Hackney has long fascinated the British photographer Stephen Gill. The northeast London borough is a bric-a-brac medley of concrete, brick, roof extensions and pockets of nature. It is, in some ways, beautiful in its ugliness – but nowhere more so than in Gill’s kaleidoscopic, collage-like studies of the area.
The artist's recently opened selling exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery in London brings together a selection of Gill’s photobooks, alongside over twenty framed prints from six series: ‘Hackney Flowers’ (2003- 2007); ‘Buried’ (2004-2007); ‘Co-existence’ (2009-2010); ‘Talking to Ants’ (2009- 2013); ‘Hackney Kisses’ (2012); and ‘Best Before End’ (2013).
Born in Bristol in 1971, Gill fell into photography at a young age. His father was himself an avid photographer who taught him to print at home in a makeshift darkroom. Gill was also fascinated by insects, and collected specimens of pond life to inspect under a microscope. This innate curiosity in nature has been at the centre of his practice ever since, evident in the experimental quality of his images.
Like a (mad) scientist, Gill tinkers with Hackney as though it were a test subject - refreshingly, he achieves his effects in-camera or during the developing process. This includes part-processing negatives in energy drinks ('Best Before End'), leaving photographs to decompose in the ground ('Buried') and applying pond water during various stages ('Co-existence'). In ‘Talking to Ants’, meanwhile, the photographer places insects, foliage, dust and debris directly into the body of the camera.
‘Hackney is a place that attracts obsessives,’ the photographer once said. ‘It's something to do with its contradictions: you can be in a beautiful spot with canals and meadows, and then the flipside is chaos and dirt.’ Gill's photographs encompass this duality with harmony.