“Photography can come absolutely out of nowhere,” said Jamie Hawkesworth in the closing remarks to his talk at the Centre Pompidou on May 4, 2017. He had come to Paris to pay tribute to Walker Evans (1903–1975), and it was surprising to see a British photographer, known for his work in fashion, associated with the American master of image-documents. What was the connection? Perhaps a certain taste of adventure? A love for the unexpected, for an elsewhere, for the unsettling “out of nowhere,” as captured sometimes in the faces of strangers. Hawkesworth demonstrated this connection by showing some images from his first photography project, Preston Bus Station (2010). These portraits taken at a bus station in Lancashire showed anonymous people possessed of an elusive quality, a fervor accentuated by warm shadows and almost incandescent light.
And here it is again, intact, in Hawkesworth’s new book published by Mack, The British Isles. There is nothing here to guide the reader: the book, despite its size, keeps mum: there is no caption, no geographical or temporal marker, no text, not even a small exclamation point in a corner, nothing. Negligence? We can’t tell, but soon enough, it doesn’t matter. The book is all about resourcefulness, imagination, the sheer pleasure of attraction, for example at a fairground…
These are twenty-first-century British Isles: England, Ireland, Scotland, etc. Jamie Hawkesworth, born in 1987 in Suffolk, crisscrosses a familiar territory by train, with his camera, Mamiya RB67, and a tripod. That is to say, he does not go unnoticed, quite the contrary. This asserted presence is one of the keys to his photographic technique (strategy?): he doesn’t travel incognito, he is not a soul thief.
As he had already noticed in Preston, approaching a potential model, asking for his authorization, is not easy. It is true, nobody wants to be taken for a fool or end up on a billboard. Now, Jamie Hawkesworth loves beauty: the beauty of youth, but not only, his book multiplies profiles and poses, ages and fashions, everyone gets a chance, it’s a wonderful, universal casting, aided by a stroke of luck.
Most of the people portrayed pose casually, smiling, confident, amused, astonished. Some are serious, others tired. There is a family photographed in the middle of a house move, another one plunging into a group DIY project. There is also an incredibly beautiful bus driver. Many of the photos are in portrait format, all are surprisingly wordless. A few landscapes (puddles, fields, seashores), park benches, and cars interrupt the parade of faces. It’s as if the author of The British Isles did not want to go too far in this very sober portrait of a seemingly united Kingdom.
By Brigitte Ollier
Brigitte Ollier is a journalist based in Paris. She has worked for over thirty years for the newspaper Libération, where she created the column “Photographie.” She is the author of several books about a few memorable photographers.
Jamie Hawkesworth, The British Isles, MACK, 304 pp., €55
Video screening of the Soirée Walker Evans: Station to Station (May 4, 2017), Centre Pompidou.