Monday, 15 November 2010

Andy O'Connell: The Estate We're In

Journalist Gordon MacDonald posted an interesting analysis of a photography project in the magazine Photoworks this past October. The photography project is titled 'The Estate We're In' and was created by Andy O'Connell.

The project features photographs from around London, taking a look at the corners of the city that are sometimes overlooked by passers-by. The project could be described as documentary photography or as artistic photography, but as Gordan MacDonald remarks:
"they have elements of both defined modes of photographic practice - but they are neither, they are simply (and complexly) photographs".

The article begins with a tale from MacDonald's teenage years when he worked as a journalistic photographer, armed with a camera and a flash, seeking photographs of prisoners being driven to court in their police vans. He uses this tale to discuss the various styles and uses of photography:
"One reason could be that photography has its own history, which is often its main point of reference. It has many modes, which include porn, pack shots and documentary; these all go towards our understanding of this history and all contribute to our relationship with every photograph we view"
MacDonald makes a strong point. Photography has had such a wide range of uses over the years of its existence, and each one of these uses impacts us when we view a photograph.

O'Connell's photography has a simplistic elegance that comes across in every shot. The curling shapes of the tire-tracks in the grass in Joy Ride, Tulse Hill Estate are eyecatching and interesting to view.

There is, as Gordon MacDonald points out, "a level of slow careful observation that raises them above 'straight' documentary photography" in the photographs of this project. The photographs are more than just devices through which to tell a story, they are also stories in their own right, works that catch the eye and linger for a while until that story has been told.

Intriguing as the above picture is, my eye is also drawn in by the composition of the shot. Whether intentional or not, the strong line where the door meets the wall draws the eye across to the letterbox.
The photographs, which mainly seem to focus on criminal acts, give another, more creative approach to crime. When discussing this, Gordon MacDonald says:
"These creative accidents are clearly not the main intention of the crimes' perpetrators, but are one of the more positive outcomes and O'Connell seems to relish these moments of black humour in this dark place."
And indeed, adding this other dimension, a lighter view, to crime and squalor in a big city is something we should all take note of. Taking the lighter view, a more creative look, to the lives of these people is surely what creating good art is all about - looking at things differently.

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