The first in a new series of works triggered by the uprisings of the early 2010s, including the Arab Spring and riots across global locations including London and the artist’s home town of Vancouver, these photographs focus on scenes associated with events in August 2011, when thousands of people rioted across London boroughs: in Tottenham, where protests started following the shooting by police of Mark Duggan, and Hackney Downs, where events were focused around the Pembury Estate.
To create the panoramic mise-en-scènes on display, Douglas has conducted intensive research, mining sources including contemporary aerial news reports and still images. He also chartered a helicopter to fly over the locations, meticulously combining his own footage with media images to reconstruct moments frozen at specific points in the unfolding disturbance.
Occasions of flux, transformation and disorder, and the possibility of change they bring about, have long fascinated Douglas, who received the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography in 2016. His critically acclaimed photographic series Crowds and Riots, 2008, explores crowd phenomena in the twentieth century, focusing on subjects including the clashes between police and protestors that defined Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood in the early 1970s. His film The Secret Agent, 2015, restages the plot of Joseph Conrad’s novella – a story of espionage, double-crossing and political entanglement – within the aftermath of Portugal’s ‘carnation revolution,’ which overthrew Europe’s oldest dictatorship, in April 1974.
Characteristic of Douglas’ sensitivity to the nuanced dynamics of public and private memory, these new works look at racial and class tensions and at confrontation and its aftermath, asking us revisit recent history and consider the countless stories and fragments of reality in which truth and empathy lie. In an age where, because of technological advance, the veracity of the photographic image has long been cast into doubt and reality and history are easily manipulated to appear ‘real’, Douglas employs a billboard scale and an almost hallucinatory sharpness, the result of digital rendering, to question authorship, reality and the truth and meaning behind what we see – truth within the medium of photography and within the political and sociological issues that underpin the scenes his photographs portray.