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What does this mean to witness? Is it to view from afar or stand in solidarity? Could it be to stumble by possibility upon an event, or deliberately seek out an encounter? We have been familiar with the idea that to hear is not really the same as to listen . But how can we define a mindful mode of looking? To get photographer Adam Bannister , his “way of seeing” is at the particular crux of his beliefs of the medium.
Entrusted by Leica in cooperation with 1854, Bannister’s brand new body of work – titled Witnesses of: Individuality – extends the achieve of the artist’s ongoing preoccupations with ideas of identification, connection, and authenticity. Exactly where previous work has directed him to Las Vegas, The state of nevada and California in pursuit of the “visual language and semiotics… of escapism and wanderlust, ” this specific brief brought Bannister house. Armed with Leica equipment and a £5000 creative grant, this individual spent three weeks traveling around England, from Greater london to the Southwest and Stansted to the Midlands, catching small glimpses of lives resided. The particular resulting sentiment is completely more “subtle”, he discloses: “ Thinking about what is ‘English’ about England. ”
“I like to photo through feeling”
– James Bannister
Central to Bannister’s pictures is the probing of reality; seeking that which “lies underneath” the daily masks we all don. A “see-saw” of facade and subsurface, artifice and authenticity, his function teeters on the edge of binaries, just near enough to unsettle stereotypes. For example , in his portrait of Leonore – a registered nurse, in addition to a proud Trustee of the Druid Network, engaged in promoting the ancient religion in north Cornwall – Bannister images her not in the presence of a historic site, neither even the majesty of Dartmoor’s dusk landscape, but framed by the midnight blue associated with her car. Capturing, in his sitter’s words, an image of “the modern-day Druid, reliant on cars to be able to accessibility sacred sites. ” Regarding Leonore, modern day labels are needless. Her individuality is enriched, instead, by “a deep appreciation of history, character, culture, and a deep sense of connectedness to the land. ” Also, crucially, by her nationality as a Scot: “It is important I know the roots, ” she states, resolutely.
In a second family portrait, we meet Zoe Rhode laying across clover-speckled grass; her eyes closed, Madonna-like in the sea of the girl blue towel and hoody. Zoe’s story includes the trauma of being sexualised simply by others from a young age, before experiencing a spiritual awakening – she now practices as a ‘radical feminist witch’ – and regaining control of the narrative of the girl body through online sex work. Coveting an amethyst passed down from her grandma, Bannister photographs her being an icon of stillness, resilience and resolve in her grasp.
Bannister’s approach to photography can be “intuitive”. Long car journeys are unplanned. “Most of the time nothing happens, but ultimately you end up somewhere amazing”, he admits that. (Roughly half of his sitters for Witnesses of: Identity were chance meetings, none more typical than Dorrie from the Route 303 restaurant in Devon, himself the hobbyist photographer). For Bannister, the journey is also regarding fostering the right mindset. “I like to photograph through feeling”, he says. “I wait for what I perceive to be an psychological shift. ”
While Bannister’s process may be instinctive, the roots are in the “slow and cumbersome” technique of large, designed to help settle their subjects. For the Leica fee, he reflects on the simplicity of adapting his process towards the Leica SL2-S , in particular the ability to tailor the digital display to his needs. The cooperation of classic and contemporary design meant “nothing obtained in the way of my process”, Bannister explains, praising the equipment’s minimal make-up in permitting him to “just view the subject. ” His procedure is pared-back (“in an ideal world I would take one [shot]”); their instinct honed, and detects acute. As part of the commission, Bannister has also earned a place around the acclaimed Leica Lab training course, which mentors photographers within developing photographic narratives.
Somewhere else in the series, in Southend, Bannister’s vision informs the portrait of Javen — a professional football player in whose talent has taken him to play in the US. Walking the a hundred metre stretch from Javen’s mother’s house to the football cage where we notice him pictured, Bannister recalls how Javen “greeted almost everyone” they passed, whistling his ever-present ties in order to home, despite his far-flung career.
“It is all the construct but I am seeking to peel back what’s really there”
– James Bannister
In Glastonbury, the lure of the local leads us to Billy and Jamie, cross-legged and caught-out in “their personal secret world”. Bannister remarks on their surprise at his interest in their patch of concrete, and the universality of their plight, shared by teenagers the world over: their entertainment being limited to the local bus stop. The “magic” and “brutality” of their youth ripples through the portrait; the limited area of their existence, as it were, almost too close to house.
Further musings from Bannister’s sitters are underscored with notions of community. “Home is a sense associated with belonging, a safe place”, reflects Haseebah, pictured simply by Bannister at Birmingham’s Windmill Boxing Club, where the girl coaches. Haseebah’s ground-breaking campaign to permit boxing women to decorate the hijab awarded the girl the Commonwealth Medal with regard to Community. But it is the every day connection she feels at the club which creates the “balance” in her life; the particular inspiration of other people, and “of learning new ways of life. ”
Like a storyteller, Bannister’s stance is usually consciously apolitical. Amidst the setting of Covid, Brexit and the torrent of “political gesturing and media noise”, Bannister set out to see what The uk “really looks like” these days. The project is mindful to the “national collective psyche”, and yet performed in a different key: a major chord, colored by a full spectrum associated with society, and the optimism of finding people “longing to be united. ”
Crucially, what unites Witnesses of: Individuality is its dedication to celebrating difference: to the subtleties, idiosyncrasies and shock of each encounter. It is a gentle provide which requires the belittling of Bannister’s own authorship within the project, reaching a stage where he has “removed himself” in a bid for “authenticity”. The paradox of this does not escape him: “It is all a construct” he nods, but “I am wanting to peel back what’s really there. ”
Bannister admits his narrative is non-linear and fragmentary. Yet it feels its way across The uk with a single-minded ethos, marketing openness, tolerance, and self-awareness. Exactly what eventually rises to the surface area is the desire to belong: to be heard and be seen. Time for the words of Leonore, “if you cannot be honest along with yourself, you cannot be faithful to yourself, so you cannot be yourself. ” The flourishing of individuality is incumbent on us as most of, as collective witnesses. Witnesses not only to each other’s inspiring peculiarities and beguiling differences, but to our personal flaws and prejudices, within a bid to shed these blinkers. So that we might not only witness, but really seem — and hence see much better.
Discover the full project here:
Find out more of the 1854 x Leica – Witnesses of: Commission