Documentary photographer Craig Easton photographed his series Bank Top in 2019 and 2020, the body of work named for the small pocket of Blackburn, England in which it was made. The aim was to tell an “alternative history” to the narratives seen in the media, such as the dismal label of Britain’s most segregated town.
Praised for its “moral weight” and the visible “mutual understanding” between documentarian and subject, the project won in the portraiture category at last year’s Sony World Photography Awards and earned Easton the prize of Photographer of the Year.
Bank Top has now been made into a photo book published by Gost, which opens with a poem by social researcher and Easton’s collaborator on the project, Abdul Aziz Hafiz. It incorporates threads of the stories found in the community, contrasted with the misrepresentations levelled against its members, typically relating to negative associations with migration.
In the text, Hafiz repeatedly probes the readers by asking ‘Do you see me?’, a question mirrored in the piercing eyes in the portrait featured on the following page. Hafiz later castigates the division sown by governmental policy and media portrayals in the closing essay.
Entirely shot in black and white, the photographs are generally brightly lit, and there’s a softness to the close-up portraits. Easton’s use of a large-format camera inevitably required a longer, more laboured process, but led to him spending ample time with residents, creating honest portraits and gathering their stories.
This slow and deliberate pace is reflected in the proximity Easton gains, allowing him to photograph inside people’s homes, as well as places of work and places of worship. These may well be the same place, as seen in the photograph of shopkeeper Irfan Ali, who took to the aisles of his store for prayer amid lockdown.
The book formulates a real sense of place, with each turn of the page evoking the unpredictability of what might be found around the corner in this neighbourhood of less than half a square mile.
Children are seen playing cricket in the street one moment, elsewhere a captivating photograph of a pigeon keeper anointed the Birdman of Bank Top – one of the crowning portraits of this series.
Bank Top by Craig Easton is published by Gost; gostbooks.com