“…Theodor Adorno once commented that truth is like a handful of water. I think Adorno chose the right analogy but his chemistry is wrong. Truth might better be viewed as analogous to a handful of sand. Most of the grains slip through our fingers but some stick and can be held in the palm. In a desperate attempt to hold onto these pure grains – and in the intense hear produced by the desire to know and understand – a lens is forged.”
– Listening With Our Eyes – Portraiture as urban encounter by Les Back in Picturing The Social Landscape: Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination, edited by Caroline Knowles & Paul Sweetman
The above quote is from an incredibly fine essay about a set of photos that I was fortunate to see daily for the three years of studies in the stairwell of the brilliant Art dept at the newly renamed/restored Croydon School of Art. It’s author, Les Back describes how residents, shoppers and tourists interact with a large format camera that was set up on weekly Sundays in East London’s Brick Lane by students on the Photomedia course at Croydon, every Sunday for a number of weeks in 2001 (there’s a great behind the scenes blog about it here). Among other things, the different roles that the photographer’s undertook while maintaining equal co-authorship of the project is interesting, as are their initial concerns related to the concept of the “camera as a weapon” and thus, not wanting to disturb people with it. I and undoubtedly most photographers of public places have certainly felt that at times. Back’s expansions on the characters within the portraits make it a challenge to pick out a favourite; while it’s possible to “hear” extracts of their stories on sight, the added descriptions give concrete details or truths, that sometimes make sense and sometimes lead to sad surprise. That the institutional Beigel Bake features in the essay is a bonus; it and the Bengali community are two things that remain strong in Brick Lane, through all it’s change and flux, thirteen years later.