Seamus Murphy: Kingdom

Seamus Murphy: Kingdom

The Irish photographer has lived in England for over 35 years. Like many, he is both irritated and fascinated by the peculiarities attributed to the British. After the 2016 referendum and the decision to withdraw from the European Union, he took his camera in hand and decided to document the changes he sees in the country.

From the perspective of an outsider, Seamus Murphy observes what is going on in the country whose people voted, in a 2016 referendum, to leave the European Union. In retrospect and considering the consequences, many feel that the referendum no longer ensures the golden future they had hoped for. The changes resulting from the withdrawal affect everyone, yet some things remain the same. Many traditions, clung to with great patriotic spirit, are still there. They are in evidence during hunts, for example; or, at the national level, during the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth ll. At the same time, cities and communities are changing, due to factors such as gentrification and migration. “London is very modernised; the culture is mixed up. But in the North of England you can still feel the past. There, eccentricity is everywhere,” Murphy can confirm from his many observations. His pictures do a convincing job of capturing some of the clichés. Even so, his images speak in a gentle – rather than loud – manner of the hidden changes whose full significance may only be revealed over the coming years.

“My mood is transmitted through the image.”

Once you learn about their respective backgrounds, Murphy’s pictures are transformed into a burning glass that clarifies the consequences of the many changes. He does not always look for large events that promise an eye-catching outcome. “The remarkable thing is that you can take interesting photos at a banal event, and come home with boring photos from an interesting one,” he recognises with amusement. The reason, as he explains, often lies in his mood: “When I feel rejected, I can’t feel the images. The camera is like a recording mechanism.” Some of Murphy’s images illustrate his approach. A picture of classic statues, with a number of construction cranes in the background, symbolises the enormous amount of building going on in a completely new district in London: the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea (VNEB) Opportunity Area is a playground for financially-strong investors, who do not intersect with the normal population. We also see financial employees taking a cigarette break: they very probably have to deal with a massive, Brexit-induced contraction of UK assets. These are just two of the events bound to affect the future?

Murphy’s project was proposed by Zelda Cheatle, who was among this year’s 60 international LOBA nominators.

Seamus Murphy

Born in Orsett, England, in 1959, Murphy grew up in Ireland, and currently lives in London. He works as a photographer, writer and film maker. He has been photographing in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America for more than two decades. Over the years, his images have won him seven World Press Photo Awards. So far, he has published four books. He collaborated with musician and poet PJ Harvey to co-publish the book “The Hollow of the Hand” (Bloomsbury, 2015). His works are exhibited nationally and internationally.

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Portrait: © Justin McKie