New Benji Reid performance combines photography and dance to tell stories

For the world premiere of Find Your Eyes, part of the Manchester International Festival, Reid will work with three performers to create live photographs based on stories from his life

“Chroeo-photolism is the intersection between photography, choreography and theatricality. I’m trying to tell stories through theatrical settings, but I’m using my body physically through the choreography.”

This is how Benji Reid describes the artworks that he makes, which feature fantastical imagery that is rooted in physical expression and storytelling. His work could be described as ‘hyper-real’ though it addresses some of the very real challenges that we face in life, including mental health struggles and complex family relationships.

All images: © Benji Reid

Reid began as a performer, first as part of a breakdance crew called Broken Glass in the 1980s and later by studying at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, which led to a career as a dancer for musicians including Soul II Soul and David Glass as well as in hip-hop theatre productions.

He began taking photographs in 2012 and describes the medium as offering him “freedom, independence and defiance”, compared to the work he did as a dancer and performer. “As a creative I didn’t need to be validated by any company or any arts council,” he explains in a video created for MIF about his work. “I could do this, and I could make work without their permission. And not only could I make work, I could disseminate it as well.”

Reid takes portraits of other people, though also appears in much of his work himself, which despite its theatrical nature, is often shot in his front room at home. “It’s almost like figuring out a puzzle. Sometimes I close my eyes and I get a flash of an image and go ‘how can I achieve that with what I have? What is the simplest way of solving that solution?’ It’s all done in a house, it’s all done with very mundane things. The tighter the restrictions, the more imaginative you have to be, and that’s the thing that fuels your creativity.”

Find Your Eyes sees the various elements of Reid’s creative practice come together in a performance that will also reveal his process, with the stage becoming a form of studio. He will take photographs live during the show, featuring the dancers on stage.

Rehearsal photos for Find Your Eyes; © Paul Blake

“It’s really charting my journey from the inception of me starting photography to where I am now,” he says of the work. “And what this live performance will incorporate is dance, theatre telling, and photography … you’re watching me making work juxtaposed [with] personal narratives, so it’s live art in nature, but it has very strong performative aspects of it.”

He is not looking for a particular response from the audience but instead hopes to be “surprised” by how they react to it. “This is a gift to you from all of the things that I’ve gone through … I’m very open to offering this gift and seeing what comes back.”

Benji Reid: Find Your Eyes is on show from July 12-16 as part of Manchester International Festival;