Photography studio, gallery and training complex

On The (Stratford) Road Again

I’m not sure where I first heard about it. Perhaps it was a tweet, perhaps it was a facebook link or a chat with a fellow Birmingham photographer, but hear about I did – several times. So when one of Fotofilia’s regular course attendees mentioned that he’d met the photographer behind The Stratford Road Project and passed on my details, I looked forward to the possibility of meeting Rob Gilbert for myself.

Rob has since delivered talks about this fascinating project to both of the Fotofilia photography clubs (THE CLUB and F2). I was especially keen for Rob to speak to the groups because I felt The Stratford Road Project was a truly inspirational body of work. Undertaken over several months and at occasional risk to his own personal safety, the project involved Rob photographing one hundred individuals that were approached (almost) at random along a five mile stretch of one of Birmingham’s main thoroughfares.

Celia. Image reproduced with the kind permission of Rob Gilbert.

This section of the road encompasses a diverse multitude of ethnic and socio-economic communities, from the relatively affluent and predominantly white-British Shirley area through to the arguably more deprived and largely Pakistani and Somali areas in the northern stretches of the road, but encountering older immigrant influxes from Ireland and more recent arrivals from eastern Europe along the way. It seemed to me that Rob was more fascinated by the northern end of the road and challenged by the cultural inhibitions which restricted his success in securing volunteers in that area.

Amy. Image reproduced with the kind permission of Rob Gilbert.

This is a unique project, inspired by curiosity and social interest, but approached in a thorough and methodical way, with clear boundaries from the outset (subjects must be on the Stratford Rd itself, all photographs must be taken in daylight, subjects would be asked three questions and the answers published alongside the portraits on the project blog, the portraits must be shot in the vertical format, the number of the property closest to where the image was taken would accompany the image online to add geographical context etc).

Rob also shot a number of “establishing” or context shots to provide a wider visual experience and to add to the viewer’s geographical understanding of the project. But the portraits are clearly what the project is about. The subjects were not directed in any way and consequently the range of expressions is especially interesting to me personally, whether grinning broadly, suspicious or nervous (them, not me).

Mark. Image reproduced with the kind permission of Rob Gilbert.

Overall, while Rob would be the first to admit that it is by no means an accurate “scientific” survey, the project provides a powerful visual socio-geographic “snapshot” of a multicultural city in the early twenty-first century. At both of the talks I’ve seen him deliver, he was asked if he would repeat the project in, say, ten years – a possibility which he certainly didn’t rule out. It was also clear that people considered the project to be a valuable piece of social history and I would definitely agree.

See the whole project at http://stratfordroadproject.wordpress.com/

My thanks to Rob for the talks and use of the images.

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One response

  1. Excellent portraits.

    September 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm

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