Photography News Issue 53

Photography News | Issue 53 | photographynews.co.uk

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Interview

Remarkable of TunbridgeWells Inspired by a 1748 etching, photographer Mark Wilkinson and writer Anne Wagstaff set out to produce a book and an exhibition of a small Kent town and all for charity Town portraits

Interview by Will Cheung Pictures by Mark Wilkinson

What was the motivation to take on this project? Behind the quick assumptions we make about towns such as Tunbridge Wells are real people with real stories and a texture that is rich and multi-layered. We wanted to paint a portrait of the town through images and words. As with all portraits, the portrayal is in the eye of the artist. We have captured the mood, the likeness and the personality that we see. We started with a boot sale find for the initial inspiration. The cover of a 1966 Sunday Times Magazine showed two people looking out of a red telephone box with the title Portrait of a Village. The article explored the village and villagers – it is notable just how much the commonplace of 1966 has changed. Few villages now have a wheelwright, or indeed a red phone box. It is easy to let theminutiae, the smaller stories, the details slip through our fingers unrecorded. Then in 2016 we came across an etching showing The Remarkable Characters who were at TunbridgeWells in 1748. This drawing of the Pantiles includes Dr Johnson, Mr Pitt (Earl of Chatham), Loggan, the artist, and the renowned Miss Chudleigh, amongst others. Together these inspired us to consider undertaking a larger project looking at the current residents of Tunbridge Wells. You and Anne have worked on previous projects such as Portrait of a Village in 2009. What brought you back together for Remarkable? We had been thinking for a while about how to make the Portrait of a Village style work in a larger town and it was coming across the image from 1748 by Loggan that sparked the idea of looking for people with a story to tell. How did you find your Remarkable Characters? I’d imagine you found more people than you actually needed, so how did you decide who to include? Anne lives in Tunbridge Wells and so was the driving force in seeking out the Remarkable Characters. We didn’t set out with a list of people we had to have but allowed the names to emerge through discussion, a thorough reading of the local press and a trawl of the internet, often using #tunbridgewells to deepen the search. We approached people who we felt had a story to tell; some are

What was the most difficult aspect of taking the pictures? Perhaps not too surprisingly, it was actually organising where and when to meet. Combining the square format and the story telling with the need to create really strong images was a challenge. It was also important that they work together as a collection and this was in my mind throughout. Were your Remarkable subjects easy to photograph or did they represent a challenge? Happily, all were excited and interested in the project and curious about the process. On the whole the men were fairly pragmatic; I definitely felt more pressure taking portraits of women. The children took longer for me to capture the right expression. With each portrait I worked on two or three different ideas and shared the images on the back of the camera with the subject. Anne and I then discussed which worked best from a storytelling perspective and how they sat with

of national importance, some are quieter and more personal. We could have included so many more people, and we keep hearing suggestions that we would have loved to include. Everyone we photographed has been included and we are pleased with the overall balance and variety. How did you decide on your photographic approach for the project? My photographic style ever since I started taking pictures as a child has involved using natural light, or if needs be, ambient light. With this project I decided early on to challenge myself by taking square format portraits. It has been difficult to not resort to placing the subject at the centre and to use the restrictions of the shape creatively. We also wanted the portraits to have a narrative so many of them include details significant to the life and story of the subject. The strong square image ‘look’ has allowedme to create a variety of images that all sit together cohesively as a group.

My photographic style ever since I started taking pictures as a child has involved using natural light, or if needs be, ambient light

Clockwise fromabove Louise Jameson, actor and director. Beau Lane-Winch; Isaac Holman, one half of Mercury award nominees, punk duo Slaves.

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