Jerwood Space (The)

The 2007 Jerwood Photography Awards brings together the work of five distinctive young photographers, imaginatively addressing a variety of pertinent current issues.

Sophie Gerrard’s project E-wasteland- the growing problem of E-waste in India subverts expectations of photojournalism in India, recording switchboard towers and toxic landscapes, the discarded circuitry of the information age. Children play by contaminated puddles, and sacks are filled not with spices, but wires. Computer scrap ‘cooks’ in acid to salvage valuable heavy metals. As Gerrard notes, the inhabitants of these wasteland accept E-waste as a means of survival and a way of life.

Protoplasm by Kevin Newark more obliquely captures waste products. His photographs are of disused plastic bags drifting through London canals. Freed from their original function, Newark has discussed how, escaping from the downwards gravitational pull of their former purpose, the bags take on a ‘sculptural’ existence, seeming to float through space. One frame doesn’t contain a bag at all, but presents the water surface punctuated by fragments of leaves like a constellation. Rather than photographing motionless objects, Newark selects stills from constant transformations. At a time when retailers are under mounting pressure to stop providing plastic bags, Kevin’s work is a glimpse at their ongoing lives as displaced spatial presences.

Moira Lovell’s series After School Club similarly uses a surprising context to show her subjects in a new way. The photographer was briefly employed to take photos at a ‘school disco’ night at a nightclub, and through this she made contact with the women who pose in this series. Dressed in schoolgirl outfits, her models are removed from the hedonistic environment of the nightclub, posing outside of empty schools, looking uncomfortable in their costumes, forced to re-evaluate themselves. The frequent presence of heavy gates in the background serves as a metaphor for how in Lovell’s words, “schools as ‘disciplinary’ institutions…create obedient adherents to the male gaze”.

Dana Popa, of Romanian origin, travelled to Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, for her series Not Natasha (‘Natasha’ is a generic name for a prostitute). In only three of her ten photographs do these young women confront the camera. In others, they hide or look away distractedly. Others are distanced further by the obstacle of a window, a veil or a mirror. The true names of the women are given in the captions, along with brief captions about their situations as a vindication of their lives outside of prostitution. However, the faces buried in pillows and hidden by hands, and the poignant quotation ‘why do you have to drag my life up again?’ betrays an ongoing difficulty in revelation and the continuing burden of the past.

Quietly injecting the exhibition with humour, Edmund Kevill-Davies’ portraits capture ventriloquists’ dummies alongside the families owning them in busy domestic settings recalling the work of Richard Billingham. We are struck by the affection of family members for the dummies, the resemblance between them. There is an elegiac element too- in one photograph, an old painting of owner and dummy hangs on the wall, a reminder of the decline in popularity of ventriloquism, and the commitment of those commemorated here who continue to practice.