Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Double-decker portraits

British photographer Daniel Meadows got on a double-decker "Photobus" in September 1973 and toured England for 14 months, taking more than 950 free portraits of the people he met. Twenty-five years later, he revisited some of those people for an updated look at their lives.

The original project started as an opportunity to document the changes happening around the country in the ‘70s. As a student at Manchester Polytechnic, with classmates like photographer Martin Parr, Meadows had run a shop to make free portraits on the weekends.
“It was a great way to meet people,” he said. “I enjoyed it so much, I put the shop on wheels.”
After a year of fundraising, his adventure began. He traveled from town to town, writing letters for permission to park his bus (“But where do they write back?”) and developing the black-and-white film inside the bus, allowing him to give away images within a day of taking them.
In the 1990s, curator Val Williams encouraged Meadows to return to his subjects, see what kind of lives they had lived for the past 20 years, and photograph them again. Three local newspapers ran spreads of images with a phone number to call if anyone recognized their photo.
“Just about all of them had the original pictures,” Meadows said. The images, many of which had likely been forgotten in photo albums, triggered memories. Some people could recall the color of the shirt or hat they were wearing.
A lot had changed since Meadows took these pictures, he said. “Looking at these pictures now in 2012 is like looking at a Victorian image.” The style, culture and architecture of the ‘70s had evolved - not to mention the technology.
In the days of print-only, an image stopped after it was published, Meadows said. Now, with digital images, “the story of the picture continues after it’s published.” For example, a poet in New Zealand and a composer in Slovenia were moved by the story of Florence Snoad, a subject published in Meadows’s 2001 book, “The Bus.” They separately wrote and composed about her life.
“I’ve been inspired by how pictures trigger conversations,” Meadows said.
– Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN
The Photobus story and Meadows’ free studio work were recently exhibited at the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, and will appear at Ffotogallery in Wales this summer. His book, “The Bus,” was recently released on Kindle

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