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This Edit of Is This Who We Are : Photography and the Human Condition

By El Ratón Automático-The 3Nines Arts

Life. For most of us means working 'decent' shift after 'decent' shift ad infinitum. Human coalface, working a tedious seam of soul destroying ordinaryness, for – RELATIVELY – little reward. The vast majority of us are forced to do this because we need to keep a roof over our heads feed ourselves, and our families.

The need to work to simply survive is to ride the great mundane wave to the very end of an uncaring universe. To surf the searing no-thingness of boredom, the fall-out from having little or no money – irrespective of how hard we work.

To accommodate us the state builds tiny little boxes and packs as many of us as it can into as little space as possible.

All we have is the pub rave on a Saturday night as Mercury Rev's Holes morphs into Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era's late-post-modern percussion driven, piano riff Far Out...

©Nick Worthington, Tower Block

Nick Worthington's intriguingly shot Tower Block is simultaneously a massive multi-residency monolithic tombstone, as well as a homage to those condemned to live in cramped quarters. Individuals and families, mother, father, children in a kind of prison from which is there is little or no chance of escape...ever.

Worthington's theatre of existence is a great photograph, where many dramas will be unfolding. Tower blocks become a micro-universal matrix of actors following their own scripts colliding – potentially – with every other actor/script on the planet.

Think of all these dramas unravelling in all those flats and apartments in this multi-storey building.

In flat 453, a woman prevented from going to the local evening class by her bullying husband is contemplating change, altering her script as it crosses over with her husband. We find her in the kitchen of the tiny apartment holding a seven inch knife, a blank, faraway look in her eyes. He is calling out from the next room :

"No way are you going out to any fu…"

A few storeys above them in apartment 718, a weeping man is reading a note from his wife who has packed her bags, taken the children and left him.

Far below in Flat 242, three young men play early 90's House, smoke weed, name-drop Nietzsche and plot revolution.

All this from one shot of a high rise. Apartments full of drama, and the pub 'The Golden Dive', I imagine, and as it always is, behind the tower block, the only one on the nondescript estate.

Photography is a wonderfully powerful tool. In one photograph we can develop narratives from behind closed doors, we can put people into this block of flats and give them real time biographies. We can even have them raving in an imaginary 'Golden Dive' pub on an imaginary nondescript estate – thanks to Nick Worthington's visual interpretation of existence.

In one photograph we are riding through history, witnessing the socio-economic, political and geographical realities and struggles of people. These are the humans of the everywhere, aware of their own mortality, and, yet, always looking to give meaning to their existence. An emotional mix of inspiration, melancholy, love, conflict and compassion. Locked up in tiny spaces in a multi-apartment high-rise.

©Neil Carpenter, Revolution

They protest, they come out onto the streets and let it be known that they are not happy with the way they are being treated.

This is a clever shot by Neil Carpenter. The woman with the 'revolution' placard is taken from an unusual angle, perhaps to accentuate that she is doing something extraordinary : Protesting.

Not only protesting but, in a literal inference, calling out for a 'love' revolution. She has used the 'evol' from the centre of the word and reversed it (in our minds) so that we can read – even though it is still reversed – 'love' and revolution.

Maybe she is unhappy about being hidden away in a high rise 'hamster-sized' residence.

Discontent finds itself on the street, revolutions don't tend to happen in the bedroom, on a Batman duvet, or beneath a poster of Take That.

But we work, no time to change the world really, we need to eat, have shelter, fill babies with food.

Rush, squeeze into underground trains and then we find ourselves fired along a tube like a missile as we make our way to jobs that are killing us from the inside out. We head, insanely, for the congested centre of overpopulated urban habitats.

©Victor Borst, Shibuya Crossing

They race across the crossings at Shibuya before equally anxious drivers, who check the time on their watches and rev up their cars, and race to work. It is one the busiest crossings in the world, and Victor Borst's great shot captures the claustrophobic paranoia of those rushing to get from one side of the street to other safely.

Umbrellas like shields to protect them from the machines, the citizens of Tokyo, one of the most populated cities on Earth make the dash to a new destination.

Borst also captures human restlessness in this one frame. Crowds carrying war shields moving, travelling from one station to the next, forever, ad infinitum, the driver of the car like those crossing, fused with Borst in the photograph, and revving his car forever.

Photography reaches deep into our souls. Does it explain or help us understand the human condition? Yes, I think so. Our mortality, our headlong rush to give meaning to our lives, our emotional being, all captured in a single shot.

One frame is a clue to who we are, how we live, where we live, what we are Like. Collectively, that great ocean of photographs on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, saved in phones, saved on laptops, stuffed into boxes, framed and hung in the living room become evidence of our need to communicate our existential trajectory. All of these visual representations of a particular situation at one solitary point in time can tell us a whole lot about ourselves, and what we know as the human condition.

That is the beauty of the photograph, it travels, it is TIME and yet timeless.

People swaying, clinking gasses, spilling beer...

'Holes,' They paraphrase the words incorrectly in the pub at the end of the night, as Mercury Rev replaces Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era, in a...loop. 'mmmmmm.....angry jealous/Cries...mmm... telephone for eyes...'

***Inspired by conversations with John McAulay, and an exchange of emails with street photographer Hugh Rawson

diane arbus: in the beginning
DON McCULLIN AT TATE BRITAIN

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Monday, 16 September 2019
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