I spent a couple of hours today at a weekly pensioner’s group in Manchester run by volunteers from Irish Community Care. I didn’t really know what to expect but hadn’t thought through the fact that bingo – which takes up part of the session – isn’t exactly rife with human interaction. There were of course moments of connection during the afternoon and some of the images are okay. But in terms of the brief I was trying to fulfil, I’m not convinced I really nailed it. Of the three shoots I’ve done I think the family definitely worked best for the brief.
Maybe i was daydreaming when my current human relationships assignment was set but until I read a classmate’s blog post I had no idea that trying to capture negative emotions or situations was part of the brief. Unless I witness some toddler tantrums or tellings-off when I spend time with a family next week, the relationships I photograph are likely to be quite convivial. But thinking about this got me wondering what I had shot in the past which would have fitted the bill, and one place springs to mind: Palestine.
I spent four weeks in the Holy Land in 2008 – three based in the West Bank and nine days based in Jerusalem. I happened to be there during Ramandan, Eid and the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. I was invited several times to Palestinian homes for iftar – the breaking of the fast – which was lovely. I also spent the last two Fridays of Ramadan at one of the main flashpoints between Palestinians and the IDF during the Muslim holy month – namely the Kalandia checkpoint. From very early in the morning here, especially on Fridays at this time of year, thousands of Muslims try to cross from Ramallah into Jerusalem to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque, the third most sacred site in Islam. Of course they need permits to do so, and men aged over 16 and under something like 60 aren’t allowed to go at all.
It’s absolute bedlam and the tension level is very high. The soldiers split men and women into separate queues and make them wait for hours in the blazing sun. People appear to be arbitarily refused access, even when they have the correct permits. Others chance their luck without the correct paperwork. People lose their family members, faint, get upset, are routinely humilated by the soldiers, and lots of tears are shed. Dignified, elderly people are made to wait around for hours on end. As the morning wears on people get more stressed and upset because they want to get to the mosque for afternoon prayers, and many end up saying their prayers next to the barbed wires and ugly concrete walls of the checkpoint. It’s distressing to watch and encapsulates all that is wrong with the power dynamic between an occupying force and the people they are colonising, and in this case humilating on an almost daily basis.
One of the great things about having started this photojournalism MA is that it suddenly gives me a reason to turn some of my ideas into reality…I am too often all talk and little action.
I’ve lived in the Levenshulme area of Manchester for more than five years now and one of the most distinctive buildings here is Tony’s Barber – if nothing else than simply for the fact that it’s half falling down. Part of a terrace on the main road, a developer is trying to bully Tony out of his building for low compensation and the shops on either side have been pulled down and left to rot.
That’s kind of interesting on its own, and in 2007 I ended up writing a story on the situation for the Manchester Evening News.
That was long before I’d started taking photos, but once I got into photography I started thinking that Tony’s would make an interesting photo story – but of course didn’t do anything about it. I thought about using him for the first ‘at work’ assignment but held off because I actually thought that would be a bit of a waste. Anyway, I bit the bullet and spent a couple of hours in his shop this morning for the current ‘human relationships’ brief but I think there’s definitely more mileage – and even an audio slideshow – in there, so I am going to keep returning.
Tony is Italian and the shop has been in his family for more than 50 years -some of the customers I met today have been coming to have their hair cut by him for two or three decades. It’s an old-fashioned barber’s shop on the inside – and its walls are plastered with Manchester City, Manchester United and Italian national football team posters; Viz cartoon posters and model motorbikes.
It’s also, I discovered, a hub for the older men in my neighbourhood – particularly the Italians – who just come to hang out in his back office, drink espressos and smoke. Definitely somewhere to keep going back to…hopefully with time they’ll let me into what they were calling their ‘mafia room.’