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Wolverhampton Art Gallery: Sites of Memory II by Chris Harrison
- The most fascinating thing about the subjects I approach
are that they have either been willfully ignored or they have
been looked at in such a skewed way, as to be almost
unrecognizable to people like me.
From 6th of October to the 2nd of December, Chris Harrison shows
a selection of photographs from the ``Sites of Memory II`` series at
Wolverhampton Art Gallery

[Read in Norwegian here]

 

– I was born and brought up in Jarrow, a small industrial town on the river Tyne near Newcastle. My Dad, until he retired, was a borer in a factory and my Mother was a secretary and then a registered child minder. I left school at 15 and worked at a shipyard. Long story short, I ended up going to Trent Polytechnic to study for a BA in Photography. I didn’t grow up in the most artistic of homes, but I had a fascination with the family photographs. 

When Chris was 14 years old, he and a group of friends joined the Army Cadet Force – a national youth organization sponsored by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence and the British Army. When attending his first annual camp with the army, he persuaded his mother to let him borrow the family camera:

– I had a 24 exposure roll of film in it and over 6 days I photographed everything. When I got home I had to wait a couple of months to see the prints, because the film was sent away to be developed. By this time the camp had passed into myth and legend for us lads. Suddenly, I was seeing it all again right there as if it was only yesterday. The picture of Brian Gibson was the one that really got me though, as it was a portrait of him. I had unwittingly taken my first steps into photography. I didn’t know until later that you could do it as a job, but eventually I made it onto a degree and became a photographer.

Sites of Memory II is a continuation of a project Chris has been working on for a long time. It addresses the war memorials that were raised after World War I, in memory of the dead and wounded who fought for the country.

– Sites of Memory started after I had done several portrait projects. I was at that time known as a portrait photographer, both commercially and as an artist. I was looking for a project that took no organizing and that I could maintain momentum with as I went about my photo jobs.

I remembered the war memorial at the top of my street when I was a kid and how the acid rain from the local factories had washed the names away. It kind of popped into my head that no one spoke about these things and yet they had once been of immense significance.

I started by doing some test shots and quickly realized that the story was in the situation of these memorials, it was about where they were as much as what they were. I used a 6 x12 panoramic camera with 120 film to photograph the memorial in the center of the frame and show the surrounding landscape on either side. Not long after I began the project, the Imperial War Museum commissioned me to exhibit the work in London and so initially I had a two-year deadline. I ended up visiting friends and acquaintances all over Britain to keep the selection of images as random as possible.

The project began in the north of England, but extended to all of England and Ireland. Since then, the project has expanded beyond national borders. The photographs in «Sites of Memory II» are from Germany and its former territories and, like in the UK, shows these monuments being forgotten over time. Several of the projects Chris has been working on approaches this.

– The biggest common denominator is what my work is about; class identity and personal history and using the language of photography almost against itself. My home town for example, has been a keen subject for photographers making social documentary commentaries about industry and poverty. It has been photographed many times, often in grainy black and white, often telling a story of unhappiness. I want to use another language to talk about my culture, because I don’t feel sad, I feel proud.

The most fascinating thing about the subjects I approach are that they have either been willfully ignored or they have been looked at in such a skewed way, as to be almost unrecognizable to people like me.

– I hope to carry on Sites of Memory for many more years, and then when I have covered the areas I would like to cover I would like to make a book with the work. I have several projects that I am slowly working my way through, the next project to be shown will be “I Can Still Hear the Sea.” This is a combination of two bodies of work (I Belong Jarrow & Copper Horses) that I thought were separate, but now realize are all part of a larger project. I am currently shooting more images for that project.

Chris Harrison is a photographer from the north-east part of England. He has worked as a photographer for over 20 years, and is educated with a MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art. From 6th of October to 2nd of December he is exhibiting at Wolverhampton Art Gallery with the project «Sites of Memory II».

At Bilder Nordic, he teaches in Portfolio Work and Portfolio Development. In addition he holds lectures for the students throughout the year.