I visited Mark Neville’s studio in Kiev, Ukraine online last night with The Photographers Gallery. What an inspiring experience and what an admirable human being. He is a social documentary photographer who is trying to make change by helping the communities he works with. In my view if he can be successful he would make the world a better place. The crazy thing about the world is that what he proposes makes sense but often gets rejected.
The Port Glasgow Book Project
‘In 2004 Neville spent a year as an artist in residence in Port Glasgow, the world centre for shipbuilding fifty years ago, now a town facing an industrial and economic decline. The result of this stay was a beautifully produced coffee table-style book conceived as a symbolic gift to the community. The book was uniquely delivered, free, to the eight thousand households in the Port by the members of the local Boys Football Club. In this way, rather than having a public artwork imposed upon them, the Portonians received a document of their lives and of their participation as both the hosts and protagonists of an artistic experiment. The book is not available anywhere else, commercially or otherwise, in shops or by mail order.’ (Neville,2020)
Mark told so many stories about this work. He wanted the local football club to distribute the books to the community instead of paying £14,000 to a third party. The football club could then use the funds. He was opposed by the local council as it presented too big a risk that the children would be attacked or injured in some way. Mark pursued the idea and succeeded giving a big investment to the youth football club.
Some Catholics took the books they were given and set fire to them in the Protestant area as there were more references to Protestants than Catholics (7 to 9). Ironically when the books could only be bought online on eBay for £500 or more there were some wry smiles at the opportunity to make money gone up in flames.
The following image says so much about what was once the centre of shipbuilding on the planet.
In this image note the clever staged use of hats that don’t quite fit the scene and pull the eye in for questions. What a beautiful cross generation image also.
The Battle Against Stigma
I want to write about all of his projects and will do some more in the future. With just ten weeks to go I can only sample here and get on with other tasks. His tour of Helmund Province lead to PTSD and a break down of this relationship of ten years. That inspired this book and also the book he is working on ‘Books against War’.
‘The Battle Against Stigma exhibition features photographs, films, emails and copies of a book, also titled Battle Against Stigma, that recounts Neville’s own personal experience when he was sent out to Helmand in 2011 as an official war artist. The exhibition and book intend to give some insight into the issue of adjustment disorder and PTSD which he suffered from on his return to the UK. The Battle Against Stigma book, co-authored by Neville and veteran mental health expert Jamie Hacker Hughes, is divided into two-volumes. The first volume is the re-telling, including his photographs, of Neville’s own personal experience when he was sent out to Helmand in 2011 as an official war artist and his troubled return, and the second volume is made-up of the written testimonies about PTSD and adjustment disorder from serving and ex-serving soldiers. The first 500 copies of the book were seized at customs by UK Border Force. However, a second consignment of 1,000 copies entered the UK via a different route thus escaping seizure and arriving safely at Neville’s studio. Throughout 2015 Neville distributed these copies free to Defence Mental Health Services, prison libraries, homeless veterans, probation services, and veteran mental health charities. Neville wrote an essay on his PTSD, including extracts from the book, for The Independent News Review magazine in 2015, in which he encouraged veterans to contact him. The response was a staggering 1,000 emails sent from veterans, families and friends, organisations (as well as non-veterans) sharing their experiences of these conditions and requesting copies of the book. A selection of these emails is included in the exhibition. Together this mass of documentation constitutes a major new insight into the experiences of those suffering from mental illness following service in modern warfare. Neville’s presents his own experience of war related trauma, along with others’ in order to encourage other sufferers to speak out.’ (Neville, 2020).
What is shocking about this work is the response of the MOD in the UK. Originally Mark proposed working with the MOD but this was not something they wanted to recognise. When he imported his first 1000 print of the book it was impounded at customs and has never been seen since. Ironically it was the Ukraine military that asked for a copy in Ukrainian to address PTSD issues in their forces. There was not a Ukrainian version so Mark paid to translate a copy for them. And now he is doing work in Ukraine.
Wow so many. I think a lot will come of this for me.
- For my work the key insight is to keep looking until you see. It makes me want to look again at some images I have rejected to see what I have missed.
- It is possible to be a photographer, survive financially and help the communities you work in.
- Never give up if what you believe in is something you believe is right.
- Be what might be called a voyeur if you really believe it can help the world. Mark said something along these lines.
- There are beautiful images everywhere you look.
- Big Government is scary. Who would have thought the Ukraine armed forces would want to address something the British Defence authorities want to ignore?
- People in power often don’t look after our best interests.
As I said at the start. Inspiring and admirable. Thankyou Mark and you will change the world…if only a little bit.
Neville, M. 2020. Mark Neville. Available [online] at http://www.markneville.com/ (Accessed Oct 14th, 2020).
Categories: Contextual Research FMP, Final Major Project, Positions and Practice