Interview with James O Jenkins on his new exhibition and photobook, Thatcher’s Funeral. This week, theprintspace’s Harry Rose speaks to photographer and co-founder of Portrait Salon James O Jenkins, about his upcoming exhibition ‘Thatcher’s Funeral’ on May 12th at Carousel in Marylebone.
Hey James, lets kick things off with why you chose to photograph people at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral? (And why Margaret Thatcher of all politicians to focus on?)
In 1984 Thatcher visited my hometown of Porthcawl in south Wales. I saw her drive past our road on the seafront and later that day we walked to the Grand Pavilion (where she was addressing the Welsh Conservative Association) and saw her being egged by the Dyfed Farmers Action Group (protesting at Common Market agricultural policies) and miner’s wives (protesting about the coal strike, then in it’s thirteenth week). I saw firsthand the vitriol she was able to create & when her funeral cortege went through central London 29 years later I wanted to see if the mood would be similar.
Thatcher was a controversial figure in politics, dividing the country. Do you think these images will divide the audience who attend the exhibition?
She was and still is an extremely divisive figure. Her political legacy continues to cast a long shadow over our country. I wasn’t interested in seeing her funeral cortege, I wanted to see who the people were that turned out to see her go past. Thatcher is marmite and always divides people.
What was the atmosphere like at Thatcher’s Funeral?
There were pockets of people protesting and pockets of people applauding. The mood changed depending on the area that the funeral cortege was passing through. The atmosphere in Trafalgar Square was markedly different to the atmosphere around St Paul’s. For one day it felt as though we had gone back to the 80’s.
If there were one moment in political history you could go to and photograph the events unfolding, what would you choose?
Tough question. I really enjoyed The Guardian photographer Martin Argles’ work on Gordon Brown’s final moments in Downing Street in 2010 while he waited for Nick Clegg to decide whom he was forming a coalition with. But if I could go back in time, then probably the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Why is it important to you personally to go to events like Thatcher’s Funeral and document what unfolds?
Thatcher was Britain’s longest continuously serving Prime Minister. There was an outcry about the expense of Thatcher’s funeral cortege and whether or not she was being given a state funeral. Thatcher’s funeral was always going to attract people from both sides of the fence & having seen her being egged in south Wales as a child I was interested in rediscovering the feeling of divisiveness again.
You’re somewhat prolific in the photography community, with Portrait Salon, A Fine Beginning and your own photography. What is it about photography in particular that has made you want to invest so much of your time and energy into the medium?
Portrait Salon and A Fine Beginning are projects that I created outside my life as a commercial photographer to give me the freedom to engage with other photographers and work collaboratively. Both projects work to promote photography – Portrait Salon champions work rejected annually by the National Portrait Gallery and A Fine Beginning offers a platform for work being made in and about Wales.
From exhibitions to printed magazines, how important is it to make photography physical and away from the digital screen?
The digital screen is hard to escape and while the white wall gallery has an important role to play, photographers are continuing to find new ways to share and promote photography and the boom in self-publishing is exciting.
Finally, what inspires you?
Seeing what other photographers are working on inspires me. And London still excites me as a place to live and work.
‘Thatcher’s Funeral’ is open from 11th to the 27th May (viewings by appointment only via www.carousel-london.com) with the private view & book launch at 6:30pm on the 12th May at Carousel in Marylebone. The book of ‘Thatcher’s Funeral’ will also be available for purchase via James O Jenkins website on the13th May: www.jamesojenkins.co.uk