising opportunity for the charity,  the competition was also a brilliant vehicle for people trying to make sense of their own loss and bereavements.

The  theme for the competition which can you enter here is broadly dying and  bereavement ,

“To enter, you need to submit a photograph and text to Celebrate Life in the Face of Death.  Your photograph could be a place, person, or object or abstract composition exploring dying, death or bereavement which:

Is a memory or moment of someone or something special in your life
Is a representation of a life changing experience or achievement
Depicts community spirit
Reminds you of mortality”

With that in mind I wanted to use this blog to show case some pictures that I feel deal with the subject particularly well in the hope that I can inspire some of the entrants. These pictures are selected  from  the work of friends and colleagues  and bearing in mind I’m a documentary photographer this genre is particularly well represented in this selection. They deal with public and private loss .

Brioney Campbell and Lydia Goldblat are two photographers who have dealt with the approaching  death of their fathers in  a very personal and hugely inspiring way. The Photography engages us immediately,  poetically and with intensity. The viewer shares the journey to the point of departure on an extraordinary  intimate level.

The work, undoubtedly, is part of the grieving process for Briony and Lydia; but through their attempt to make sense of their loss , and their generosity in sharing, we the viewer have  privileged access to this very private process.

Briony’s The Dad Project works with film and image; the sound is crucial in the film but always its the stills that hold our attention rather than the moving footage.

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“You seem like a very kind man David”. “Well thank you Alan I tried”. Alan the paramedic’s eyes were full when he replied; “Just keep on trying is all I can say to you my friend”.

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Me (Briony) as Dad, 1986

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Today we knew he would die soon. I went outside and looked at the sky while we waited for the ambulance. It was perfectly beautiful.

Lydia’s series, Still Here (Hatje Cantz 2013 ) seeks to make sense of the transition between  life and death, by searching for the poetic or ‘metaphysical’.

According to the publisher “her work offers a concentrated meditation on mortality, time, love and loss, in which corporeal scrutiny courts metaphysical wonder. The images are often limited to a single detail: a timepiece abandoned on a shelf, a closed eyelid, the sunlit form of a bee.”

Lydia herself says of her work “Photographing, for me, is a means of giving expression to both the internal and external processes that shape our experience of life”

she is “interested in the indefinable thresholds that mark out our individual existence, and in the subtle process of erasure that returns us to the state from which we emerge.”

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From the personal to the public sphere I wanted to show case the work of two other friends and colleagues , Anastasia Taylor-lind and Guy Martin , who like me have been interested in new ways of documenting  aftermath of conflict. They  both offered an interesting take on the Maiden protests, ( Kiev, Ukraine, February 2014)  that led to the shooting of 112 protestors.

Anastasia did not set out to document death or dying, I’m  guessing originally , but her project which began as exploration of the idiosyncratic nature of the protestors and their home made Armour soon became a study of  loss following the tragic shooting and deaths  of 112 protestors . An insight into the work is inferred from a recent quote, “Men fight wars, and women mourn them,”

Portraits from the Black Square Is published by Ghost books 2014 .

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Guys work, ‘Shrines of Maidan’,  is again impressive in its simplicity , in his words the pictures ‘serve as reminders of the lives that were lost during the early convulsions of the Ukrainian revolution. He explains “photographers, returning to locations months and years after bloody and often violent events have taken place are often fraught with the weight of responsibility. How can it be possible to represent those historical events when all but the slimmest trace of of that specific violent history remains? These shrines, dotted along a snow covered avenue were not only a physical monument to those events but also a reminder in the enduring power of the simple family album image.”

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I hope these pictures give you a flavor of what is possible in both public and private spheres when photographing  Death and dying; and most importantly the inspiration and courage  to enter the competition.

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China’s One Child Policy is a Two child policy!

Congratulations to China on this momentous day; or dare I say it  ‘great leap forward’. China has announced that the one child policy is now a two child policy; so says the BBC. I thought It would be a nice occasion to publish some of the pictures from a story done a few years ago made with writer Katy Regan where we explored the policy pretty much coming to the conclusion that things would need to change; read more here.

Then and Now- a Story of Loss in Afghanistan

“After Afghanistan” published this month in Marie Claire , is a story I have been thinking about and working on for a while.  (My working title is Then and Now). I came up with the idea of recreating family snapshots after conflict bereavement during a trip to Libya, in July 2012. I was wrestling with the idea of how to tell stories of Loss in the aftermath of War (a theme I have explored in several countries). In the picture below we see the recreation off a snap after the child (later a rebel) on the right was killed in action in Tripoli, Libya . libya45 In Libya the culture of the the family snapshot is not so great; and this made it a difficult approach there but I knew it would be well suited to a similar story in the UK.  Its great Marie Claire have given the space to these stories. I really believe its important to consider the sacrifice the families of service personnel make alongside that of the  soldiers. The interviews by Katy Regan are really powerful, there is no online gallery but here’s a sample from Caroline Munday’s  interview ( pictured below) that really struck me:

“I was just leaving work, at Parcel Force, when I saw my sister had rung, leaving an odd message saying I had to call mum.  Mum was very insistent I immediately go home to her and Dad’s.  I just felt this blackness come over me. I said, “Oh God, tell me it isn’t James”.
I was on my knees, alone in the car park, screaming. I felt like my heart had been wrenched out.  Then, this bubble just emerged around me. I walked back to the building and said, calmly to the security guard, “I’ve just found out my son’s been killed in Afghanistan. I need to go back into the building

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A big thank you to all who took part, once more, for the emotional strength and commitment to the story.

You may be able to help?

I am planning to apply for Arts Council funding to make this a much bigger project, with many more stories told which would tour as an exhibition – hopefully as part of our remembrance celebrations. In order to have a chance of getting this, however, I need to find ‘match funding’ that is, a partner to supply sponsorship.

You could help by sharing this story with your contacts and colleagues. My hope is, that it would then reach organisations who might be interested in giving back to our troops’ efforts and their sacrifice by backing such a project.

Each case study who takes part gets to support their chosen charity, so by even just tweeting or Facebooking the story, you would be giving back in a small way.

Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

Seamus Heaney, in his kitchen , photographed , at home, shortly before the launch of “District and Circle “for the Telegraph.

Afterwards Seamus took us ( me and the journalist whose name evades me) to Dublin for a memorable pint of Guinness, where I remember a very animated conversation about poetry. What a privilege to spend this time with a fabulous poet and fabulous man.

Many pictures of Seamus online are quite serious such is the fashion for photographic portraiture; but I’m pleased I took this which reflects the warmth of spirit he emanated, – like a radiator. RIP Seamus.

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Exhibition at Streetlevel Photoworks

Pleased to be taking part in a group show at  Scotland’s Street Level Photoworks Gallery in Glasgow. The work was selected from the Desk Job series shown at Format Festival.  Also showing is Ken Grant, Kajal Nisha Patel and Moira Lovell.  It’s nice to be part of a smaller show with such an interesting collection of work.  Desk Job - Workers at their Desks Around the World

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A Big Thankyou  to  the magazines publishing the story completed recently in Libya , notably Der Tagesspiegel and A-magasinet (www.aftenposten.no) , hope to publish these tears soon. Here’s the link to  full story for those of you interested:

http://www.louisquail.com/PDF/Talking_About_a_Revolution_final.pdf

Here are a few thoughts on my motivation.

Out of all the countries in the Arab spring Libya for me seemed the most interesting.  There was something inspiring and clean cut about the way the people removed such a brutal dictator whilst  introducing democracy and keeping control of the revolution ; side stepping the drift into insurgency ( as has happened in Syria).

In Libya the whole country it seems is behind the process of democracy. After the recent, and highly regrettable, killing of the American ambassador , 30 000 people came on to the streets to remove the militias allied to Islamic extremism deemed responsible. This truly is a popular Revolution.

However, although we have heard much about the Islamic extremists how many people know  about this huge  popular response to extremism  days later.

The nature of the news machine is to report the most dramatic, the most inflammatory stories if you like. My personal response to this is, and has always been to think  ‘there has to be a more complex and honest way to report on and understand a situation’.

I reported in my introduction:

“Our perceptions of Libya are constricted by a news industry that focuses on the most dramatic events – the fighting and global strategy. However, it’s only by talking to the individuals intimately involved with the revolution, that we can truly see the big picture and understand the legacy of Muammar Gaddafi.

So driven partly by my fascination with Libya and partly by the urge to tell stories in a less sensational manner I felt compelled to visit Libya.

I was first inspired to work like this in Kosovo and have since been to Afghanistan and Haiti, (www.louisquail.com) working in a similar way.

Of course there are many difficulties still in Libya as it recovers not just from revolution but 42 years of a brutal dictatorship.  While I was in Libya there was a gun battle outside my hotel, and the airport hijacked by a disgruntled militia (more of this on my earlier blogs).  Shocking as this is, it was in no way indicative of my lasting impression of Libya.

I met some truly amazing people, such as the lawyer, turned soldier, turned lawyer Ghelaio who fought to protect his family and is now fighting for a truly free Libya or the 15 female revolutionaries in Tajoura who risked their, lives fighting for freedom.

When every house hold has a gun, and easy access to grenades its not surprising that trouble happens, but what I was always amazed by was how little trouble there was. This is a country with problems but also of moderation.  For the most part the Libyans were friendly, and optimistic that there would be a better life for them and their country men.

I shot on film, taking my time, and interviewed people, sometimes at length. I felt it was also important to document and pay tribute to the ordinary people involved in extraordinary events and to report on their tragedy, courage and stoicism not to mention other unexpected qualities such as  moderation and tolerance.

Often for the most part people seemed grateful that they could at last speak openly, and people were always friendly.

My one regret was I didn’t get to see the fabulous Roman city outside Tripoli. I’m betting if I return to Libya in a few years or so it will be along with thousands of tourists enjoying a peaceful country with an amazing history.

The wars end anniversary is on the 23/10/12, it seems a fitting time to show this work and remember the courage and loss of the Libyan people.

Libya: ‘Talking About A Revolution’

So after what seems like an eternity of transcribing interviews; far to many conversations with retouchers about removing dust marks on film scans; and a crash course in Adobe Indesign I am finally showing my feature from Libya in pdf form.  Anyone  who would like a copy please get in touch, ( mail@louisquail.com) in the meantime here is a taster. The project  explores the legacy left by the revolution and Gadaffi’s dictatorship and pays tribute to the suffering and courage  of the extraordinary people of Libya.

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