Heather Iris Galt-Mcloughlin is a lover of men. Her work sees her ride around council estates photographing visual representations, as often stereotyped in contemporary culture, of the masculine working-class. Garage doors, satellite dishes and learner plate-clad mopeds are captured, without interference, creating social portraits of a marginalised sub-section of the male population. Speaking of her practice she says, “I have no balls to ask for a photo of these lads I love, so I photograph everything that builds my understanding of working-class masculinity and what it means to be a man in today's society”.
For Galt-Mcloughlin’s degree show, she asked 21 volunteers, many of whom didn’t know much about the representation she feels her work holds, to respond to a single photograph with a piece of writing. The results, 10 of which are featured below, are a fascinating mix of art theory and personal recollections.
HANNAH POTHECARY – EASTON ESTATE
‘How can we expect art to compete with real life?’ said Joseph Kosuth.
The built environment is an outgrowth of social form and here we stare voyeuristically.
The human reaction to art is important as it strips away any distinction of hierarchy.
The critic does not know more than you.
A photograph like this is a description of a reality, it is a simple diminution of aesthetics not designed or engineered to please.
I don’t know how I truly feel. I know I feel confronted. I feel privileged and silly.
These are lives being lived, a habitat of people that I do not know and I am viewing them as an artwork. Is this reductive of our society or a tribute to it?
NICK COWEN – GARAGE/TOWER
Whoever parks a car in a garage these days? No evidence of vehicular use and the honeysuckle or ivy is creeping in. Most garages are full of junk or on rare occasions a car that is waiting - waiting for something to be done to it. The longer it waits the less chance it has of re-joining the race and the more it seizes up and it's perishable components perish. Does it contain somebody's dream or is it just another garage full of crap?
DEIRDRE CANAVAN – CARAVAN
I occupy a corner of every world I enter. A pick up here, a set down there. Some of the others don’t get on with us. I can see it in their contemptuous gaze, their ‘knowing’ looks, not making their decisions on who we are, but rather what we are. An unsavoury breed in their eyes. Our portable paradise is nothing more than an eyesore, an inconvenience to their tried and tested ideas about living. They don’t like what they can’t understand. But I don’t understand them. Why would I want to stay stuck in one immobile box for the rest of my days? Stuck in the same dreary place with the same dreary people. No, I like my way better. Much better. I am rootless, free from the shackles of place. I am without burden, without anchor, without onus. To be is to wander. Our nomadic existence grants us the freedom to go wherever we want to go, to be whoever we want to be. But sure why would we want to be anyone but ourselves? Sure we’re grand just the way we are.
DEAN ROGERS – DIRT BIKE
As ended, the repetitive drone of the noisy bike's engine, only to be replaced with the bustle of an active council estate. He wouldn't be the first outsider within the estate today, and defiantly wouldn't be the last. There was schedule to meet.
DEAN DAVIES – SULTANA SAREES
A sequence of thoughts:
- Are the St George’s Cross flags being used as a racist symbol targeting the Indian
- Was or is there conflict between the owner(s) of Sultana Sarees and the occupant(s) of the flat above?
- Why was I quick to conclude that the placement of ‘England flags’ above an Indian clothing shop can only be linked to patriotism, racism and conflict?
- Why was I quick to assume that the owner(s) of Sultana Sarees and the occupant(s) of the flat above are separate people?
- Could the placement of the ‘England flags’ in the windows above Sultana Sarees be a completely harmless act?
- Who or what is to blame for St George’s cross evoking anxiety over potential racism?
- Have organisations such as the English Defence League tarnished the image of St George’s Cross?
- Should politicians take responsibility for failing to speak out over inclusive patriotism of the English majority?
- Is it possible to be patriotic and not be deemed racist?
- Was this photograph taken during a World/European football season, when the streets are typically littered with England football tattle?
- Has football and its associated culture helped toxify the image of national flags?
- Has ‘English patriotism’, particularly through media outlets, further promoted cultural separation and racism by proxy?
JOHN MCLOUGHLIN – BUMPER
Not going anywhere.
MARGARET MCLOUGHLIN – GARAGE
Is there a family of illegal immigrants in there? Do they come out when it's dark, and maybe they have a special knock when entering.
VICTORIA PEACOCK – GRAVEL HOUSE
NICKI DRAY – LAD HOUSE
ANGELA LUFFMAN – SATELLITE DISHES
Daytime TV Living Schedule
09:30- Wake up to a still house
Put on some background noise
Laugh at Jeremy Kyle screaming at everyone to GET OFF THEIR BACKSIDES AND GET A JOB and PUT SOMETHING ON IT!
Feel bad afterwards
11:00- Home makeovers, Grand Designs, shows with Phil and Kirsty
Daydream about a rogue trader doing a number on me as a more attainable goal in home ownership.
Notice the smell of stale smoke everywhere
12:00 Watch Biggest Loser as a Lunchtime accompaniment
Eat last night's leftovers, drink fourth cup of tea of the day
After that Loose Women is on
Think about getting dressed
14:00 Snooze to repeats of Big Bang Theory, How I met your Mother...[insert name of bland American sitcom here]
Dream of a world where and everyone's teeth are shiny and all problems resolved within thirty minutes
17:30 Wake up and close the crack in the curtains
Get started fresh on the job search tomorrow.
TRIP: Why did you decide to open up your work to this kind of critique?
Heather Iris Galt-Mcloughlin: The collaboration was part of my final assessment for my degree. It was the first time i've completely focused on my photographic practice and presented them as a series. I haven't ever collaborated with another artist let alone eighteen, and to begin with I wasn't too sure how to go about it. My intentions with collaborating with the writers was to understand my practice further by seeing whether it was clear to people from all walks of life if it was present in my photographs what I wanted them to represent.
TRIP: How did you go about selecting the volunteers? Was there a decision behind which photograph each individual was asked to respond to?
Heather Iris Galt-Mcloughlin: I began by writing a list of names of people I knew who enjoyed writing and contacted them first, I then posted on a social media website asking for volunteers, many of the names i'd written down contacted me agreeing to take part. The majority of people involved knew little or nothing about my practice, and that’s what I wanted. Eighteen writers were involved, I was happy with this number - I felt I had eighteen really strong photographs that worked well as a series. It was a conscious decision selecting the individual and photograph. I knew I wanted Margret Mcloughlin (my Scouse aunt) and Nick Cowen (my Southern uncle) to both respond to similar photographs of garage doors, Dean Rogers, a lad I grew up with to respond to a dirt bike and for Deirdre Canavan to respond to the caravan photograph because her last name has a similar spelling.
TRIP: Were you nervous about people’s responses potentially missing the mark?
Heather Iris Galt-Mcloughlin: Some volunteer's understood my practice more so than others, with one in particular contributor concentrating on directing their response more to their own practice rather than my own (out of the eighteen writers nine were artists). This isn't a criticism; it was their decision on how to interpret the photograph, and what direction to take it in. I was excited every time I received another response; it made me look at my practice further and definitely helped me understand it more.
TRIP: Did any of the responses mirror your initial intentions for creating a particular photograph?
Heather Iris Galt-Mcloughlin: Angela Luffman's response of the satellite dishes was on point, the routine drag of being unemployed, the staple British day time T.V schedule. I remember when I was younger and if you had a satellite dish you had Sky, and you wanted your neighbours to know you were paying thirty quid a month for it.
TRIP: Have any of the responses caused you to look at your photographs differently?
Heather Iris Galt-Mcloughlin: Hannah Pothecary's response was the first I received back, and out of all the responses it questions the intentions of my practice the most. With the final sentence being “these are lives being lived, a habitat of people that I do not know and I am viewing them as an artwork. Is this reductive of our society or a tribute to it?”. Hannah knew nothing about my practice or intentions, but from a single photograph of an Easton estate she pretty much nailed it. Our views of working class communities in contemporary Britain are negative; this is a result from the media’s perception. This isn't my intention with my practice, it’s about belonging and being part of a community. I'm not an outsider looking in, this is what I grew up around and love.