The Original NEG Call to Action Email
On July 20th, 2019 the below proposal was attached to an email which was sent out for the first time to five photographers, and a few more in the weeks after that. All of the photographers I originally discussed these ideas with gave me some great feedback, and although not all decided to participate in the way I outlined, they were all eager to find ways to fit their work into the project at some point down the line.
This was the original vision statement for what now exists as New Exit Group. Although the scope, timeline, and goals are somewhat changed now, having become a bit less rigid, the original brief still managed to highlight some of the driving forces behind what we wanted to achieve.
This proposal went through a few drafts which I shared with David Babaian, who helped me to improve the focus and clarity of the overall concept.
Proposal: The “New Exit Photography Group”
From 1974 to 1979 a small group of photographers known as Exit Photography Group documented the growing inner city crisis in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Glasgow and Belfast.
Their main issue was inner-city poverty across Britain, of course a relevant topic to this day. I agree with much of the original group’s philosophy, approach, workflow, and budget. I have often argued that in modern photography the push to reduce the number of images of the homeless is a tactic to erase their existence from the zeitgeist, which has led to dehumanization, and therefore violence and abuse towards the homeless and dispossessed.
I think we ought to document the new face of poverty; the clean faced, London broke, addicted, mentally ill, right wing, lonely implications of living in a city without possessing enough “value” to provide enough income for yourself or your family. The physical location is far less important than the overall theme and message of the work. I would like to limit this project to the United Kingdom, and I will be reaching out to a number of photographers as well as yourselves to see if we can cover as much of this issue as possible.
Areas I think will be worth covering: London, Glasgow, Brighton, Edinburgh, Midlands, Kent, Bristol, Dublin? Galway?
I have a few suggestions, which are as follows: We use only black and white film, and darkroom print our eventual gallery images. This will keep our work consistent, based around character and composition, while still allowing for style.
We each choose an area to cover, and do our best to deep dive that location. I’d love to travel around the country a bit, but this shouldn’t be necessary for participation (but if any of you want to join then please do!).
Ciarán suggested volunteering at different groups, which may give better access to characters and locations. We should definitely look at charities/social groups to contact to see if they might be willing to help, or sponsor the project in any way. Community noticeboards are a good resource, and a good way to reach out, especially in council estates.
I will be looking at wording a friendly flyer we can post so that our subjects come to us rather than us potentially invading their space. I will also be looking for Facebook groups we could use – locally based marketplace groups tend to be diverse. Projects like this involving a number of participants can be difficult to keep track of.
I’d want to have at least a monthly email chain to keep track of everyone, as well as a shared Google spreadsheet we could all contribute towards, to keep everyone in the loop. This is a large commitment, of around 4 years, so I really hope that you think carefully before accepting. I feel like the topic could be approached actively via photojournalism, or passively through street photography, which definitely makes it open to whatever your workflow may be.
Photobook in 2023.
Separate zine series, with more focus into different aspects of the findings.
Gallery selection of 50 images.
As you can see, the original intent was to document a specific issue - homelessness - but within a few months of working around this topic we began to see that there was a larger story worth telling as a group; in fact there were almost no limits on the ways we could translate the social issues we could find into stories to be told.
This led to a wider net being cast, and we began to explore the kinds of social structures we exist in, so that we could go on to pick them apart and begin to show in images the way that friction is present in the interactions between different inter-personal systems.
So far I think the work we've produced is solid, but scattered and unfocused. In time a clearer big-picture will almost certainly emerge, and when re-reading the original proposal I am more confident with this new approach, where the story is understood in retrospect rather than anticipated and pre-conceived.
I also like that our approach now is less based in the service of a large goal, like a book/gallery, but smaller, more frequent publications in the form of Zines.
Considering how quickly we changed so many of the original prospects I am sure that this group will continue to adapt and evolve, to incorporate new ideas, people, narratives and perspectives.