Monday, 5 March 2012

James Dodd’s Olympic Dreams and the stories behind everyday lives

James Dodd is the kind of photojournalist every city needs, focusing on the people that make up the life of the city and portraying them in their everyday lives. James believes that there is an interesting and important story right on his doorstep. Instead of following the crowd and chasing the sensational or the shocking, James is determined to tell the real stories about real life in the city in which he lives.

Olympic Dreams Project © James Dodd
James’s Olympic Dreams project was the first of these stories. Inspired by a quote from David Beckham, the project explores the physical and mental pressures placed on children competing for the Olympics.

“David Beckham said he was so good at free kicks because he dreamt about doing them. This repetition meant that he became so comfortable doing them that is was just like an everyday activity,” said James, Sheffield based photographer and founder of Statement Images.

“These kids were obviously doing the same thing, going through the same routines, doing a dive twenty times over. I tried to convey the emotions that the kids were going through without showing the actual emotions, but showing images of them in this dream-like state.”

Olympic Dreams also questions the role of children in such high-pressure roles in our society. “I wanted to create really strong images which people could remember,” said James. He conveys the children in uncomfortable positions, isolated from everything else, whilst their bodies are tense in mid dive or grasping at the water as they swim towards the surface.

Olympic Dreams project © James Dodd
Neither photojournalism nor art, James said that people struggled to pigeonhole the project. Yet he has gained coverage from publications such as the Guardian, the BBC, Burn Magazine and Newsweek Japan. He also exhibited the project at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield in 2010.

James now has plans to create a photo documentary of life behind the scenes during the Olympics. Following the children who don’t get into the Olympic teams or the younger children who continue training whilst watching their older colleagues compete. James believes that there will be plenty of coverage of the Olympic teams but “these are the stories that need to be told.”

A qualified photojournalist, James believes in the hyper local and the importance of the everyday stories that are never told. “The Olympic Dreams project was the start of this idea that stories exist locally which can have national and international significance,” said James.

From the extremes to the everyday

James was inspired to become a photojournalist through renowned photojournalists like Robert Capa, James Nachtwey, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Don McCullin. Yet, his experience of journalism has led him along a different path to those he was inspired by.

After working as a freelance journalist and experiencing the limitations of news journalism, James began to question the mindset of his vocation. He had reservations about the chase for images of extreme sadness and destruction which newspapers often request. He questioned the virtues of chasing the image that would give him a career-break and the eagerness of his colleagues to travel to war torn countries or places of disaster to cover these ‘extremes’. “I thought, is that really what I want to be involved in? I’m more interested in the subjects within the world where I live, rather than chasing images around the world.”

James decided that he wanted the time and space to work on stories which were important and interesting without the restrictions and limitations of news. So he sought advice from other photographers like Simon Roberts, an award-winning photographer who studied Human Geography at Sheffield University.  Simon, who was also the official Election artist in 2010, has become a mentor for James and has helped him to pursue his dreams.

This idea of exchanging ideas and expertise informed the creation of Statement Images, a collective of photographers from around the world. The collective acts as a support network and a forum for sharing ideas and projects. “We’ve all got similar goals and to some extent it is easier to pull together and to become known under one name.” James’s Olympic Dreams project led to the collective gaining a commission from Channel 4. “We’ve all got different sets of skills and we can pitch for each other,” said James.

An alternative platform- slow journalism

James is also co-editor of Street Reverb Magazine, a website dedicated to promoting, publishing and discussing contemporary street photography. James believes that the agenda-focused media has driven photojournalists to look for alternative platforms like Street Reverb and Statement Images as a means of publishing.

The inspiration to create such platforms has come from photographer Rob Hornstra and his Sochi Project. In 2014, the Olympic Games will take place in Sochi, Russia. Sochi is a largely impoverished region, next to the conflict zone Abkhazia. Rob Hornstra and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen are spending the next five years documenting the extreme makeover of the region and how Sochi’s ‘economic crises is glossed over as much as possible’.

James marvels at how Rob and Arnold have created their own platform for their stories, without going through the standard publishing routes. He said that by creating their own platform they have ensured a level of control which means they do not have to follow the media’s agenda. “They cover stories that the newspapers aren’t interested in and concentrate on the daily life in the area,” said James.

One of their stories is about the Sochi singers and how in the Sochi culture the same traditional songs are sung in the same settings in every town in the region. James values the everyday nature of these stories, “It’s a very simple sharing of this way of life. It is not an ‘extreme’ of life but it is still intriguing.”

Sunday Morning Sales
James is currently working on his own project of similar simplicity and everyday nature. His Sunday Morning Sales project documents car boot sales across the country. James simply captures the people and their objects, portraying the tranquil nature of a car boot sale; a man relaxing in a chair in the middle of a field, a woman standing behind her table of trinkets staring into the sky and categories of books, clothes or toys neatly laid out for someone else to treasure.

Sunday Morning Sales project © James Dodd

James believes that each stall is a portrait of the sellers, “a piece of themselves spread out right there on decorating tables and on the floor for all to see and buy.”

Staying true to the ideas of alternative platforms, James plans to exhibit this work ‘in the context it was created in’. He is buying picture frames from the car boot sales in which he will place the photographs to exhibit at the car boot sales. He aims to use the work to approach new audiences who might not normally step into a gallery and who aren’t going with the purpose of seeing art

“They will also have an interest in the subject because they are part of it, there are few places you can exhibit where you know that 300 odd people will be interested in the subject,” mused James.

Sunday Morning Sales project © James Dodd 
Sheffield as a subject

Taking the idea of hyper local to its extreme, James has been working on Sheffield as a project for the last five months. “I want to find out more about the city which is the single geographical location that has the most connection to me, but I don’t feel this same connection to it,” said James.

He is exploring the idea of the city having seven hills and the fact there are more trees per person than any other city in Europe. James is also interested in where Sheffield’s industry has gone and what has replaced it. “I want to explore whether Sheffield’s identity has changed with its industry.”

Now that he has bought a house in Sheffield, James feels more of a need to explore the city, “I have lived here for 27 years and yet there are still areas I have never been to. I feel like I have explored other cities more as a photographer where as I’ve neglected my own.”

James is currently exploring Sheffield’s past through his Dead Photographers project. Using his father's removals company, James is collecting the unwanted items discarded during house clearances of the deceased. He has found whole photography archives of once keen photographers. James is using this collection to explore the relationship between photography and time, and how people’s attitudes towards photographs have changed.

With each new project James maintains a determination to simply document the everyday lives of people around him, exploring the intriguing stories of the regular person, the ‘stories that need to be told’.

A review by No Culture Icons, a collective of photographers and artists, sums up James’s style perfectly; “The images are without mystery or questioning, but instead revel in the few times in which there are no great unknowns to be fought against: here are the people, and this is what they do, what they buy and sell, what they are and what they want to be.” 

Sunday Morning Sales project © James Dodd

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