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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.