In her series North End, the photographer Géraldine Lay captures scenes of everyday life in in the great cities of Northern Britain: Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool… She takes her camera wherever astonishing light strikes the street and the passersby. Lay’s work can be viewed at the Leica Gallery in Paris and in an eponymous publication released by Actes Sud. We talk to the photographer, who enjoys urban strolls in search of a scene, an attitude, a particular composition…
What gave you the idea of creating the series North End?
I began the series when Diaphane, a photography center in Beauvais, invited me to take part in their project called “Destination Europe.” The idea was to travel for four to five days, on a small budget, to any European city. I picked Glasgow. I completely fell in love with the city! The exhibition here, in Paris, by the way, features at least five photographs taken during that first trip in 2009. That just shows the impact it had on me! I really had an amazing time. Afterwards, I went back several times, and then decided to explore a bit further south: to Manchester, Liverpool…
What struck you most about those cities?
I think I went there out of curiosity. I knew that Northern England had seen some tough times, I was aware of news stories when I was growing up, that is during the Thatcher era… I wondered what these cities were like and what had become of them following post-industrialization, post-Thatcher. And then I discovered really stunning light, the Northern light with its particular palette of colors …
What usually catches your eye: is it a person’s bearing, a color, the composition of a scene?
To a degree, all of the above. It’s also the people, their expressions. I almost want to say, “their flaws.” Not their shortcomings, that’s not what I mean, but more like what comes across, what they let you glimpse of their personality in the space of a moment. They speak to me, they have a character. What makes me take a photo is also light. Light will make me interrupt my walk. I’m very attentive to light. I remember one day in London when there was this “directional” light. I like this type of light: it’s a bit like spotlights. And then, I walk a great deal to photograph; I can’t bear standing still in one place. I feel like I’m in the way. Sometimes I walk without knowing where I’m going.
In your photographs, people often appear to be alone, or rather, immersed in solitude…
I’m not sure if this is what I saw about those people, but it’s what I captured of those moments. It’s the magic of photography. If you give the context, you realize that these people aren’t as lonely as they seem, they’re not as cut off as that. It’s photography that makes it possible and it certainly is what I’m looking for. It’s not necessarily about lonely people; it’s also my own solitude in front of them that comes through. Like in a mirror. It’s photography that captures that moment and isolates it.
Interview by Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Géraldine Lay, North End
April 11 to June 22, 2019
Leica Store, 105–109 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris
Book published at Actes Sud editions, text by Robert Mcliam Wilson, September 2018, 96 pages