Some projects come to a natural conclusion, others come to a pause, but you sometimes feel as if they suddenly concluded, only to find yourself returning to it and discovering it was just a pause.
‘Our People’ was probably one of those great moments in time for me. A solo exhibition which launched Space 92, a unique arts gallery from the team of Gibraltar Production.
The whole experience was somewhat of a surreal moment when this team who bring us the Gibraltar World Music Festival every year trusted to offer me the opportunity to exhibit at the gallery for their opening. The fact I was to be their first artist was somewhat of a surprise, even more so that it was my photography they were looking at. ‘Our People’ was a portrayal of Gibraltar’s modern history through what you could describe as the simplicity of Street photography. There had never been any intention to exhibit when I had started my work, years before, it had just been a return to a project which met my ideologies and fascinated me, whilst getting the creative juices flowing. Capturing everyday life was like sketching with a camera. For some years it was the main tool fo choice, but even then I insisted I was not a photographer and that it was just another of the many tools I was willing to use.
The exhibition saw many a local dignitary attend to my surprise, from the Chief Minister to the then Governor, I was even featured in newspapers, television and magazine. And it was all because of the great efforts put in by The Gibraltar Production team, and the many people who stepped forward showing real interest to see my work. Something I will remember for many a long time.
But it was also a moment in which the project came to a halt for a time. Choosing sixteen images from the many thousands taken had allowed me to look back and in doing so had also halted the looking forward. Before this every image had been a new image because you tend to forget the previous one and wish to capture something new in the next.
So much had been said during the ‘Our People’ exhibition that it pigeon-holed the project into a narrowed category which no longer seemed to fit with what had led me to follow it through.
So quite literally, between the end of the project and the subsequent circumstances that led me to work within sports and photography started to take a secondary role the project was paused.
Circumstances, lack of incentive and a drop in confidence struck deep and lost that thread of doing something which did provide fulfilment whilst doing. It was as of the exhibition and things surrounding its aftermath closed the doors on the project.
Yet, it’s in this pandemic days in which the reasons for the project have come to the forefront again.
Looking back at the over 1,000 images online depicting ‘our people’ from which the sixteen were partly chosen from and whilst seeing our streets empty the importance of what identifies us as Gibraltarians tends to emerge.
Those rare moments of seeing people working, people walking, people crossing a road even become even more important. When you see those reporting stories asking for people to pose for images it still sends shivers through me as I do not understand why images which tell stories can be reduced in significance. Why lose the story through your intervention. Photographers are observers not participants, yet those who seek to pose people seem only to do it to give themselves the gratification of being recognised as the persons taking the photograph and tend to celebrate every time their name appears on print, which is really sad to see.
The importance of telling stories through images can be seen by merely opening up any news agency sites in which the images tell real stories or real events and real people. The name at the bottom of the image becomes irrelevant to the stories they tell.
Only this past weeks I have had the chance again to refocus behind a lens and searching for the story; that capture which tells you more than just a pretty picture. Images which gives you the mood, the sadness, the loneliness, the sacrifices, not that they are easy to come by, but there have been a few which have finished on my card. One image at the least went across five column inches, and it was probably the saddest moment in my life that such an image was captured. But what made the image work was the very fact it was not staged. It was sought. It was a moment when the streets were empty except for a lone figure walking in the horizon and another, a shop keeper shutting his doors to an empty street in the afternoon on a weekday. There was no celebration that it had made a front page, nor was it important that my name was next to it. Forever, that moment was captured and someone some day will know what it was all about because I was lucky enough to be there at the moment to capture it. Who took it will not be important.
And it’s this latter fact that has started to re-ignite the interest in finding that focus back at seeing the world again. When once again I have been able to become the observer and not worry, knowing that the one thing my years of experience has shown me is that I am always looking for the story, always gathering the story and I can trust myself when doing so.
These past days it has also taught me, looking back, that there is no need to differentiate between the arts produced by the different tools. Neither a photographer, painter or illustrator, I am just a creative and the tools I use have a purpose. Most of them aid me in telling stories. Probably why I ended up being a reporter even if I never sought to become one.