James Newton – To/From
Producing a typology of the recurring patterns created on white van doors, James Newton has turned a mundane subject into something of abstract beauty in his To/From series. The marks, scuffs and smears of routine activity document the mini histories of these commonplace vehicles.
“If there is a theme to my work, then it is the idea of ‘accidental creations’, the way things have ended up being through circumstance rather than by design,” says Newton.
The judges loved the way that Newton had spotted the potential of the subject matter and executed his images in a consistent format but with enough variety to sustain the idea across the series.
Newton sites a variety of inspirations, the first being abstract expressionist painting, particularly the large-scale, freely scribbled, graffiti-like gestures of Cy Twombly, and the hard-edged compositions of Barnett Newman. “I love the idea of being able to find a Barnett Newman on the back of a van!” he says.
His other inspiration was the Japanese concept of ‘wabi-sabi’, concerning imperfection and the temporary nature of all things. “They are always both complete and incomplete,” Newton says of the photographs. “Ultimately the doors will be cleaned and the pattern gone.”
“From the time I wake in the morning until my eyes close in sleep, my life is full of light and visual images. My sight is essential for my career as a photographer. How different my life would be if I was surrounded by dark, blurred scenes of mottled grey and colours.”
These are the thoughts that led Julia Fullerton-Batten to create these images, as part of a larger series aiming to both investigate and attempt to portray the worlds of her blind subjects. Having met with them several times before each shoot, the project took on a collaborative element, inviting subjects to choose the backgrounds that their portraits would be positioned against, and asking them to share their stories in their own words to accompany the images.
A young girl, Nala, appears to gaze peacefully out of frame while Anna, holds her eyes closed with a faint, enigmatic smile. The underexposed, soft tonal quality of the backgrounds; the use of grey-blue light and shadow; the running themes of nature and water – many of the subjects relating these to strength or a sense of freeness – are all carefully composed elements reflecting their worlds and Fullerton-Batten’s response to them.
This Kind of Poverty
Save the Children asked Spencer Murphy to investigate what children living in the UK’s most deprived areas thought about poverty, for their campaign, This Kind of Poverty.
Over two days in August 2012, he photographed members of the Poplar Boys and Girls Club. The area is one of London’s poorest, and almost half of its residents survive on less than £160 a week.
As well as taking striking portraits of each child, Murphy photographed their hand-written responses to two questions: What is poverty in the UK? And how do you feel about it?
Amira, 8, said she felt lucky her family had enough money to pay for electricity “because we can enjoy stuff more than when we don’t”. Shingo, 16, said it’s unfair that many children have more than what they need while others “don’t have the most important stuff”.
“I wanted the portraits to be subtle yet direct. Given the information, the viewer is already empathetic, so I didn’t want to force anything contrived. I just wanted to confront the viewer with something honest and with very little to distract,” explains Murphy.
We all know what the back of a panda looks like, but how many of us have actually seen it? Intrigued by this idea, and our affection for the endangered species, photographer Tim Flach travelled to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China to capture these striking shots of Ji Li and Ya Yun.
The images appear in Flach’s book, More than Human – a stunning collection of intimate portraits exploring our relationship with wildlife. Flach’s panda series, shot against a black background, references the animal’s ambassadorial role and its political significance. “The Chinese Government saw pandas as a vehicle for creating alliances. They were gifted – and later rented – to countries that they wished to be politically in line with,” he explains.
“Pandas are not a ‘keystone’ species. If they were to become extinct, it wouldn’t have a disproportionate effect on ecology, yet there would be a huge sense of failure because we have invested so much in their iconography,” Flach says. “They are an ambassador species – symbol of the World Wildlife Fund – and of course, they have that cute factor.”
A “good eye for reality”, is what Sophie Ebrard feels won her this commission for an NHS dementia awareness campaign.
Using natural light where possible, shooting on film, and keeping the team small (just her and her assistant in the room with the actors), were all vital to creating the documentary style that the series called for, and all very much part of her work ethos.
“I aim to photograph the very normal and make it beautiful,” Ebrard says. Her work is about storytelling, going on instinct and the revelatory moments during processing and developing. “You discover images that you never thought you had. And that emotion when you see them… it’s very visceral.”
A crucial aspect of the commission was maintaining sensitivity towards the emotive nature that the campaign required, but Ebrard notes that “it was about trying to get the right range of emotions”, and not just a portraying sadness or concern.
The light, texture and muted colours that shooting on film has produced, along with what she calls its “surprise-factor”, have lent the image this believability – it is relatable, natural, almost like a family snapshot.