The photographs have been selected from Gold’s personal archive, and the various bodies of work chosen represent his ongoing interest in isolated communities (both geographic and social): Patagonia, Country Folk (Essex, Wales & Scotland), Afghanistan Bed Spaces, Positive Futures and Nowitna. In the spirit of Walker Evans and James Agee’s ground-breaking text and photo work, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941, Gold embeds himself in the communities he records, living with them for up to three years, sharing their experiences and forming close relationships with those he portrays.
For example, between 2010 and 2011 Gold lived amongst the soldiers of the Second Battalion Parachute Regiment (2 Para), both at their base in Colchester and on operational duty in Afghanistan. During this time, Gold wore a uniform and integrated fully with the troops, carrying his camera instead of a weapon while accompanying the soldiers on daily patrols, and capturing images that would later form the series Afghanistan Bed Spaces (2011).
The Nowitna series records Gold’s ongoing experiences living in Alaska’s Arctic region, where he has resided intermittently for more than eight years from 2009. Earlier this year he spent three weeks with the Atchley family, who live in one of the remotest parts of the state. Gold has since described the difficulties he experienced, and to help him cope with those he wrote 90,000 words documenting his daily life. A selection of these photographs and accompanying diary entries will be displayed at Firstsite.
The written word is an integral component of Gold’s photographic practice. He notes conversations he has in the community, occasionally using a recording device to capture the words more fully. He also keeps a diary of his own daily reflections. At the end of a project, this writing is condensed and appears alongside each of the photographs, offering a further narrative and a deeper, more intimate engagement with the subjects than the images alone can provide.
The exhibition’s first work, a single photograph from the Patagonia series taken in 2008, is illustrative. A vast print stretching the height of the gallery’s six-metre wall, it depicts a man standing in a derelict but lived-in dwelling, in front of an open fireplace. In the mid-1800s, Welsh nationalists began to migrate to the province of Chubut, in Patagonia, Argentina, in order to protect their native Welsh culture and language. The man depicted is a current resident of this Welsh enclave in South America, with the portrait which rests upon the mantelpiece providing a link to this settlement’s committed ancestors. Exhibited beside this work is an audio soundtrack of the interviews Gold conducted with members of the Welsh Patagonian community, in both Welsh and Castellano. Similarly, there is a soundtrack accompanying the Atchley family images. A copy of the book on the Patagonia series published by the internationally-renowned book designer and typographer, David Jury, is also on display.
Country Folk (Essex, Wales & Scotland) is an amalgamation of three bodies of work, and includes some of Gold’s earliest photographs – the Essex images that date from 1988. Many of these depict men and women who work on the land – as Gold did himself while taking these photos – capturing a way of life little changed in 100 years. Meanwhile, the Positive Futures series reveal people and communities that are ‘off-grid’, celebrating those who have eschewed conventional society.
Says Firstsite Director, Sally Shaw: ‘Ultimately, Ed is exploring human nature at a time when digital technology and media – particularly photography – are bringing the world closer, yet are also creating new forms of isolation, and at times, unrest. Ed's particular skill is in creating a window through which we can glimpse moments of intimacy in the lives of the communities he has worked with. In simply saying 'This is what life is like here...' he allows us to ask some fundamental questions such as what is 'usual' and 'unusual', what is 'everyday' and 'extraordinary'. The answers, of course, depend entirely on your own particular viewpoint.’