Elsie's Place, Leigh Community Centre, Essex
East England

Ben Hanley at Elsie’s Place, Leigh Community Centre, Leigh On Sea, Essex SS9 1SP

Elsie’s Place is a Community Cafe set in the heart of Leigh On Sea, Essex, UK. In this setting, photographer Ben Hanley has set his portraits to communicate the warmth and playfulness of childhood. ‘Grown-ups’ as he calls them, are often photographed in a mediative mood with musical instruments.

It’s refreshing. The angle of view, looking straight ahead, creates something really cool about the image, but the warmth comes from the appeal of Hanley capturing the transient and fleeting moods of a child. There’s an honest relationship between the viewer and viewed in the short distances and depth of field. The sense of space, time of day (which often appears to be morning) and location is that of the romantics: wide open skies. This, in contrast to urban environments with gritty textures, or at home, the surfaces of table and wall framing a seated child.

He’s influenced by documentary street photographers of the ’50’s and ’60’s. Lee Friedlander, like the Superrealists, showed fragments of reflections in streetscapes; Diane Arbus, with her painful honesty in documenting the quirks of humanity; and Gary Winogrand, New York street photographer; reaching back to Cartier Bresson, a journalistic instinct to catch the moment, a clarity of detail, a dynamism of the figure in movement. These photographers all come from the roots of SLR technology, and so Hanley is a child of his times: coming from a post production television background, his work has a slick desirability without compromising his subject.

The roots of being a candid photographer, Hanley lets it all unfold and traces the moments. His images show an integrity to show childhood as it is: although these portraits are glamorous (he can’t help it, he has a great eye for fashion and style), they aren’t idealised, and his honesty captures the young as they are: small people very much in the now – vision and shaping of childhood, fleeting moods and moments that we wouldn’t otherwise capture – or think to capture.