Ellie Jackson talks about her first experience on New Focus, meeting photographer Paul Reas about his first major retrospective “Day Dreaming About The Good Times?”

This was my first experience of working with New Focus on the internal aspects of putting up and working on an art exhibition, specifically the photography exhibition of Paul Reas. I was in charge of taking the photographs, as filming of Paul for the exhibition was going on. The other New Focus members were really friendly and fun to get along with, putting up with the knowledge that I was constantly taking photographs of the filming and the New Focus members. A few unwanted but hilarious shots were taken, only to be deleted a second later. As I stood in corners trying to inconspicuously take as many shots as possible, Paul talked about how in his work The Valleys Project (1985) he would stand in public places, such as post offices (as shown on the image below) with his camera, obvious to the passers by that he was taking photographs. Paul would come back to the same place every day for weeks until he could get a photograph with the best human facial expressions, to portray that specific time in Britain, including the decline in coal and steel industries in Wales and the ‘New Workforce’ industries, which were fiercely lead by women.

From 'The Valley's Project', 1985 © Paul Reas / courtesy Impressions Gallery.

From ‘The Valley’s Project’, 1985 © Paul Reas / courtesy Impressions Gallery.

Something that amazed me about Paul was his attention to detail within and out of his photographs. Nearly every photograph within his collection I Can Help (1988) had a story behind them, and each story was highlighted within the photographs, for example this photograph of a man buying his son wallpaper with soldiers printed on it is another example of an image were Paul went back to the same place every week waiting to capture an image with such sociological connotations. Paul wondered whether the son would be impacted by the effect of the wallpaper. This became true, as Reas later found out that the son at the age of twenty seven had indeed joined the armed forces.

From 'I Can Help', 1988 © Paul Reas / courtesy Impressions Gallery.

From ‘I Can Help’, 1988
© Paul Reas / courtesy Impressions Gallery.

Other details that surprised me as we walked up to the library in which Reas had borrowed (or unintentionally kept,) a book named Family of Man and which had first inspired his photography, was the fact that as we walked past the buildings of Bradford, Reas quickly noticed a memorial pasted on the wall of a building, dedicated to a homeless figure that had lived on the streets of Bradford; something that in everyday life would go unnoticed and ignored by the rest of society. It struck me then that Reas, was and had been unintentionally interested in how Britain and how the people living there were effected by society.

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