Photo journalist Alex Digard is currently documenting all aspects of Bristol‘s underground bass music culture, from the monthly Dubloaded dances to the recently defunct Rooted records shop, the hub of the Bristol sound. He also runs the Tape-Echo.com project, an online zine that features Bristol bass music, interviews with DJ’s, label owners and the people that hold this small but internationally recognised sound together.
// www.alexdigard.com //
Five photographers share their thoughts on Alex’s work below…
Martin Edwards has fingers in a number of photographic pies: he is a lecturer in photography at City of Bristol College, a freelance photographer, regular exhibitor and is involved in community arts and photography projects.
// www.martinedwardsphotography.co.uk //
An atmospheric set of images; the use of black & white gives a slightly old-world journalistic feel which suits them. All appear very dark and lacking in detail; there is a lot more to be revealed by lightening them. The first image [01_] has a sense of isolation, even melancholy, from his body language and expression, totally absorbed in his deck. Moving on to 04_, this has a face in the crowd which can be seen on lightening the image; this face is essential to giving it some context and makes a connection with the singer. 03_ has a lot of raw energy, which is its strength. I would prefer to see either more of who is on the stage, or crop it out completely leaving just the crowd; the viewer then needs to fill in the rest. Finally, 02_ is a great behind the scenes study, giving a real sense of dedication and enthusiasm for the music. It’s a bit of an odd one out though, as the rest are all directly related to performance.
Lisa Furness is a freelance commercial and fine-art photographer. She also teaches photography to people of all ages and is a prominent member of the Bristol arts scene, coordinating Easton Arts Trail and chairing Bristol photography collective Second Look.
// www.flickr.com/lisafurness //
This is a collection of shots that evoke the atmosphere of the underground music scene. The first two – Swamploaded [01_] and Dread [04_] – are excellent portraits with tangible mood & presence. 03_ really shows the energy of the crowd. I’d like to see a version shot with a slower exposure capturing more movement. I recommend combining flash with long exposure to get some crisp sharpness with plenty of movement and blur. 02_ is a great glimpse behind the scenes, however I feel the composition could be better as it lacks a real focal point for the eye to rest on. If you can revisit with some super wide lenses it might be fun to play with the sense of perspective. All in all – Good work, keep shooting.
Tom Groves is a London based freelance photographer working in the studio of internationally recognised photographer Martin Parr. Tom previously worked at Magnum Photos and studied photography at Filton College in Bristol. He helped set up The Emporium community arts space in Bristol and is currently shooting a project on European Subbuteo players.
// www.flickr.com/photos/tomgrovesphoto //
This is an interesting series of pictures to come out of Bristol, which is well equipped for an internationally recognised and a thriving music scene, including the underground bass scene we see depicted here. The make up of Bristol, with a large Afro-Caribbean population, has helped this musical genre swell and mutate over the years into various forms of drum and bass, reggae and a variety of electronic forms since the first King Tubby records arrived from Jamaica. Image 01_ is nicely lit on the face of the DJ but it might be better balanced if you were able to see the deck he’s looking at. Image 04_ has a pleasant shallow focus and the light on the audio cable leads your eye up to the mic well too. I really like the hand gesture as it looks as if the MC is blessing the crowd with his lyrics! The crowd in image 03_ has a great sense of energy and I like the repetition of the arms raised in agreement with the tunes. Also the lens-flare captured connects really well with the circle on the main figure’s t-shirt and leads the eye across the picture so I like that aspect of the picture too. Finally image 02_ brings a different aspect to the series which is far more static and although I like the picture, I feel it doesn’t fit in properly. I like the business of the room and would love to see the bookcase in the left of the image brought up a bit lighter to carry on the repetition of numerous records.
Nicki Musgrave graduated in 2007 with a degree in Cultural and Media Studies from UWE and has worked as an events and commercial photographer alongside a number of Bristol based musicians and promoters.
// www.nickimusgrave.co.uk //
The black and white photographic depiction of such usually colourful vibrant situations gives the viewer a heightened sense of detachment as well as provides an interesting element of implied solitude of the subjects, particularly in Swamploaded 01_ and Dread 04_. Swamploaded 01_ is perhaps the strongest of the collection in my view, the depth of the shadows give the image an abstract quality as the main subject seems quite removed from much of an associative or suggestive contextual surrounding. The composition adds to this feeling although the viewers position at an elevated angle is a little uneasy. The energy in Crowd 03_ provides an interesting contrast to the rest of the images, and intentionally captures the atmosphere and the varying responses of the spectators whilst leaving the musician in the periphery.I particularly like the light flare that seems to create a further barrier between audience and performer. The organised clutter of Rooted 02_ is an engaging subject, however the image could be better composed and would benefit from a little more separation between subject and viewer. Overall this is a thoughtful set of images that stand apart from much of the music culture photography being currently produced.
Matthew Beaman is Deputy Photography Editor of the award-winning Wallpaper* magazine. Since joining Wallpaper* in 2007 Matthew has worked with some of the industry’s most revered photographers.
At times reminiscent of Nick Knight’s iconic book Skinheads, Alex Digard’s grainy black & white images explore an underground and – it could be argued – misunderstood scene that carries with it a strong sense of ideology and social identity. Instead of East London skinheads, Digards’s work focuses on the Bristol bass music scene, encompassing the music, fashion and lifestyle of a small, tight-knit group of people living in the same area.
The strongest images for me are Crowd 03_ and Rooted Back Room 02_. The crowd shot really captures the energy and mood of a heavy dubstep night in full flow and the record shop is a subtle, beautifully lit still life. The contrasting mix of people, environments and still life really work in this series and it would be great to see some further detail, perhaps of the fashions, styles and iconography which contribute to make up the collective identity of the people involved. I think this would enable the work to develop, becoming more than a straight documentary piece, exploring other genres of photography. The portraits are nearly there; Alex has managed to retain continuity with the lighting and feel but I am left wanting more. They are just a little too dark and abstract for my tastes. Overall this is a strong piece of work and it is apparent that Digard has a deep involvement in the burgeoning bass music scene. He is in a great position to delve further and create a really interesting body of work around a subject that many are yet to discover.