Based upon work that I see exhibited each year at herded graduation shows such as Free Range in London, Stephen Shaw of Blackpool & The Fylde College is head and shoulders above the competition. His tutors speak excitedly about Shaw’s approach, which is both energetic and ruthless, stalking a subject with surprising empathy.
Shaw, raised in Grangepark, Blackpool, is a passionate photographer with an artistic vision, specialising in Documentary and Portraiture. He is currently in his third and final year at B&FC, hoping to establish a career in social documentary.
Unlike so many who attend festivals, such as Blackpool’s annual Rebellion Punk Festival, clicking without much thought or heart, Shaw is a fast mover, interacting with subjects in a spontaneous manner, knowing what he wants to achieve without hesitation. Strange is an ongoing project set within Grange Park, a council estate in Blackpool, where one has to mind one’s fookin’ back.
“It’s a project derived from a desire to document areas of personal significance to myself, with an intention to memorialise,” says Shaw. “These images speak of the unknown, lingering ghosts of past events affecting the future, augurs, deja vu, omens and portents. A hidden world not everyone is exposed to. An aura of strange, premonistic connections, links through time.”
Queenstown. The Last 7 is the title of a recent project, completed over two years, based on the last people left living on Queenstown High Rise Flats, Blackpool. “These flats have just recently been demolished. I felt it was important to put together an accurate historical record and testimony as to how the community lived in this somewhat notorious area for the benefit of future generations. Suicide, drugs and violence are a common theme expressed among the residents. The images serve as an archive as to how the inhabitants endured in their environment and the buildings they spent their lives in.”
Somewhat unusually, Shaw collects audio on the go, thus producing tangible and visual accounts of all his sitters’ lives and their time spent living on Queenstown and Grange Park, keen to create a personal relationship with each of them. “Ultimately, I hope to bring a window of reality through which the audience can see a truth they would otherwise be blind to. Showing what it means to be ‘Grange Parkian’ or a sand-grown on Queenstown Estate and what these people actually do. To highlight how areas of social segregation with decreased social mobility cause deprivation that promote undesirable, negative, dysfunctional behaviours. Such behaviours invariably create a mindset of disassociation which continues a vicious circle of cyclical violence and isolation.”
Shaw’s images are motivated by personal pain with his own personal story intertextualised within. “I have a great sense of empathy with a desire for knowledge and researching failed human constructs. The simple and avoidable but often unnoticed flaws in our culture and the people who inhabit its fabric are what drives me. I have a thirst to photographically conceive and evolve our knowledge with the photographic medium and bring this to the attention of a greater audience.”
Today I think it’s almost considered a taboo to speak to people living on these streets never mind to offer a helping hand to people who often become my subjects. The world could be a better place if everyone would love each other as they love themselves.”
Words. PP Hartnett