Over the past few months I have been working with fellow artists, Richard Mulhearn, Eleanor Mulhearn, Sarah Eyre, Laura Davies, Adrian Davies, Alex Jako and Anna Taylor, to create an exhibition in the beautiful deconsecrated Unitarian Church in Todmorden, United Kingdom. We called the project The Fielden Project because the church was build by the sons of John Fielden, the main industrialist in Todmorden who is most famous for bringing in the act of parliament that curbed the exploitation of children as workers in the factories of the industrial revolution. The religious, the cultural, the political and the ethical evocations brought about by this broad theme inspired us – all ‘blow ins’ to Todmorden – to respond to the church, its history, its former patrons and the general community of Todmorden.
For me it was an opportunity to explore exhibiting a project I was already working on around the theme of Doubt. I explored the location in terms of how my photographs could be part of a narrative created by the photographs. My creative statement goes something like this:
‘If I could not doubt, I should not believe’. (Henry David Thoreau)
Doubt is an evolving photographic essay exploring faith through feelings of doubt in the context of a society that on the surface seems increasingly secular and certainly more materialistic. The Unitarian Church in Todmorden was built at a time when British society more openly expressed faith through religious practice, as well as organised communities, and exercised power through these practices, and its deconsecration is one of many indicators of a subsequent decline in, certainly Christian, religious engagement in Britain. Questioning whether faith, or the need for faith, has actually diminished, I’m seeking to explore, through candid photography of people in public spaces, the possible void created by the retreating public expressions of faith. The shift in the status of the Unitarian Church, prompted me to explore the notion of bringing contemporary people caught in moments expressing doubt back into the church with a view to trying to evoke an engagement with the ideas of the role of constructed place as inspiration and refuge for those seeking meaning, purpose and understanding. Using the 12 pillars that support the structure of the church, photographs of contemporary people, supported by quotes, emerge from these pillars to tell experiential stories of faith, separation and doubt in a building that once was built for this purpose.
I wanted my photographs to work collectively along the pillars, across the pillars as well as individual narratives. Behind each of the photographs, semi hidden by the curvature of the pillars, there was a quote related to the theme of doubt accompanying every photograph, as if inner murmuring from the characters in the photographs. I suppose this is the filmmaker in me.
We worked with Sofka Smales to develop the show, both individually and as a group, and one of the challenges was the fact that the building is a Grade 1 listed building.
One of the amazing things about working on this project was how our very different work came to compliment and interact with each other’s work. This was a revelation and was not necessarily the product of a overtly conscious process; rather an osmosis that occurred as a consequence of numerous discussions, site visits and research. Our themes interweaved, echoed and reverberated and in the end I think we have created a well balanced and evocative show.
So far, response to the show has been very positive. Nearly 200 people turned up for the opening and since then there has been a steady stream of people visiting the show. I hope that if you are in the area, you may be able to visit it before it closes on the 18 May 2014. Opening times: Thursday and Friday 5pm – 8pm and Saturday and Sunday 1pm – 6pm. Enjoy.