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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Anthony Luvera's Residency

Another person I interviewed for my BJP article on collaboration (the whole article is in the November issue - or on the ipad version. ) was the ever thoughtful, energetic and talented Anthony Luvera

So it seems only natural to follow the previous post - which was essentially about reclaiming art from consumption - with this one where Anthony explains why he is interested in reclaiming photographic representation from the politics of (media) consumption as well as how he showed the work he and others had made on the London Underground. Fabulous!

Anthony Luvera – The Artist

“There is this preconceived notion of a homeless person as a bum or a down-and-out” says photographer and academic Anthony Luvera, “but I’m interested in the experience of homelessness as a transitional thing, as something you experience and then move on from.”
Luvera’s work with  homelessness and changing how it is represented began in December 2001 when he was invited to photograph in London for Crisis, a homeless charity. “I was really interested in the critical writing of people like Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Allan Sekula and A.D. Coleman. They question the context and meaning of documentary photography and how it is represented.”

 “So when I was told how I could help these people and how amazing everything looked, I wasn’t interested. I could have stayed two weeks and made amazing pictures that people hadn’t seen before. But I wanted to develop relationships with people, to hear the stories that they told and to make those relationships a central part of my practice.”
So Luvera rejected conventional top-down documentaries of the poor and gave the homeless people he met cameras to document the people and places they found  important. He also trained them how to use large format cameras and became an assistant in their making of Assisted Self-Portraits.

“Over the next five years, I worked with 250 people  and ended up with an archive of over 10,000 photographs. When I showed this work on the London Underground, suddenly I started getting these weird requests for images. I got requests from a bible manufacturer and a Hollywood costume designer. This  got me interested in the ethics of archives and what they are for and that’s how I got involved with Belfast Exposed.”

In Belfast, Luvera combined his academic with his photographic practice, the latter of which is collected in his recently published book, Residency.  “I’m interested in identity  because it’s a process that is always in flux. I’m not interested in why people are homeless so much as what they think about being homeless and being represented as homeless.”

“In London, I would ask people to take me to a place that was important. In Belfast that had a whole different resonance. If you’re from Belfast you’re from a particular area that carries economic, religious and political weight. So for the homeless in Belfast, there is a double whammy of exclusion because homeless people find themselves excluded from places both socially and politically.”
“There was also a level of suspicion of me as a photographer that I hadn’t experienced before. As a community, Belfast has been exposed to the polarising gaze of photography. Many people I met had memories of photojournalists being at events – this person parachuting in, taking pictures  and leaving. Then they would see pictures of Belfast represented as a rabid, warring place when the reality was very different.”

Through his work Luvera hopes to change the politics of representation and the relationship between the people and places involved in the production, exhibiting and publication of images.  “In Belfast I wanted to  involve the participants in every part of the process, from the photography to the exhibition where pictures were put at eye-level so the viewer would look them straight in the eye. People are used to looking at homeless people from above.” With his work In Belfast and London, that’s a perspective that Luvera is helping to change.

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