“I am sick of hearing the versions of England from other people” Photographer Robin Maddock
Robin Maddock is a documentary photographer who for the last twenty years has portrayed different aspects of English society. His latest photography exhibition is currently showing at Tattoo Shop, Sydney Street, on occasion of the 8th Brighton Photo Biennial: A New Europe.
For the last two years since the Brexit vote, Robbin has been travelling the country taking pictures and writing. This exhibition includes many of those new pictures but also older images and new collages. Much of this work will be incorporated into his new book about England to be published by March 2019.
Images of a postcard Britain of young riders, birdwatchers and green lawns, together with hooliganism, drunk behaviour and tackiness and groups of veiled immigrant women on a country walk against the backdrop of an idyllic English village. The photographer seems to have tried to convey what England was about and had to leave without a simple, straight answer.
Why did you feel the need to put these pictures together? I am sick of hearing the versions of England from other people, and because of things that are disappearing and things that annoy me, the beautiful and the ugly. That’s why I started looking into this project. It also speaks about my life…I haven’t stopped moving, I haven’t stopped being led by the photographic projects I have been doing. Maybe it’s time for me to stop and decide where I want to be. Many photographers are like that, and when they reach my age they realise they have got no family, no house and no furniture.
Is this a representation of Britain? These are representations of England only, because Britain is just too complicated. I went to the place where people pressed the button to self-destruction, they pressed the button because they would have pressed anything at that time. I was on Stoke-on-Tent for two weeks during the by-election last year, with Ukip and Labour and the front runners, but I would have made the same pictures anyway. I haven’t gone out to take Brexit pictures, I have gone out to take pictures of how this country is not any longer a monolithic culture with all the cliches.
What cliches are those? All the cliches about class, I just wanted to see how the middle ground works, how my relation with the country and my memories of certain people, my understanding of landscape. My starting point was the extremes this country can have in both beauty and ugliness. Extremes that are both part of me and aspects that I couldn’t understand.
Why do you think Brexit won? Younger people didn’t vote, it is as simple as that. They did in the last general election and that’s what changed Labour’s perspective. It’s too late now, so when they say it was the will of the people, I don’t care what you think, it was a mistake….You have to stop people from hurting themselves, that’s my opinion. But I don’t know what to do about that.
How does it affect you? This is the first time that other people have affected the liberty of “me”, my freedom of movement. How lucky we have been to be able to travel all our lives the way other people are dying for… to move, to change country… Most of my life has been defined by this freedom and now I feel European and remain one. England is not my concept, but it is one that others have made relevant to contest.
How would you define your style? My style is to destroy the idea of an overarching style that someone can look at. I’m fed up with people working in very obvious ways, being known for something that usually is copying what was done before. I am all for classical type of photography, but also for messing with the flow and confusing people a bit. We are too simple sometimes.
What was your approach to this work? I chose to work in a very loose way for this project. I am looking for people and places that perhaps reveal hidden truths and visually led initially. When editing I look at pictures in a way that is more than what first appears. I like projects to be complex and messy and then resolved. I want the wider life to shape the work.
How did you find your inspiration? Some of the pictures do better then others and take us into a direction. I stay very open to the magic that you can find and the people that you meet. That incorporates getting lost, it incorporates loneliness, boredom, thinking that you are wasting your time.
I don’t want to say that I want to spend another two years on the road, but the chaos, the journey, wondering what everything is about has all been an important part of letting reality define my work.
Is it difficult to get commission? Nobody would ever commission me on the basics of what I do when I am halfway through it. I normally would just send pictures to The New York Times. This is my best project and they have always supported everything I’ve made, and they said: “Oh! We can’t see how it could make an editorial story as they are all different formats”
You can’t rely on other people to understand what are you are doing. Picture editors are the worst to understand because they want you to make their life easier. They don’t want you to come and show a complicated project, but they love it when the book comes out!
Curators want to see a gimmick, now they want to see self-representation, and they want to see what’s on trend. They cannot see it, and that is why Shoair Mavilian has been amazing here in Brighton, because she had the vision to see the project at an earlier stage and realise what potential it had and how it was going to look.
What other projects you have in hand? I have half a project in France. That’s my next book, and then I have a third of a book on Nigeria and I want to go for a quick visit in a couple of months. After that I should probably retire from photography and do environmental work as that is all that matters now.
Robin first published a book called ‘Our Kids Are Going to Hell’ (2009) which is a portrait of the social interactions between youth and the police in Hackney, London. His second title, ‘God Forgotten Face’ (2011) represents aspects of everyday English society in the South Western town of Plymouth. ‘III’ (2014) is a black and white look at the streets of America.
His solo photography exhibition is on show at Tattoo Shop, Sydney Street until the 28th of October. You can preview some of his work on Instagram.
Note: Brighton Journal supports freedom of speech. Interviews published by us don’t necessarily reflect what the journal stands for.