Insider Viewpoints

Notes on Briony Campbell “The Dad Project” and Louis Quail “Big Brother”

After looking at the work of Tom Hunter I started looking at other photographers who have created works exclusively from an insider perspective. Both Briony Campbell and Louis Quayle have produced works on family members in difficult circumstances.

The Dad Project

Briony Campbell took photographs during her father’s terminal illness. On the one hand this was a way for her to deal with his impending death, but by engaging her father in the work as a way to get closer to him. In a piece available on the project web page Campbell writes about the difficulties in producing this work, about how it developed as her father’s condition worsened and how she changed her approach during his illness. She writes about how she was very wary of the dangers of self-referential photography, and the fear that the results would just be a narcissistic exercise in grief. This ongoing self-analysis in the end has avoided mawkishness and produced a work that is at times hard to see, but at the same time very moving indeed.  As well as images of her father during his terminal illness, she includes photographs of objects and other scenes that help to evoke the idea of sadness and loss. It does seem likely that instead of stepping back from the possibility of mawkishness, Campbell has avoided it altogether by just crashing through instead. Her grief is obvious and open, but tempered by her photographic skill and careful selection.

Big Brother

Louis Quail’s older brother Justin suffers from schizophrenia. Louis’ aim in this project is to humanise Justin while at the same time acknowledging his condition, and the difficulties it can cause Justin and his girlfriend Jackie. By interspersing drawings by Justin of birds between images of Justin the project highlights Justin’s personality, his love of birdwatching, while at the same time making it clear that Justin does have a lot of difficulties in his life. Given the differences in circumstances between Quail and Campbell it is not surprising that “Big Brother” comes across as more detached than “The Dad project”. There is still a great deal of empathy though; Louis’s respect for his brother is plain to see.

Reflection

As this is being written as part of the ‘colour’ element of this course, it seems pertinent to discuss the use of colour here. As a start it seems fair to say that neither of these projects would work anywhere near as well in monochrome. The ‘art’ stigma still attached to B&W would very much work against the (intentional) emotional impact of the works. Natural colour is prominent in both works; surrealist touches would again work against the intended impact.

I’ve been particularly drawn to look at both these projects since the ‘insider’ view is one I may adopt with my final assignment for this part of the course. As Briony Campbell notes there is a great danger of projects like this becoming so self-obsessed that they lose all interest for outside viewers. In previous assignments for level 1 I have fallen into that trap myself.  It is reassuring to find projects where a proper balance has been found; where the viewer can get a proper understanding of the subject without feeling uninvolved.

References

Campbell, B. (s.d.) The Dad Project. At: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ (Accessed 05/08/2020).

Quail, L. (s.d.) Big Brother. At: https://louisquail.com/big-brother-gallery-page/?occur=1&cover=0&album=25&photo=458 (Accessed 05/08/2020).

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