Alex Bishop-Thorpe
Photographic Artist, Maker
Works | Profile & CV | Field Notes

A Photographic Survey of Place

Prospect Gallery Artist in Residence, 2011-2012

The Photographer in contemporary imagination carries many culturally ingrained associations; maybe he's the rugged journalist Clint Eastwood wooing Meryl Streep in Bridges of Madison County, maybe she's an outsider looking in like the iconic Diane Arbus or the amphetamine fuelled photo-freak W. Eugene Smith. Perhaps they are privacy. Suffice to say the idea of what it means hto 'be a photographer' and the act of photography itself sure carries a lot of heavy baggage. Besides in this day and age ANYONE can take a photo, right?
To reconcile some of the associations which surround the action of photography Alex Bishop-Thorpe, undertook an eleven month project documenting the places and people of Prospect to navigate a relationship between the photographer and their subject. Alex was interested to find if there can be a different way of taking photographs in a community that the photographer is an outsider within. The usual trappings of the photographer-interloper entering the world of their subject is that this often becomes a dynamic where the person with the camera is assumed to be the knowledge holder while the subject before them is simply something to be investigated. In his photographic survey Alex endeavoured to create alternate points of relating to his subject matter by allowing the people of Prospect to more fully engage with the process of representing the image of their place. Simply put, Alex wanted to veer away from the role of photographer as intruder by a allowing for a more holistic approach to photographic documentation.
This approach was carried out by hitting the streets of Prospect in the style of classic twentieth century documentary photography, Alex himself being influenced by the photographic work of figures such as Walker Evans and Eugene Smith. Walking around his surroundings with his Hasselblad and Polaroid cameras in tow Alex stopped to talk and engage with the locals, taking their photographs and allowing them to keep an image of themselves in return. His aim was to document while also relating to his subject of documentation, something that can often be lost in the process of documentary photography. This community engagement aspect of Alex's photographic project was not just a token gesture but acted as a driving force for his overall representation of Prospect. By allowing the public to know they are being photographed Alex critiques the traditional position of documentary photography as an obtrusive act of taking. Rather than just observing from a distance he interacts through a personable engagement with his subject matter enabling the photograph to give rather than simply take from its subject.
Re-collected: A Photographic Survey of Place is the culmination of Alex's extensive project manifest in the form of silver gelatine prints, bleached back Polaroids and the printing process called Photogravure. Informing Alex's practice is a deep interest, an obsession really, for the craft of analogue photography and what it has to offer to the here and now. The physicality of each of these prints, evident in the embedded marks of the photogravure process on paper and the tactility of darkroom produced prints, further resonates with his investigation of place. The material qualities of these photographs speak of the transient nature of our place in the world and the artists' effort to make this physically tangible before our very eyes.
It is interesting to note that in Alex's choice of photographic prints he has presented us with many images of the places in Prospect rather than just its people. In this gesture of focusing on the small details found in Prospect Alex reveals that meaning can be discovered in the most 'simple' of images. His photographs are ones of stillness displaying a restrained sensibility which emphasises the ordinariness that is encountered in everyday life. Rather than spelling out a narrative with portrait after portrait of bodies Alex suggests traces of people through the documentation of their humble surroundings and the remnants of their everyday activities. His dedication to up-holding the established relationship with his subject matter is evident in Alex's selection of images which create a whole picture of a place rather than the selective fragments of the photographer's eye.
Earlier on I described how attached to cliches the idea of the photographer is in our collective imagination. Witnessing the work that Alex has created for this impressive exhibition and having the opportunity to interview him I would like to suggest that we consider another kind of photographer, one that isn't the rugged photo-journalist, or the person invading your privacy. This type of photographer is the kind that Alex embodies, the photographer who is driven by the inner compulsion to make. This type of photographer shows that making is so essential to the creative life force that one roll of film just won't do. No, everything must be photographed. Alex articulates this feeling of compulsion perfectly when he says to me over a cup of tea in his studio that photography is "One of my most favourite things in the entire world." Rather than creating a body of work which satisfies his own self-interest Alex's enthusiasm for photography and compulsion for making is the driving force behind an artist's honest engagement with their subject of enquiry.

Lizzy Emery, 2012