Sarah’s day job is as a theatrical photographer and she works with several theatres, mostly taking images in rehearsals. She brought with her a beautifully produced book illustrating the way the alternative theatre company, Complicite, works. (www.complicite.org)
As with so many of our guest speakers, Sarah came to this strand of photography by chance but obviously loves it and is influenced by it in the way she approaches her personal projects and some of her assignments with TGA. Many of these seem like theatrical scenarios in themselves: the dark caverns under the arches where cars and taxis are mended and sprayed, the middle-of the night drama of the Smithfield meat market, the warm, fuggy atmosphere of laundries and laundrettes, barbers’ shops and dry-cleaners. Maintaining a low profile and just ‘hanging around’, Sarah gets relaxed and candid portraits of the men and women servicing these essential parts of London life.
After following a degree course in Derby, Sarah immersed herself in the whole process of shooting on film, developing and printing her work, with her own darkroom and an interest in experimentation with liquid light and printing on different surfaces. In her first exhibition, she was able to combine her creativity with her technical expertise, bottling the debris she found on the streets and photographing the results, for instance. One of her early series, resulting in a book, was exploring the on and off-stage life of striptease and burlesque dancers. Another creative personal project was to show the history of the Spitalfield area being excavated, using double exposure of skulls and skeletons against the existing background, in compelling black and white images.
By comparison, her series shot on location with the Gentle Author are generally more straightforward environmental portraits and images, often concerned with trades and services which are disappearing or being modernised, digitalised and otherwise faded out. She showed images of pie and mash shops, car washes, weight lifting clubs, a tranny night and a glimpse of the middle-of the night rehearsal for the Lord Mayor’s Show. But sometimes they look at new trends, like the proliferation of pet dog owners in parks in east London. She now uses a digital camera, never with flash or additional lighting, and only manoeuvring her subjects towards any available light.This aspect of her work prompted questions from the floor about nostalgia and whether she considers herself to be a documentary photographer. This led to a lively discussion referencing other local photographers whose work is focussed on recording disappearing aspects of life in London, particularly east London, and the comparison with Hogarth was made, before we drew the evening to a close and repaired to the non-disappearing tavern up the road.