Photographer Stephen Gill finds harmony in Hackney’s visual chaos

Tomatoes on left, person covered in items on right
British photographer Stephen Gill has opened a selling exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. Pictured left: Untitled, from the series ’Hackney Flowers’, 2007. Right: Untitled, from the series ’Hackney Flowers’, 2007
(Image credit: Stephen Gill)

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.

person covered in plants

The northeast London borough is a bric-a-brac medley of concrete, brick, roof extensions and pockets of nature. Pictured: Untitled, from the series ’Hackney Flowers’, 2007

(Image credit: photographer: Stephen Gill )

plants and blurry objects

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. Pictured: Untitled, from the series ’Buried’, 2007

(Image credit: photographer: Stephen Gill )

two people kissing

Untitled, from the series ’Hackney Kisses’

(Image credit: Photographer: Stephen Gill)

ruler over buildings

Gill was also fascinated by insects, and collected specimens of pond life to inspect under a microscope. Pictured: Untitled, from the series ’Talking to Ants’, 2013

(Image credit: Photographer: Stephen Gill)

yellow circle over buildings

This innate curiosity in nature has been at the centre of his practice ever since, evident in the experimental quality of his images. Pictured: Untitled, from the series ’Talking to Ants’, 2013

(Image credit: Photographer: Stephen Gill)

blobs across a blue/white background

Like a (mad) scientist, Gill tinkers with Hackney as though it were a test subject. Pictured: Untitled, from the series ’Coexistence’, 2010

(Image credit: Photographer: Stephen Gill)

Orange colours with bits of yellow

Gill’s techniquea include part-processing negatives in energy drinksas seen here. Pictured: Organic Energy #3, from the series ’Best Before End’, 2013

(Image credit: Photographer: Stephen Gill)

swirls on a canvas

Hackney, Gill explains, is a place of ’contradictions: you can be in a beautiful spot with canals and meadows, and then the flipside is chaos and dirt.’ Pictured: Survive & Revive, from the series ’Best Before End’, 2013

(Image credit: Photographer: Stephen Gill)

INFORMATION

‘Myeyefellout’ runs until 8 May. For more information, visit the Photographers’ Gallery website (opens in new tab)

Photography © Stephen Gill. Courtesy Christophe Guye Galerie

ADDRESS

16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F

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