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Excavating The Reno

 


So people. For the first time in months I’ve cleaned my flat. Smelling tea tree oil. Fresh laundry. Jiff or is it Ciff now. And all I kept thinking as I was cleaning was it was fucking marvellous to be half-caste in the Reno from 1976 to 1981. My era. I had a top top time. Even though I was married to Tom I was a total Reno character in my own right. Women’s lib. I learned to play chess with the half-caste boys. Got to the finals one year. Taken out by Philip Collins Snr. My thing was the pawns. No flash moves. Just keep moving the pawns. That, and all the other close up Reno politics I observed, and practised, gave me the cheek to ask, don’t give a fuck, and has kept this project moving forward. Coupled with my mum and dad being hell bent on education. Maths, and English, write the applications. I’m feeling privileged to be me tonight. I also want to say I have never had a problem being half-caste. But if I’d never gone in the Reno could I make that claim? In the Reno I was valued, and I valued, all the people around me who were the same. No matter what we were living. That’s what my project celebrates. Throughout this project, since 2016, when I meet people who didn’t have the safety net, they don’t make that claim. They are mildly envious of that claim. Including quite a lot of young people today. Whereas we half-caste in the Reno gradually learned together sometimes verbal, sometimes just what we were observing of each other, that it was a fucking absolute privilege to have all that diverse knowledge, wisdom, passion, heritage running around in our veins. I remember lots of us going to meet the other side of our family, Africa, Belize, Jamaica, as most of us were born here. I remember watching us embrace that. We have a shared history that we understand that is particular to that era. That is what this project celebrates. 

Linda Brogan
Featured image: The Reno at The Whitworth teen montage.

The Reno, a name that probably doesn’t come to mind for most when talking about iconic Manchester nightclubs of yesteryear, but at its height in the mid 1970’s, it was arguably the UK’s most prominent soul venue, and undoubtedly forms an important part of the City’s musical legacy.

Located in the Moss Side area, just south of the City centre, the venue became a sanctuary for local mixed race youth, who, at the time were subject to constant prejudice, some of which was the inevitable result of the 1930 Fletcher Report, (or as it was officially called at the time “Report on an Investigation into the Colour Problem in Liverpool and other ports”) which claimed that interracial children were prone to mental and physical defects.

The Reno’s inclusivity, along with its relaxed attitude to closing times, and the seemingly infinite selection of rare funk and soul records the resident DJ’s selected, made for an unrivalled atmosphere, and soon the club’s reputation spread, attracting punters from across the UK and sometimes further afield. Muhammad Ali, is said to have visited after his 1976 fight in Munich with Englishman Richard Dunn.

Marcus Derrick unknown whispering in the Reno Tony Bellows sat down 1976

Derek Thomas, Marcus Layne, Derek Barnes and Tony Bello in the Reno.

However, in 1986, The Reno closed its doors for the final time and was demolished a year later, seemingly destined to be all but forgotten; a mere side-note in the history of Manchester clubland. That is, until, in 2016, award-winning playwright Linda Brogan, a Moss Side resident and former Reno regular, decided to take action. Eager to preserve its memory, she began collecting memoirs from other former regulars, and started a funding campaign so the site, by then a grassy wasteland, could be excavated. The campaign was beset by hurdles and would last for a gruelling 18 months, but eventually, in late 2017, she succeeded; gaining Arts Council funding and partnering with Salford University’s Department of Applied Archaeology, who led the excavation.

Artefacts found in the dig form part of the ongoing exhibition at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery, remembering and celebrating The Reno.

I recently spoke with Linda Brogan, to discover more about its rebirth.

Can you tell me about the Reno, and what it means to you?

I was a clever girl in school. I mean really clever. Particularly at writing, at projects: if they asked me to do something on the Romans I would build a chariot. My project would take up all the sugar paper on the wall. Everyone had high hopes for me: especially my Jamaican dad. Brought up in St Elizabeth with no running water, no electric, no gas. They cooked on rock stones outside. Ate from their garden. Had the most wonderful view of the Blue Mountains. Then 15, 1975, I fell in love with a young, second generation Jamaican gambler. Long story short, his other girlfriend murdered him, and I had a six months abortion. November 1977. December 1977 I went back to my gang, our little posse from our block in Cowesby St, Moss Side. Previously I wore pencil skirts and went to Genevieve’s, we were very much into David Essex. Then Susie my friend since I was 5 went down the Reno to buy chicken with a mutual grown up friend of ours. She ended up pissed cos her brother was down there, and all his mates were buying her drink while she waited for her chicken. She came back with her big adventure. The next night we went in, me, her, and her sister Mandy. The place was heaving with wall-to-wall half-caste lads. I didn’t really know any besides us before that moment. But, Susie did from the old Moss Side. They were cool as hell. We were rum as hell. We took the piss out of them all night. The next night we went back again; then the next; then the next; then the next. They become our family. Like families we didn’t all love each other. There were fuckers you couldn’t stand. But it was a real thrill to be acknowledged; as you went down the steep stairs; passed the ceiling to floor mirror; through the red lino doors. Turn left. Early days we used to stand by the ladies toilets. That was our spot. Everyone had their spot. Till we progressed further into the club. But there were certain tracks that made me, Mandy and Susie head for the dance floor. Morning Noon and Night: The Thought of Love. Peter Brown: Do You Want To Get Funky With Me. Willie Hutch: After Love is Gone. Even as I write this I can feel the excitement of pushing our way through the crowd to the dance floor. The Reno was electric. Like entering the Goodfella’s club. The same feeling as Ray Liotta has about being made. It was a badge of honour to be half-caste down there.

But as we found out as adults in our memoirs, like the story I began with, we were each harbouring a tragedy. My dad never quite forgave me for dashing his aspirations. Just like society never quite forgave the colour of our skin.

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Linda Brogan October 10, 2017. Day 2 of the excavation. Taken by Karen Rangeley.

Why was it such an important place for young, mixed race people specifically?

There is a famous story that one of the Reno 12, (the Reno regulars who were most loyal to the excavation, who meet every Thursday to realise the evolving Whitworth exhibition) Barrie George, tells about this. They weren’t allowed in clubs cos of their afro, but really because the whole world was openly racist at the time. It was slightly different for girls. Clubs always want girls. So one night, according to Barry, I can’t remember where he said they were, but as a group they decided ‘no more parting for the white guys.’ They walked through them. Ended up in a big fight. Ended up in the Reno. Ended up colonising it. I went down into a perfectly made colony. As I said before they were all over the place. It was the first time I had seen so many of us on masse.

You have to understand our white mum’s had been ostracised by her family, by society. I didn’t know my mum’s sisters at her funeral. My Jamaican aunt’s had been no better. My mum and her breed pickney weren’t really accepted into the fold. My aunt Jean, white, had a drawer of sweets for my dad’s brother’s full-black kids, but not us. We were treated like 3rd class citizens. Me, Mandy, and Susie had it light. Some were taken straight from their white mum in the 40s, 50s, 60s and put into care. You can listen to their memoirs, tagged beside my weekly blog on my website.

Why do you think the Reno hasn’t been remembered in the same way as other iconic Manchester music venues like the Hacienda and the Factory?

It was in Moss Side. It was deemed notorious.  But let me tell you this: It was also a rite of passage for the cool. Tony Wilson of Factory Records held his stag do down there. So did Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash. Coronation Street stars used to come in cos of the late nights, but we considered ourselves more famous than them. Muhammed Ali came to meet his people there. His words not mine. Until now we have not had an ambassador in the arts to champion us. Not that we wanted championing. It was the past till, we dug it up. Labelled negatively. So maybe a lot of us didn’t want to own up to going. Now our community is reunited we don’t give a fuck. Chatting amongst ourselves we realise the value of the place, the vibe, the music, the friendship we gave each other. On the excavation site someone would turn up who I hadn’t seen for 40 years. It would feel like I hadn’t seen them for 40 minutes.

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Suzy Mousah, Linda Pereira, and Susie Prouse embrace at the excavation site. Taken by Karen Rangeley.

What inspired you to start the project?

I am a multi award-winning playwright.  I’ve had residencies all over the place. But I felt hemmed in from all angles by the white middle class gaze. You know the one: I have a handful of stories to tell. I am a victim, or a gun-runner, or a drug dealer. One way or another I need to be saved. In 2010 I was barred from my own rehearsal for suggesting the white middle class director was asking the secondary, white characters what they thought, but telling the primary, black characters what to think. Then I read this authentic slave narrative anthology. About 1000 pages in, Jacob D. Green apologises for stealing a horse to escape. If he were a white man escaping WW2 he would see himself as a hero. Then I saw 2 Jacob’s. One kneeling cap in hand. The other sitting cap pushed back in the Reno brandy in hand. Then I saw me kneeling to the arts too, and knew no slave narrative is authentic.

In 2000 I stopped being half-caste. Not even allowed to use the word. I’m black. So now, not only was my white mum ostracised in the 50s, but she’s ostracised again, because even I’ve forget I have one. And fourth, Frederick Douglas’ frock coat and parted hair. You can tell your story as long as you look like them, in the language that sound like them. Well I don’t sound like them. And the reason people like me don’t engage with the arts is because we don’t relate. We don’t give a fuck about the china cup and saucer or the china plate, but as the memoirs prove we give a double fuck about what we have to say when all the apologies, kneeling, frock coat, and parted hair is removed. We love our cap-pushed-back authenticity. But so do you.

How did you come up with the idea to excavate the site and how did you go about finding the funding?

The Reno was demolished in 1987. The land was barren since. I was crossing it one day not long after my epiphanies. I sat on the grass. The grass was covered in poppies. Poppies say remembrance. I was sat thinking “it is under there”. I thought of trenches. The wars we had lived. The wars in us: having one parent black and one white, roast V yam. I just thought if it is under there, then I can dig it up.

I went home and told my friend in the flat below me, Sarah. If I’d have told anyone else, they’d have said “don’t be bloody stupid”, it would never have happened. Instead she said “what a fabulous idea”. We planned it that night. The next day I went to the place I would need, on foot, and made all the relevant appointments: Manchester City Council [MCC]; Manchester Museum; the Arts Council [ACE]. Salford University Applied Archaeology picked it up the same day. Their archaeologist Sarah Cattell helped me pull the rest together. I spent months with her budgeting, even down to how many ties we would need to hold the fencing together. MCC said no 3 times. Heritage Lottery Fund said no once. ACE said no 3 times. I would cry. Feel scared. Sarah C would bolster me. Read my feedback. And ask again. Until, they said yes. And Sarah C led the Reno excavation on October the 9th 2017.

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Empty land. Linda Brogan and Archeologist Sarah Cattell about to do a test dig October 2016. Taken by Karen Rangeley.

Tell me about the exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery, what is being shown?

Our exhibit has been evolving since March as we worked on the narrative. A metaphor for the project: changing the narrative.  What we believe. What is believed about us.  We’ve just stabilised it with dramatic photos and lighting, that economically and beautifully tell our journey so far.

  • Best if you begin with the memoirs as we did: 6 x 10 minute extracts in a set of our childhood memorabilia.“People spat in our pram”.
  • The excavation. 2 huge 5m photos: the empty land holding a 6mins excavation film, beside the resurrected Reno, circa 1971.
  • On 4 tables we map the Reno in 30 artefacts.
  • Our 2m x 2m reunited photo.
  • Our timeline: WW1 to now, above our excavated artefacts.
  • 8m montage of our Reno teen photos.
  • A memorial wall for all of us who have passed.
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Planning the Excavating the Reno book launch in The Reno at the Whitworth exhibition. Taken by John Lloyd.

How do you think the project can change perceptions of the area?

I don’t care really. It has changed our perception of ourselves. We’re real proud. 2016 we told our cathartic Reno memoirs. 2017 we excavated the Reno, releasing our fountain of youth. 2018 we were finalists in 8 national awards. 2019 we are resident in the Whitworth. We have found our authentic voice. We have fabulous conversations day in day out with people who still think we are a charity, or a walking political statement. In some ways this abolitionist attitude makes now feel more racist.  But, during these conversations, as happened in the Reno, we suddenly touch their hearts with our open, apolitical, no nonsense heart. I know for certain there are all kinds of people from all walks of life, all classes, and all ages, who would most definitely come down the Reno from their time in our exhibition and the warmth they experienced with us.

What has the reaction been like from the local community thus far?

We have a private Facebook Group: Excavating the Reno Group. Inside that we talk to each other. We were saying the other day “we are all walking towards death”, what this has given us is someone to hold our hand. We are holding each others hands in a way we didn’t as kids. You know how it is: you’re cool, you’re fly, you’re shy, you never know if you can trust each other to show your real, real heart. What’s beautiful about our resurrected community is now we all know the truth: we weren’t really cool. We laugh, we play, we joke, we talk politically, we talk poetically, philosophically. We have claimed the land in the name of the Reno to build an underground heritage/arts centre, literally, with a food garden above that feeds our reinstated green excavation cabin café where we can have these conversations in person and transform them into a thriving business that helps other mixed race, or mixed up kids, or just enjoy ourselves. It is such a niche experience. Not just for us, but for our kids, our mums our dads, the people who’ve had mixed race kids. One woman walked in the other day and her open lines were: “You could have been a murderer, a prostitute, a thief, but sleep with a black man.” And when she brought him home, once pregnant, her Irish mum asked sarcastically, “Couldn’t you have found anyone blacker?” Her son was stood right beside her. This was 1994. He was well happy to meet us.

You’re currently working on a musical theatre production that will be shown at the 2021 Manchester International Festival, can you tell us about that?

Earlier in the year as MIF R&D, we worked with Gecko International Theatre Company looking for a physical language in which to tell a multi-strand story. They made us, the Reno 12, hold eye contact for 10 minutes, took us in a trance back into the Reno of our youth, made us do trust exercises. From these we distilled a movement. The one were you hold out your hand to hold someone else’s spliff in case the table is wet. The Reno is dark. Imagine that person didn’t pass that spliff to you, the horror; the let down; the cunt.

We can use this simple movement to tell all kinds of complex political chess moves we had to make to get from the loos, in our case, to the 3 top tables where our ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ Frank and Chips sat.  I want the audience to come to the Reno. We will use the music to tell the story. But I want as little words as possible. In a similar way to being in a club, and whichever way you turn your head and whatever it is that draws your attention, that is the narrative you leave with.

Screenshot 2019-10-25 at 11.19.21

Linda Brogan, Susie Prouse, and David Palmer in the Reno.

Can you pick three songs that remind you of the Reno?

Riding High: Faze 0

All the Way: The Whispers

Everybody Loves The Sunshine: L J Reynolds.


The Reno exhibition is on show at Whitworth Gallery Manchester until April 2020. In addition, on November 21st, the gallery will be hosting a party to celebrate the release of the exhibition book: Excavating the Reno, The Journey in Print, (limited to 500 copies). For more information and to RSVP, click here.

Read more about the project here.

 

 

 

 

Pride of Ussher

For those growing up in Jamestown, Accra’s oldest and most densely populated neighbourhood, boxing is a way of life.

A succession of world champions, including the legendary Azumah Nelson, considered by many to be the greatest African boxer of all time, and current IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey, grew up and learned their trade here, and for many young locals the dream is to follow in their footsteps. 

Pride of ussher

Portrait of champion boxer Emmanuel ‘GameBoy’ Tagoe, Ussher Town.

French social documentary and portrait photographer Antoine Jonquiere was visiting the area last year, when he stumbled across one of its many boxing gyms.

“I remember hearing the sounds of the boxers training, the vibrations on the floor were very strong so I entered and I saw the boys of all ages…” he says. Instantly captivated by the scene in front of him, his interest deepened after speaking to the boys coach, who told him of the areas unique boxing heritage. 

Pride of ussher

Theophilus Tetteh, 19, and his coach preparing for a fight. Discipline Boxing Academy, James Town.

He would go on to visit numerous gyms in Jamestown and nearby Usshertown over a two month period, photographing young fighters as they trained in the intense heat, often for up to  six hours a day.

Pride of ussher

Henry Malu, 19, Black Bombers National Team.

Boxing is an immensely grueling sport, one that has always attracted those from the toughest backgrounds, and, despite the recent economic upturn in the country, the area remains one of Accra’s poorest with its proximity to newly-built, high-rise office complexes highlighting the extreme inequality that still exists there. For many of the young men pictured, this isn’t merely a sport, it provides them with hope, and a unique opportunity to escape a life of poverty and unemployment. This is reflected in the unwavering dedication they show, something Antoine has managed to capture beautifully in the series.

Pride of ussher

Joseph Lamptey, 36, training at the Black Panthers Gym, Jamestown.

“I think what links all these images is the the complete love and respect the people show for the sport. It is a serious thing here, it is not just a game…they don’t do it just for fun, they do it out of complete passion” 

Pride of ussher

Ebanezer Ankrah, 11, training at the Black Panthers boxing Gym, James Town.

The full series, along with some of Antoine’s other projects can be viewed on his website.

Interview – Vladimir Antaki

Vladimir Antaki is a Paris based photographer, known for capturing striking images of everyday scenes and people. For his acclaimed Guardians series he travelled to Europe, the Middle East and North America, visiting small specialist stores and photographing their patrons, or as he describes them ‘Guardians of urban temples’. The series has been exhibited in over a hundred cities worldwide, and a book comprising a selection of the images is out now.

 


 

What inspired you to start taking photographs, were you influenced or inspired by any particular photographers or artists?

A couple of weeks before leaving Paris for Montreal, back in the summer of 2003, I purchased a film camera and I started to take random street photographs. I had no idea that I needed to set it up, so I would just go and capture what I saw on the streets. When the film was complete, I went to get it processed, and to my surprise it came out blank. The guy in the shop asked me what settings I used and I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know about setting the aperture, ISO and shutter speed. I just assumed that I could put the film in and go shoot, I was very naive. He explained the basics to me, and shortly after I moved to Montreal, this new city, where everything was new to me, and I was fascinated by everything. Like for example, I would see a guy carrying a supermarket bag and it would look different to the ones in Paris, I would see people in the subway, homeless people, the architecture, it all inspired me. I would spend the days, literally sixteen or seventeen hours with my camera, taking loads of pictures. Back then I wasn’t using digital, only film, and it was pretty costly, so I ended up learning how to process the film myself, although it was still pricey as I still had to buy the paper, and because I was learning, I wasted a lot.

cards

Beirut – When Night Falls

That’s how I started, I wasn’t necessarily inspired by any other artists or photographers, it was just me trying to express myself in a new city, but sometimes people would look at my work and name other artists. I remember doing a presentation, a series of photos in a supermarket, and people were talking about (Andreas) Gursky and I had no idea who he was. I was fascinated by visually busy images, and I should also mention that I grew up watching loads of movies, so I think my influences come more from the cinema than from photography.

doorway

Atmosphere

Did you specifically choose documentary photography or is it something that happened naturally?

I didn’t specifically choose documentary photography, it kind of happened naturally. I don’t really consider myself a photographer who does one kind of photography, I enjoy doing environmental portraits very much, like my Guardians series for example. I enjoy the fact that I photograph what’s there, I do not stage or plan a shoot, it’s a photo of something that’s in front of me. I have done some stage photography before which I really enjoyed, but I did it my way.

We live in an age of unprecedented access to information and news, but often stories are falsified or taken out of context to serve an agenda. With this in mind, how important is documentary photography, and how do you see your role within it?

As I said, I document what’s there; I never alter or falsify anything. It’s very unfortunate when you find out that a photograph has been falsified or modified to turn the story into a different one.

When I first started showing Guardians, I didn’t include any text, so people could make up their own minds, using their imagination, but when I did the book I added the personal stories as I felt it gave more depth and layers, and also context is pretty important, so it can’t be modified or misused.

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Jainul, NYC – from Guardians

When did the concept of Guardians first come to you, and what was the inspiration?

I’ve always been fascinated by small shopkeepers. When I was a kid, a teenager, I would spend my time in video stores and pharmacies, local shops, talking to the customers and the people in charge, spending time with them. To me they are the heart and soul of our cities, and they are what makes each city different, giving each city a different flavour. Having the shops close, one after another, makes me sad, and this is why I decided to pay tribute to them, travelling to different cities and documenting the shopkeepers that I found interesting.

mariefp

Marie, Montreal – from Guardians

How did you approach the subjects, did you find they were generally open to having their photo taken?

I usually take the photograph, the portrait, within the first five to ten minutes after meeting the Guardian. It’s very important for me to have the look of a stranger to another stranger, so everyone can identify with the look that I’m capturing. I usually introduce myself very briefly and then ask if I can take their photo, and I show them a few examples of the portraits I have taken previously. They usually say yes, although I have had a few refusing, and I always respect that. I am in their ‘home’ so I have to go by their rules. Sometimes, when I really like their place and their charisma, I will ask again, and half the time they say yes, and half the time they politely decline.

The Guardians

Baba, Paris – from Guardians

Do you have a favourite image from Guardians?

I don’t have a favourite image, I’m really attached to the whole series, but of course I have some which are more iconic, like the Birdman for example, or Mario the Mexican religious sculptor. I have a funny story about the Birdman, when I met the guy, Bill, I spent some time with him and he told me some stories, and I went back a couple of times to visit him, and after I took the photo, several people over the past few years have said to me that it reminds them of the shot of Dr Bowman from 2001 A Space Odyssey by Kubrick, and I’m a huge Kubrick fan, but I think this was totally subconscious. I wasn’t thinking of Kubrick when I took the photo, but now when I compare the images there is something very similar in the pose, the hands and everything. So to go back to your first question about my influences, this might be a subconscious influence on my work, like I said, I watch a lot of movies.

The Guardians

Birdman, NYC – from Guardians

Tell us about the I am self Made campaign you shot for izettle. How did this come about?

I was contacted by an art buyer in Sweden. Izettle is a Swedish company, and they said they were impressed by my work and that they had a concept they would like to explore, and they sent me a brief.  The concept was filled with pictures of my Guardians so I called them back and told them I was flattered and interested. They told me they wanted me to shoot images of shopkeepers in London and Stockholm, in the style of Guardians. They said they would send someone to scout for shopkeepers based on what I was looking for, and then they would fly me to the cities to shoot. It was a fun shoot as they gave me total liberty to work the way I usually do, by myself, connecting with the shopkeepers. Seeing my images displayed in the subway, on the street and on taxis was pretty flattering and new; I had done several street exhibitions before In Toronto, in Montreal, in France, and in Philadelphia, where I displayed life size prints of my Guardians on the windows of empty shops. So I was familiar with seeing my photos on the street, but it was usually an artistic project, not a commercial one.

IZettle - Slider Cuts - London - August 2018

Mark, London – from the iZettle, I am Self Made campaign

I liked the fact that the company trusted me to shoot the campaign the way I usually shoot it, and it was also a big relief and a victory for me, because just before that I had spent eight months in Toronto, and people kept telling me that I couldn’t do any commercial work because I was too artsy, but I proved them wrong, which made me pretty proud.

Your Family Portraits series capture a side of Paris rarely seen in the mainstream media, talk to us about this project.

The idea was to show those families, some constructed by organised crime, some legit families who fled their country, and show them in a way that would resemble a painting. What I did with the Guardians was to pay tribute to the subjects by making them look beautiful in their own space, making them look majestic, and the idea here was also to make them look beautiful and more visible. People don’t pay attention to them anymore, they know they’re here but they are part of the environment, like when you go out and take the subway, you know you’ll see them.

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Family Portraits

The idea was to show them in a different way, so at first I went out and spoke to everyone, but I quickly realised I wasn’t always welcome and I wasn’t trying to do a journalistic series, it was more social and human, so when I felt resistance, I didn’t insist. There were a few families that opened up to me so I spent time with them and bought them food, and I let the kids use my camera to take pictures of their siblings, and we did some fun pictures together with filters, I gave them attention. It was very important for me to show that sometimes food and money isn’t enough, you need to make them feel human again, as their lives are not easy. They didn’t choose it, sometimes they are put there as they have pressure from organised crime groups, or some of them have had to flee their countries, so they are just trying to make it day by day. One of the families told me they left Eastern Europe and they spoke a bit of Italian, not French, so when they had enough money they were planning on driving to Italy to try and find some work.

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Family Portraits

It was my way of documenting these families and making them feel less invisible. I also forgot to say, In France we’re used to seeing homeless people on the street, it’s something that’s been around for decades and decades, but the phenomenon of having kids on the street is a new one, less than ten years, five years maybe, and it’s really heart breaking. So that’s why it’s called family portraits; to show those families and make them look like families, not just people trying to get your money.

My name is Wesson Dagnew documents the unchanging daily routine of a Toronto man, what was it about him that inspired you?

So Wesson is a different story. I was in Toronto, and had just shown my work at the Nuit Blanche, which is a huge outdoor celebration of arts, and I think it was the next day I was in Dundas Square which is like Toronto’s mini Times Square, and I see this guy dressed in a white suit. I immediately thought of Iceberg Slim, a pimp who became an author and wrote several novels. So, I went to this guy and asked him if he knew who Iceberg Slim was, he didn’t, but we started talking and I think I took a few photos and then about twenty minutes later I followed him home and started documenting his life. I would go to him, not every day, but every now and then, and spend some time with him documenting his daily routine, trying to discover who is Wesson, as everyone called him Tony when he was dressed in his suit.

'My name is Wesson Dagney"

My name is Wesson Dagnew

This is a story of a man who leads a double life, a man with a big heart, and people assume he’s a pimp, or that he’s doing something illegal because of how he dresses. The cops would sometimes come and ask for his papers, assuming he was doing something illegal; the guy doesn’t drink, or smoke, doesn’t go to bars or clubs, he leads his life, and I got to know him and realised Wesson was a great man, a man who helps people with physical and mental disabilities, working as a janitor in a place for people with drug problems.

My name is Wesson Dagnew

My name is Wesson Dagnew

Every evening after work, between six and seven he goes to Dundas Square, dressed in one of his twenty four custom made suits, and he just chills, drinks a Coca-Cola, and spends some time with his friends. He really inspired me, and became a friend, someone I would hang out with when I was in Toronto.

My name is Wesson Dagnew

My name is Wesson Dagnew

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I’m currently promoting my book which will be out in North America on 3rd September. I’ve just come back from a six-week tour of the USA and Canada and the reception from people so far has been fantastic, people seem very touched by the stories which is really rewarding for me, as it’s my first book and I wasn’t sure how people would react.

I have a show opening on 10th September  in Paris, at the Institut Du Monde Arabe, which is a pretty big institution for contemporary arts and culture around the Arab world; I was selected to be part of the biennale of contemporary photographers which is a big honour for me. I am going to be showing a series called Beyrouth, Mon Amour, a tribute to Beirut, my home town. Even though I didn’t grow up there, I’m Lebanese, and it’s a visual love letter to Beirut. The idea was to take photos of buildings in Beirut, poor and rich, new and old, bearing scars or not, and make them look like traditional Arab mosaics, so you can’t tell which are in poor neighbourhoods, and which are in rich neighbourhoods, putting them on the same level.

Beyrouth Mon Amour

Beyrouth, Mon Amour

This is happening in September, and then hopefully I will go back on the road and work on a new series. I don’t know yet what I will choose as I have a few subjects that interest me. I can’t talk about it right now, but hopefully soon.


All images courtesy of Vladimir Antaki.

The Guardians photo book is available now in Europe, and from 3rd September in North America. To buy the book and to see more of his work, visit his website.

Invisible Britain – Portraits of Hope and Resilience

Featured image, Emily Green by Polly Alderton.

“The faces in these photographs look out at us on an equal footing. Asking to be seen and heard. Not as case studies or statistics. People. Lives being lived. Each telling us a small but significant part of their story. Not as background colour to grit up a screen drama, or as council estate fodder for a tabloid scrounger story. These aren’t the bit-parts – today these are the heroes.”

From the foreword by Michael Sheen.

 

A decade of austerity and cruel government policy has pushed many Britons further into poverty, and created an increasingly volatile and polarised society.

Featuring the work of a number of award-winning photographers alongside some talented newcomers, Invisible Britain tells the stories of those living in the UK’s most marginalised communities, those often ignored or, at times, denigrated and scapegoated by politicians and the media.

Dan Kilifin by James McCourt

Dan Kilifin by James McCourt

Editor Paul Sng, a writer and filmmaker, features work focusing on those who challenge the status quo, and felt a book of stories and photographs would directly present the truth of those involved, as opposed to documentaries which tend to be more faithful to the directors concept of truth, rather than the person’s or people’s who are the subject of the film. He was also interested in working with photographers, and the challenge they face representing a person in a single image.

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Corinne Jones by Jenny Lewis

The result is both intimate and powerful, stories of hope and defiance in the face of
adversity, of particular relevance at a time of uncertainty and political upheaval in the UK.

Invisible Britain: Portraits of Hope and Resilience, is published by Policy Press. For more information and to buy the book, visit their website.

 

Velho Chico

Velho Chico, the name affectionately given by the locals to the giant Sao Francisco river in the Sertao area of Northeastern Brazil, the backdrop for the solo project by Brazilian born Wieden + Kennedy Creative director, Mico Toledo.

Known largely for its barren land and widespread poverty, but perhaps lesser known is the area’s unique diversity of people, cultures, and religions, the consequence of hundreds of years of immigration and erratic colonialism, and a place Mico describes as: “where folklore and reality seamlessly blend, becoming impossible to distinguish from one another.”

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Initially inspired by novelists, Jorge Amado, Euclides da Cunhaand and Rachel de Queiroz, who used the area as a setting for their stories. Mico visited the region several times between 2016 and 2018, meeting and photographing the local people; exploring their rich diversity and connection with the esoteric.

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The series includes a zine, inspired by the Cordel literature collections of folklore, poems and songs, usually accompanied by woodcut illustrations and sold locally by street vendors and at markets within the region.

Designed by Adam Hunter; Mico chose to work with UK based illustrator, Sophy Hollington rather than a local artist which had been his initial inclination, because he felt her unique lino-cut style could construct a new ‘folklore language; creating a contemporary version of the old woodcut-style rather then copying it’

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The result is a powerful mix of media that constructs a compelling narrative: an oddly beautiful land defined by its enigmatic residents and their deep connection with the surreal.

To see more, or to buy the photo book or prints from the collection, visit the website.

 

Milford Graves – Full Mantis

“Man, that’s me up there on that screen – that’s what I’m about.”  Full Mantis, the feature-length documentary honouring the work of avant-garde percussionist Milford Graves, is a kaleidoscopic portrait of an enigmatic, curious and mythic figure.

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As a student of Graves for fifteen years, director and producer Jake Meginsky has an understanding with his subject that lends a beautiful empathy to the film. As Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth expressed, Meginsky and his co-director Neil Young, have tapped into Graves’ very particular sonic vocabulary.
The pair has managed a rare thing in creating a music documentary that takes on the form of a musical piece. The narrative progresses with hypnotic rhythm, aided by the soundtrack of Milford’s percussion.

As a pioneer of the New York free jazz movement and a master of polyrhythms, Graves’ sound, at times, makes for complex listening. We see footage of performances where Graves yells over the thrashing of the drums. Meginsky has said, “We both approached the material in an intuitive, rhythmic way in order to inject the film with the same sense of fluidity and intensity that are the hallmarks of Milford’s sound.”

For the entirety of its 90 minute running time, the only voice the audience hear from is
Graves’. As the film cuts between never-before-seen archival footage from his early career and interviews filmed over the fifteen years of mentorship, we oscillate between Graves’ younger and present self. The two appear to communicate, both through music and discourse, into a wonderfully cyclical narrative.

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Percussionist, herbalist, martial artist, programmer, scientist, philosopher, and teacher, Graves’ contradicting identities all work together to inform his life philosophy, of which vibration is the key, “It comes down to vibration, which is motion. As human beings, if there’s no motion, we’re dead!” In one a poignant scene we see this put into practice when, on a tour through Japan, he performs at a school for children with autism. Accompanied by Japanese interpretive dancer Min Tanaka, the high-intensity performance continues until all the children are on their feet. One child in particular, seen sitting and pulling on his hair in the beginning, ends up standing directly in front of the drum kit to dance, in rapture, enthralled by the energy of the sound.

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A natural teacher, Graves reflects deeply on a multitude of subjects as the film progresses, in what Moore described as, “a lexicon of thoughtful and mystic consciousness.” As the audience, we  quickly become his students. There is a wonderful scene where he describes in complex detail how minor and major chords are related to the sympathetic nervous system.

His lengthy interpretations, like his music, at times veer into the bizarre. However, by the time the film comes to a close the audience is enveloped in Milford’s bizarre and beautiful world.

This is not a documentary solely for avant-garde jazz lovers; Graves’ curiosity and humour also spills out from the screen, and his unwavering hope in the healing power of music is infectious.  Graves has said of the drum kit, ‘the equipment just can’t capture the energy of the music.’ The same can be said of film’s ability to capture the rhythm and energy of  Graves’ life; and yet Full Mantis succeeds in coming very close.

You can hear his music on Albert Ayler’s Love Cry (1968), Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman (1969), and releases with the New York Art Quartet. For screening information visit the Full Mantis official website.

References from:

Directors Notes, Jake Meginsky.

Thurston Moore’s introduction at the BFI, July 2018.

Interview with Milford Graves in Bomb Magazine, 2018.

Anna Kaniasty – Alive St.

Featured image, Porto 2013.

 

Alive St. is an ongoing photo series by Warsaw based photographer Anna Kaniasty. Taken over several years, the images uniquely capture fleeting moments of everyday life in various cities across the globe.

See a selection of the images below. For more information, and to see more of her work, visit her website.

 

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Lisbon, Portugal 2012

Malaga 2015

Malaga, Spain 2015

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Miyajima, Japan 2011

Cleveland 2003

Cleveland, USA 2003

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Tokyo, Japan 2011

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Warsaw, Poland 2013

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Lisbon, Portugal 2012

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Krakow, Poland 2012