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In her second column for They Made This, Art Buyer Sophie Hector chats to recent Magnum Graduate Award winner, the super talented photographer Sophie Green. After stints assisting photographers Tom Craig and Mel Bles, Green has spent the last few years capturing emotional portraits of people in marginalised communities, photos that reveal a beauty in people and the details of their lives.

With projects like A Day Out At The Races, Tomorrow's People, I am Sophie Green and Bangers and Smash already under her belt at just 23 years old, make no mistake Sophie Green is very much a photographer to watch.

Can you tell us about your background and how your love of photography came about?
I’m often asked how I got into photography! It all started at school, I’ve always been creative but photography was a unit within my art course that I instantly connected with. I totally immersed myself in other photographers’ work. After that I was looking at everything through photographer’s eyes, I saw everything as a frame, I wanted to take pictures all the time. I knew then I wanted to be a photographer. I then did a degree in Fashion Photography at London College of Fashion. After graduating in 2012, I full time-assisted photographers Tom Craig and Mel Bles and now I’m working freelance.
Your projects often candidly expose a specific community or culture. What are your inspirations and what research goes into this?
I have a strong interest in British culture, communities and marginalised people who are under represented and removed from the mainstream. I want to challenge the common misconceptions and judgements that can exist in our society and provide a platform for the subjects to tell their story.

 

I have ways of working and researching for different projects. For example my project ‘I Am Sophie Green’ - a portrait series of people who share my name; which took me all over England shooting Sophie Green’s from 2011 – 2013, required a huge amount of research and communication because I had to find people to take part. I found Sophie Greens through online searches of the electoral role and social networking sites.

Similarly, my project for the charity ‘Tomorrow’s People’ required a huge amount of preparation and research in order to get the project off the ground. Due to the nature of the vulnerable people, this project was certainly not a case of turning up and shooting. It felt very important that the people I photographed trusted me and felt comfortable with the process. Because of the nature of some of their past experiences this was sometimes challenging and took time.

However often my process is very organic and I document in a spontaneous, intuitive reaction to what I observe. It's really just by exploring and going on adventures that I stumble across interesting people and places. My eyes are always peeled for a picture. I street cast the majority of people that I photograph, encounters can unexpectedly happen anywhere.

Can you tell me about your most recent project, Bangers & Smash.
I’ve been documenting the Stock Car and Banger racing subculture. I stumbled across a racing meet at Wimbledon Stadium one Sunday afternoon last summer by accident and became totally immersed in this colourful world and I’ve been documenting the sport since. Instantly I saw it as a great environment to take pictures, full of peculiar scenes and interesting faces everywhere.

 

This project has taken me to regional racetracks via family homes and scrap yards. My objective was to capture the sport and the community in its most revealing and honest form. I wanted to understand the community and sport for myself and for my series to provide a window in.

On first glance the beauty within this eccentric community isn’t obvious - builders bottoms, oil stained tracksuits and car constructs barely recognisable as the vehicle they once were. But I looked below the surface, there is so much beauty to be found, not only in the human spirit of the participants but also in the physical fabric of the sport.

The sport provides a positive focus, purpose and a real sense of belonging. Competitors pour their heart, souls and money into it; it's a way of life for them. Racing is total escapism from the normality of everyday life. The majority of competitors have family relations to introduce them to the sport. It runs in the blood as a unifying force at the center of many families’ lives.

Unlike a lot of competitive sports - participation is based on mutual support, respect and camaraderie - collaboration at its best. A common saying in the sport is ‘No Mates Past The Pitgates’. Although highly competitive on the track, banger racing is unique - you may find the person who created the most damage on the track will be the first to go out with their toolbox to help. They make up one big, supportive family sharing the joy that a combination of speed, danger and destruction brings to both competitors and spectators.

Whilst shooting I got obsessed with small details - The quirky textured surfaces of the car exteriors, doubled bowed ribbons that bind car parts together, the unorganised mess of the brakes wiring which is all exposed and the funny and charming slogans including nicknames and messages to girlfriends covering the cars. At the race track it’s such a fast paced, noisy environment. However in contrast my images have a still and peaceful presence. They are frozen moments, a 60th of a second captured from this chaotic, frenetic environment. A still moment allows you to stop and appreciate the beauty whilst in a fast pace environment it can seem so fleeting. I hope the pictures capture an unconventional, unobvious beauty in the sport. Beauty is not normally associated with banger racing, I wanted to present the sport and the community on a different platform.

I was very lucky to have been selected for the Magnum / Ideastap Photographic Award for Bangers & Smash, their grant enabled me to develop the project. I was also lucky enough to win the Magnum Graduate Award for the work too.

Is there one story that will stick with you through your time documenting Bangers & Smash?
An example of overwhelming community spirit is when the racing driver, Steve Newman was sadly killed at a race meet 2 years ago. It was Father’s Day and Billy, his 6 year old son was there and saw the accident happen. At Steve’s funeral over 700 drivers came to give Steve the best send off dressed entirely in Steve’s driving colors – pink and yellow. They all painted their car bumpers yellow as a mark of respect. I met with his family to photograph and interview them, it was really emotional. Despite the death of his father, Billy is totally obsessed by banger racing.
Your Tomorrow’s People project really moved me as you had obviously taken a considerable amount of time and care over it? How did this project evolved for you?
Thank you! Tomorrow’s People is a specialist employment charity whose mission is to help disadvantaged people in the most challenging situations to get and keep a job. They run employment programmes in some of the most deprived areas of the country and focus their support on people who are the hardest to help, helping them to overcome the barriers they face so that they can move into employment or training, or back to education.

 

This portrait series formed an exhibition for the charity, which is running through out major fundraising and political campaigning events. It aims to raise awareness of the charity and to also give light to the personal and unique stories of each individual.

I travelled around England visiting people in their home environment. I spent a lot of time talking to them about their journey and taking pictures along the way. As a photographer who is so interested in people and their stories, I am especially drawn to photographing people in their homes because it is such a personal, intimate environment.

Each person I photographed had embarked on the challenging journey from hardship to hope and each had their own inspiring story of moving on from a world of social exclusion and disadvantage resulting from issues such as drug addiction, alcoholism, low self–esteem, illiteracy, sexual violence, poverty and homelessness; the list goes on. These people form the section of our society that is the hardest to help and possibly the easiest to ignore.

It felt important to me that the portraits went deeper than just capturing the here and now but to give a glimpse of each person’s past. I was compelled to move the camera in close to the subject; I suppose trying to get closer to the truth. Behind each face you can sense there is a story, hinting perhaps at a significant moment, a memory or an experience. Each portrait is paired with a secondary image providing another piece of the jigsaw.

A unique story accompanies each portrait where the subject reflects on their journey. These words are fundamental to the photos, you can find these stories on my website. This photography project gave these individuals a voice, everyone was so open to it. Everyone I met showed this huge desire and willingness to use their experiences to help other people and for their stories to inspire others. That was their drive to be involved in this project. I hope these stories will enlighten and move people.

Do you have a favourite project that you have worked on and why?
Hummm… my Tomorrow’s People project. I got very involved with the people I photographed and learned so much. It was the most fascinating, heart breaking, lovely, happy, sad project I’ve done – odd mix of words eh? It was a journey!

 

My favourite image from the series is the portrait of Devin. Devin has been a drug user from the age of 12. At the age of 22 he was using drugs so regularly that he dropped to 7 stone. He has been clean since thanks to the help and support of Tomorrow’s People. Devin’s portrait was taken in his bedroom, he had these notes all over his bedroom wall, he suffers from severe memory loss and these are his reminders. Devin wants to help people who have problems with drink and drugs. He is the kindest person and I think he will use his experiences to make a really incredible mentor.

What do you look for in the people whose photos you take?
I try to find people who have something special. Sometimes I am just struck by the way people look, I can’t explain what it is. Maybe it’s intuition. I like people that are unconventionally beautiful. In a face you can read an entire range of human emotion. I find some faces just tell a story. A face really can tell you so much about a person; the elements of their lives are almost visually there. I like recognising a beauty in people that they were not aware they had. A lot of people can’t understand my fascination with them, they say ‘why me?’
Who is your biggest photographic influence and why?
There are too many amazing photographers. Visually and stylistically I love photography that has a cinematic quality, Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s work just totally blows me away, I remember first coming across his book ‘Hustlers’ in the library at University – I was in awe, still am! Saul Leiter is a pure, original visionary too, the colour, his compositions, the layers and texture in his work – I just can’t get enough. I am also hugely influenced by cinema; Andrea Arnold, Pawel Pawlikowski and Duane Hopkins are just a few directors that heavily inspire me. To me, they tell stories in a very real, honest and beautiful way.
What would be your super power and why?
Teleportation of course – I could go anywhere with my camera, I’m just dreaming about the photo oppourtunities. See ya jetlag and plane fares! Romania, Poland and Ukraine would be first on my list.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been working on a project which focuses on the traveller and gypsy community which has taken me to horse fairs around the country. Appleby was total madness - I’m talking fortune tellers, dodgy outfits, traditional carts, horses and singing birds, it was like being on a different planet. It’s a work in progress.

 

Bangers & Smash still isn’t complete. I will continue to document this community until I have the strongest body of work, which will result in a book.

I am in the midst of an exciting project in collaboration with LAW Magazine and Ditto Press, which is a printed book of banger car surface abstracts. It’s very exciting. Look out.

I have editorial stories coming out in Man About Town, Victory Journal and The New British over the next few months - I can't ruin the surprise so keep an eye out for the publications and on my website.

Written by
SOPHIE HECTOR
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