'An urban dialogue' opening night speech - the text / by Albion Harrison-Naish

The text used for the opening night speech of An urban dialogue, held at x88 Gallery on Saturday 2nd May 2015 as part of the Head On Photo Festival.

[Some hellos, thank yous, asides and jokes…then...]

As photographers we are in constant dialogue with our surroundings, surroundings that are in persistent flux as we walk through them. You are almost always paying close attention to what’s going on around you, what people are doing, what the architecture is like, the space more generally, how people are using it, what the weather’s like, how the light is hitting the scene and the way the light shifts throughout the year and illuminates different patches and different vistas. Plus any number of other things. And then you try and understand, however unconsciously, what patterns this makes. You do this no matter whether or not your camera is on you or in use.

This conversation and interaction coalesces in many different forms. In photography in contrast to many other art forms, there is a pervasive notion of truth and neutrality. Both are of course spurious in reality. However much truth or attempted objectivity there is present, there is no fundamental truth. The camera and the photographer cast their judgements over the scene as surely as they press the button to release the shutter.

The camera and the photographer contextualise by decontextualising. By framing a scene, we inherently choose what to include and what to exclude. Some of that which is excluded we try to imply but much of it is simply not there. Left out of the reality we present. To get all Rumsfeldian, What is now there, is shaped by things now not there. - But how are we as viewers to know in what ways this happens? So the truth given to us is a limited one and one where much trust is asked by the photographer.

Much photography relies on elements of this, especially when the scene is familiar. This familiarity can be based on knowing the physical location of the photo well, or perhaps we simply know the mood the photograph captures, so intimately that we respond with ease and familiarity. But our notion of familiarity can be more based on a built up understanding of what a certain type of scene should look like. The most obvious examples here are war and natural disaster photography. Both rely to some extent on assumptions about what these spaces should look like, assumptions that have been largely built up by earlier images, both still and moving. But whichever way that familiarity is being utilised, our sense of the world and its emotional relationship to us, is to a large extent, reinforced.

A different type of photographic approach, and one which also plays with these notions of truth, witness and representation, is that which attempts to show the familiar or the mundane, in a way that makes it other. Makes it strange and perhaps exotic. It takes away from us our familiarities and gives them back changed. Altered. And when we get back these familiar but altered realities, we expand our understanding of the world and our place in it, along with the possibilities contained within each moment of our lives and worlds.

It is these, what I like to think of as ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ views of the world, that the camera and the photographer’s eye are especially well equipped to capture, … with its blending and shifting of contexts, it’s blurred notions of truth, imagination and fiction, that are created when you frame a scene and isolate it.

So we hope you each find amongst these photos some otherwise almost obscured vision of your usually familiar surroundings, now illuminated.