A self taught photographer, Greg’s work shows a clear and rapid development from his early projects to his latest work The Divided Self, that has featured widely in publications like the Guardian. And the growing list of exhibitions and awards on his website demonstrates that his intensely felt approach has found a receptive audience.
“The first conversation that I had with myself was, what do I want to say and what kind of photographer do I want to be?”
Greg’s interest in the psychological aspect of portraiture goes deeper than this and he references not only the work of RD Laing but also the experience he had applying to “a government agency where the skill of quickly building a rapport in order to gather information was essentially what they were looking for.” Greg was offered the job with this clandestine sounding agency but being unable accept the role for personal reasons, he began to look for ways to harness this unexpected skill. He decided photography was the answer, “I had the idea that I wanted to take pictures that would make people stop and think.”
Unlike many photographers Greg barely mentions equipment or technique, preferring to dive straight into the motivations for his work and the subject that he’s trying to explore. He puts this down to an early conversation with a colleague, Tim Topple, who happens to be an accomplished photographer in his own right. “The first thing he said to me was that I needed to figure out what I wanted to say. So the first conversation I had with myself was what kind of photographer do I want to be and why?”
It was portraiture that caught his attention, with the plan of “exploring ideas of people and the particular themes that would emerge”. But without any training Greg was slightly at a loss as to how to get started until he came across the genre of street portaiture. “I could just go out into the streets and stop anybody and see if they would allow me to take their picture. I just used to take myself off at weekends or even between meetings with my camera and just see what I could find.”
WORKING IN PROJECTS
Greg quickly came to the realisation that his photography would have more depth and impact if he worked in projects or photographic series, especially if each had a theme or meaning, “so rather than shooting sporadically and then pulling something together as a cohesive whole, you start with the end in mind and you work towards that.”
The first project that came about this was xxxy, a series of pictures of teenagers. This project also marked the point where Greg began to explore and expose his own interior world, using photography to talk about the issues he’s endured.
Although he’s at pains to point out that he had a happy and loving family, with wonderful, caring parents, Greg’s childhood was marred by the emotional abuse he suffered at primary school, that was “prolonged and sustained…and I carried a lot of dysfunctionality with me into my teenage years and then into my adult life.” He began to feel that he’d missed out on the lighter side of teenage life and so he conceived of the project around an accessible location – the local skate park – aiming to explore “the uncomplicated fun that you ought to be able to have.. through other teenagers making the transition to adult life. So that was the first time I shot an actual project.”
HERE AMONG THE FLOWERS
Exploring his own psychology has become integral to Greg’s practice, underpinned by his study of RD Laing. “I’ve read a lot of psychology and I’m fascinated by the idea of the self. So Here Among the Flowers is an exploration of the anima, and the Divided Self, which takes its title from an essay by RD Laing, is an exploration of the shadow.” For a photographer who turns his lens so unsparingly on others, Greg is not shy about exposing his own feelings, with his work becoming more explicit and personal as it’s progressed: if xxxy was about teenage dysfunction, Here Amongst the Flowers “was basically me exploring whether I was bisexual.”
THE DIVIDED SELF
Greg’s most recent project is the most explicit expression yet of his own interior world, combining portraits of Ivan, with captions referring to Greg’s own childhood experiences.
Ivan was one of the people Greg had shot as one of his early street portraits, at first wondering if Ivan was homeless and then learning that he had mental health issues and psychosis. Greg started seeing him around more often, photographing Ivan exercising and then at his home.
When lockdown coincided with the end of Greg’s marriage and a shorter working week for him, he realised he needed to find a project to work on. “I’m not going to do well if I just hole up in my house on my own, I’m going to need social contact and to photograph people. I didn’t want to break the rules but I read it was ok to spend time with someone who was vulnerable.”
Greg approached Ivan and suggested that they work on a project together. “I went to him and said I propose that we contract on this project that’s about your lived experience because there’s an important and powerful story here about the nature and experience of psychosis.”
“I thought about it and it hit me, and I was in tears when the realisation came on me that what I was doing was photographing the vulnerable boy at primary school. And from that moment the whole project shifted.”
From that point onwards he began pulling memories from his childhood, and crafting a story with Ivan around that memory, pairing captions that sometimes refer to Greg’s childhood with images of Ivan. It’s a technique that’s required careful negotiation and a continual exploration of consent and artistic independence. “The most contentious part of the project was the captions because he ended up being concerned that people would think they were his experiences. Sometimes he was concerned enough to say, can you not publish that picture, which I respected. And sometimes he was concerned enough that I adjusted the caption.”
About Personal Work Journal
PWJ is a photo journal dedicated to showcasing new photography from emerging and established photographers.