Featured on theprintspace blog today is young photographer and current student Thomas Maxwell, who speaks to us about his gentle and intimate project FADED.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Thomas Maxwell. I was born in Hillingdon, but I’ve lived in Stokenchurch (near High Wycombe) almost all my life. I am a photojournalism student, currently in my second year studying at Southampton Solent University.
Tell us your story.
Every year when I was little, my family would go on holiday to the Lake District. For those who don’t know, its an incredibly beautiful area in northern England, so cameras and strangers weren’t hard to spot. My dad would often take photos of the surrounding landscape as well as family photographs during the entire holiday, and occasionally allowed my siblings and I to take a few photographs with him.
But my real passion in photography came from my college foundation degree. I had studied photography at A level, but that was more of an ‘additional’ course, with the photography room being at the back of an art room and lessons being once or (if you’re lucky) twice a week. After finishing my A levels in 2013, I had no idea what I wanted to do so I went and studied a foundation degree in photography at my local college. At the time I didn’t really see photography as a clear career choice. I was constantly jumping from idea to idea and it wasn’t until I was introduced to my lecturers that I really felt comfortable in photography. My lecturers Paul, Tom and Dave helped mould my approach to photography, finding my niche and my passion for what I do, and I’ve been enjoying photography ever since!
What is the concept behind FADED, the project featured today?
When I was in my first year of college in 2014, we were given an assignment on documentary photography. I had looked at documentary photographers before, but never in much detail. During the assignment I found the work titled Days with my Father by Philip Toledano – I would highly recommend this to anyone who hasn’t seen the work yet.
At the time I knew my grandparents were sick, however I didn’t really know what Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s was. At the beginning of the project, it was only a short 5 image piece for this assignment. I was told that Grandma’s memory was worrying, and I could start to see Grandpa having slower responses to simple conversations, as well as his ability to move around (common symptoms associated with Parkinson’s). I didn’t feel all too comfortable with photographing it. It wasn’t until I sat down with my lecturers after my assignment was graded, that I started to see how the project could work and grow.
I wanted the project to parallel what I’m seeing for myself in my grandparents. I had only ever known Alzheimer’s as a sudden disease, through Hollywood and modern culture where it’s a “poof, you’ve forgotten everything” situation with a sometimes happy but all together emotional ending. And Parkinson’s, which is rarely ever fully understood for the often devastating disease that it is. I wanted the project to highlight the reality of both of the diseases, how each day is different to the next, and to show people how both myself as a grandson has seen the decline, but also from an artistic perspective through the lens of a camera.
The project covers their life together, from the love they share with each other and even the inevitable end, similar to the progressive nature of both the diseases. I want to break down the concept of a private barrier with my work, and how sometimes being open and honest can have supporting effects, not just for myself as an individual but maybe for others who have experienced similar fates. From an uncomfortable 5 image project, FADED is now my leading project.
See more about FADED here.
What inspires you?
As I said before, Philip Toledano’s work on Days with my Father was my leading inspiration for starting the project. The project follows Toledano’s father, who suffered from a form of dementia which he noticed more after his mother died. It really helped change how I approached photography. Before then it was about the portraits, ‘in the moment’ images. Toledano’s work helped me appreciate the ‘hidden message’ aspect of photography, the breakdown of our private life for everyone to see. Also the step back to see the image in another perspective and how it’s not all about the ‘in your face’ frontal portraits, and adding variety to your work.
Since being introduced to the darkroom in my first year I have always appreciated the skills of analogue photography, specifically the detail and beauty of medium and large format images. Despite advances in digital, film in photography is still as popular as it was 15 or 20 years ago. Alec Soth’s famous Sleeping By The Mississippiproject is one such example, with the use of colour and composition as well as the detail of analogue photography that documents a personal journey Soth experienced while travelling along the Mississippi River. It also helped me realise how each photograph should be seen as a piece of art in itself, to be patient and fully understand what the image is when you photograph it. For me, that’s one of the beautiful elements of analogue photography; having less images, but more passion in each one.
What’s next for you? Have you got any new projects on the horizon?
Both growing up and through my photography studies, I have always been fascinated by America: the landscapes, the people and the culture. I have always wanted to follow the likes of Michael Ormerod on trips to rural America, and looking at the relationship between British and American culture. One of my (hopeful) projects post-university documents the bible belt of America. From my studies in Philosophy at school, the perspective of literal following of religion has always intrigued me, in a very modern and ‘free-thinking’ society. The literal following of God within largely South Eastern states of America is often mirrored by the fear of committing sin. For the project I would like to photograph the people and the towns of the bible belt through the eyes of this fear, specifically the seven deadly sins, famous tactics used by people such as the Westboro Baptist church, and the question of the role a traditional religious following has in a developing, ‘modern’ society.