Photographer Stephen Gill finds harmony in Hackney’s visual chaos

Photographer Stephen Gill finds harmony in Hackney’s visual chaos

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.

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