Strange by Stephen Shaw
Graduate, writer and published photographic artist Stephen Shaw considers the social, urban and domestic semiology within an estate in Blackpool where he grew up. This body of work aims to deconstruct life on the fringes and bring to light the poetic value found within the community. Using a unique inside perspective to capture the place where he grew up.
My name is Stephen Shaw I was raised on Grange Park a council estate in Blackpool, nicknamed strange, where one has to mind ones fookin back, this is where my project is set.
I am a published social documentary photographic artist and writer currently studying an MA at central Lancashire university looking to get published in a photobook this year.
I always collect artefacts from my sitters and interview them live while on a shoot. I like to use this audio along with the texts and photos and would love to see it within a gallery exhibition.
This project is derived from a desire to document areas of personal significance to myself, with an intention to memorialise. These images speak of murder, lingering ghosts of past events, deja-vu, omens and portents.
A hidden world not everyone is exposed to.
I hope to ultimately bring a window of reality through which the audience can see a truth they would otherwise be blind to. Showing what it means to be GrangeParkian and what the people of Grange Park actually do. To highlight how areas of social segregation with decreased social mobility cause deprivation that promote undesirable negative behaviours. These behaviours create a mindset of disassociation which continues a vicious circle of cyclical violence and isolation.
All my work is motivated by intimate pain with a personal story intertextualised within. “I have a great sense of empathy with a desire for knowledge and researching failed human constructs. The simple and avoidable but often unnoticed flaws in our culture and the people who inhabit its fabric are what drives me.
I have a thirst to photographically conceive and evolve knowledge within the photographic medium and bring this to the attention of a greater audience.”
Today I think it’s almost considered a taboo to speak to people living on these streets never mind to offer a helping hand to people who often become my subjects. The world could be a better place if everyone would love each other as they love themselves.”
Tell us more about yourself and your practice.
I am a recent graduate from Blackpool and the Fylde College Palatine University with a first class honours degree in photography, currently studying an MA in photography at central Lancashire University. I am a published photographic artist and experimental writer I consider myself a researcher who loves photography and uses it as a tool to display my concepts and visual strengths.
Creativity is my strength and passion, the act of creating something beautiful from danger that informs others, personally thrills.
I have an instinctive eye drawn to symbols within reality. I use them to tell a story when within my documentary process as a way of framing my subject and, as a tool of dual-layered storytelling to explain life tragedies poetically. I use language creatively to give clues that help realise this deeper story.
My work is driven by personal pain, and memorialism within my own environment. I use a dual story of paranoid fiction as a parallel metaphor to contemporary problems regarding open secrets that manifest in my personal life and society.
The highly symbolic narrative I use in my work constantly shifts and polarises from perpetrator to victim, subject to photographer, within a story decipherable through this dual narrative.
What was your creative process for this series or for your work in general?
My creative process is instinctual, strong and frequent. I am drawn to the artistically beautiful, the mysterious and uncanny which seems to make it self known to me on a regular basis. My underlying personal story in all my work, was a series of events arrived at quite by accident due to the depravity of human nature, over the course of completing my degree projects. This then became an obsessional game of pain, wits and research.
What work inspires or has inspired you?
Social Documentary photography inspires me as it is a challenge to explore, investigate, delve deep beyond a safe surface. I'm a magpie and I like to gamble, keen to collect, put myself out there and archive.
I am inspired by Nan Goldin, Bruce Gilden, Dougie Wallace and Martin Parrs photographic wit. Other artists I love are Diana Arbus, Larry Clark and Dash snow. Some I feel have similar artistic tendencies as myself.
The UK is one dark mess. I aim to document that, starting from insight into so many personal histories around me. By shaking people up, I hope I can assist on a ground level. Urgent intervention is needed, particularly through education and health care.
Are there any artistic movements you enjoy in particular and why?
I am interested in the effects of hyperrealism, hyper reality on our culture, within language and image. The damaging effects of our mass consumption of images and fake media on our society at the moment and how modern technology's are negatively affecting mental health. Placing our mind elsewhere suspended on a quantum string if you will, not quite fully in the present, but integrating towards cyberspace, but not quite fully there yet either. So I suppose you could say at the moment I’m enjoying an evolved offshoot of photorealism
Do you have any opinions or ideals underlying your art?
I feel that each genre in the art world should enhance and contain more of its strengths. Photography for me has a great sense of portraying the unexpected that garners new knowledge and takes us down different paths, this was an attraction for me. I feel a good image should always contain this unexpected as I feel it sheds light on this unknown within the photograph. There is an eerie substance within the photographs nature and its use of time and light that I feel helps display this unexpected. Personal subconsciousness, fate, omens, portents, coincidence, call it what you will, I try to use this as a strong guiding principle for personal satisfaction.
I suppose it's all a tissue of quotation.
STRANGE is a really emotive and personal body of work. From the start it really paralleled the work of Nan Goldin in our eyes. Can you tell us more about your view of the inside/outside perspective theory in photography? How do you use subjectivity in your own work?
I feel that any medium can be evolved and grown through time. But not everyone can see the same, so sometimes one's vision needs more forms of language to help hone it to a sharp point and deliver this information. Knowing from the inside I feel is always better at creating a deeper piece of work. A person who has experienced the story he wishes to tell can portray it with a greater understanding than a person who has not and with more empathy.
Photography is never enough to tell a story, particularly a personal one. Ideally, I would include as much familiarity, sensory, emotional persuasion as is possible. I see my words and images as an art form that moulds my context towards personal desires. The camera is a tool to convey my thoughts.
With my work at the moment, I feel I am occupying that liminal space between the representation of two story’s, two truths, so my work that is a personal reality, influences and moulds my experience of the real issue at hand, it becomes something different and more than a truth. It is grown from two personal perspectives. I am always looking to be guided by these truths in symbolic forms around me when on a shoot.
Does this make it more true or less so? The reality of the subjects is still there as witnessed by the camera but my minds eye dominates each frame within it.
I suppose I am confessing a story to the viewer that seeks it but depersonalising my attachment to it. I want the truth to be known but it is a hard truth to tell.
I am part of the story I tell and the environment that it is set within. The subjects are not a spectacle for me. I admire and understand them. I am the same.
I try to be as sensitive as I can to my subjects as possible and in how I tell their story. I am empathic to their needs and inner workings I wish for the viewer to learn from the viewing experience and take away an understanding that helps them change for the better.
Any words for aspiring artists?
Do not let others taint you or destroy what you love and desire through their own misunderstanding and deep insecurities. Keep fighting for what you love and practice it daily, for when you create something beautiful, if only for yourself, it has all been worthwhile.
Is there anything you’re currently working on?
I’m currently working on a project called arrival this is a growing evolution of strange and the gift. I wont give too much away at the moment. I would like my work to be taken on board by large publishers. I also have ideas I would like realised in a gallery exhibition.
What are you looking forward to in the future of your photographic career?
I have currently self published my own photo books but would love to get large publishers to help publish my work on a bigger scale to a larger audience. I would also like to have exhibitions of my work in gallery’s merged with audio from the shoots, using new ideas I am excited about.