Saturday, April 17, 2021

Top marks

Congratulations to Craig Easton on being named Photographer of the Year in the 2021 World Photography Awards. He scooped the top prize in the Portraiture category for Bank Top, a joint project with writer and academic Abdul Aziz Hafiz that sought to complicate media myths of segregation in Blackburn. 

As Easton told the Lancashire Telegraph, "Northern Britain is the absolute epicentre of Britain's wealth for me in the Industrial Revolution. The fall of that and the colonial projects and all of those things are all evident here now and these stories need telling. So I am absolutely delighted that this allows me to tell the story." That story shows that the picture is far more complex than some would have us believe, and that - as in the case of Nick Hedges' photos for Home - the local residents are the unfortunate victims of greater forces beyond their control. Bank Top depicts a deprived area, but also one whose inhabitants appear keen to face down misrepresentation and assert their own existence before the lens with a measure of defiance and pride.

The judges rightly recognised that this was very much not just a collection of photographs connected by location. On the contrary, Chair Mike Trow said the award acknowledged "the intent, dedication and understanding" behind Bank Top, and its "moral weight" - the sort of weight that might hopefully come to bear on those in a position to change both perceptions and the material reality.

In this respect, it's exactly the sort of "long-form work made within communities" that Jim Mortram is looking to promote in his new capacity as a member of the Side Gallery's Curatorial Advisory Group. As the photographer behind Small Town Inertia, he's well equipped to assess such work and would no doubt agree wholeheartedly with Easton's statement that photography is "all about documenting society. I see myself as much of a historian and as a photographer making work that will be looked at in generations to come, I hope."

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