This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – finally after two false starts thanks to the global pandemic, World Press Photo opens at Magnet Galleries in Melbourne. Plus Craig Easton’s visual study of Bank Top, a neighbourhood in the northern town of Blackburn, England described by BBC’s Panorama as the “most segregated town in Britain.” Easton’s book of the same name, published by GOST, presents a more nuanced narrative.
World Press Photo – Now Showing at Magnet Galleries Melbourne
Last night the World Press Photo exhibition opened at Magnet Galleries in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct. This long awaited event, that has been rescheduled twice since 2020, showcases works from the 2022 winners of the most prestigious and longest running (65 years) global competition for press photography.
This is the first time that World Press Photo has exhibited in Melbourne – I know, unbelievable right, given Mayor Sally Capp in welcoming guests to the show last night claimed Melbourne as Australia’s photography capital. I have no argument with that claim, and hope the Melbourne city council has put their money into the event too – the Silvers who run Magnet (Michael and Susanne), which is a not-for-profit, have worked their fingers to the bone getting this show up.
The Guardian | Australia editor Lenore Taylor gave a fascinating keynote address via Zoom (again thanks to the pandemic), highlighting the importance of truth-telling in journalism and the role of photography in revealing important stories.
World Press Photo exhibition manager and curator Julia Kozakiewicz is in Melbourne too for a limited time and will be hosting two guided tours of the exhibition. Bookings are essential, visit the Magnet website for details.
As part of the exhibition there are various events including the Talking Photography Sunday Series. In a shameless plug, I am hosting the RE/DEFINING PHOTOJOURNALISM’S BOUNDARIES session on Sunday 19 June from 1-4pm. I’m kicking off the afternoon with a discussion on how Instagram is being used by photojournalists with specific reference to the Instagram feed @everydayclimatechange. Fay Anderson, an Associate Professor at Monash and a photography historian, will share insights from her latest book. PLUS there will be a lively panel discussion on re/defining photojournalism with myself as moderator, freelance photojournalists Meredith O’Shea and Christina Simons, The Guardian | Australia photo editor Ellen Smith and Fay Anderson. Hope to see you there!
World Press Photo 2022
10-30 June, Magnet Galleries, SC G19 Wharf Street, The District, Docklands (Melbourne CBD).
Bank Top – Craig Easton
Over two years (2019 & 2020), British documentary photographer Craig Easton lugged his large format wooden field camera around Bank Top, in the north of England. Spending weeks on end in this neighbourhood of Blackburn, a former industrial hub, Easton took it slowly, getting to know the locals “sharing laughs, swapping stories, and sometimes making pictures.”
Blackburn, which is located northwest of Manchester, has been mired in negative commentary for decades. In 2019, the town was named the “14th most deprived area out of 317 districts and unitary authorities in England,” according to the Lancashire County Council. Its impoverished status implies that inhabitants are an amorphous group called ‘the poor’.
Easton’s book Bank Top does not suggest that those living in this neighbourhood are not struggling, some more than others. Rather, the narrative peels back the generic label ‘poor’ that is slapped on the neighbourhood, reminding us that people are not statistics, and everyone has a unique and important story no matter how difficult it might be to tell or hear.
As poet, writer and social researcher Abdul Aziz Hafiz writes in the book, ‘The way that northern towns, neighbourhoods and people are presented in the media and absorbed by the popular imagination is full of homogenising signifiers of red brick terraces, women wearing headscarves and tough ‘blokes’. These mythologies are toxic fairy-tales ignoring the true stories of the complex social and ethnic textures of places like Bank Top, of lifelong friendships, marriages and bonds between people of contrasting backgrounds and multiple ethnicities and identities. Who does this oversimplification by the media serve? Why is the diversity brought about by complicated journeys taken to arrive here ignored? Is this a story about the observer rather than those being observed?’.
Easton’s black and white portraits reveal proud individuals looking straight at the camera. In some of the images the background is blurred, indicating the locality’s irrelevance to the identity of the person pictured. Other portraits are environmental, situating the individual in a broader narrative: the young man covered in paint outside a home being renovated; the lone man in prayer in the back of his small corner store during the pandemic; and the elderly woman in her sparsely furnished sitting room, a blanket warming her along with her cat.
The portraits feature alongside landscape and urban photographs, the combination of which aids in conveying the history of the area. Its industrial past is evident in the smokestacks and disused factories, the former glory of mechanisation slowly being reclaimed by nature. The uniform housing is also indicative of the north’s industrial legacy.
These pictures provide fascinating backdrops to the stories of Bank Top’s residents many of whom are immigrants from far flung regions such as Pakistan as well as eastern European nations like Poland and Romania.
Bank Top is largely populated with immigrants, enterprising individuals who having arrived with very little, and in some cases naught, have carved a future for themselves and their families. Others like Carol Imasiku, “a diplomat’s daughter from Cape Verde” find themselves in limbo, at the mercy of bureaucratic apathy that denies them resident status despite having lived in the UK for decades. Nevertheless, multiculturalism seems to work here, the segregation narrative propagated by the media a default position that is easy to debunk as Easton’s pictures show.
In the “field notes,” that add great value to the book, and of which I would have liked to see more (of course, because I am a writer). One observation suggests that “the media often forgets the experience of first-generation immigrants in the north – the effects of factory work felt much later in life, or the cost of living with translocal psyches, never quite static. Who writes about the price they paid for displacement? Who will ever know their ways of being?” Important questions that warrant a response.
Bank Top is published by GOST books, and is another aesthetically noteworthy production from this publisher. The cloth bound and embossed cover encases 134 pages of thick, off-white matte paper which ensures the excellent reproduction of the 64 duotone images. The book begins with a poem from Abdul Aziz Hafiz, and concludes with Easton’s field notes. Add this to your bookshelf. You won’t be disappointed.