Nick Waplington, FotoDocument

Ideas Series: Equity and Economy

Nick Waplington describes his approach to the One Planet Living/ FotoDocument commission for Brighton Photo Biennial 2014. Nick was assigned two of the ten principles of One Planet Living; Equity and Economy.

When I was assigned the principles of “equity” and “economy” to guide my work for this project, I thought about how these terms related to my own life, and my history, in the Brighton area.

My great-great grandparents lived north of Brighton; they worked in the fields around Henfield during the planting and harvest seasons, and in the winter they would live in the poorhouse in Brighton. By the time I was born, my family had made their way into the middle classes. I grew up in Steyning, a three hours’ walk across the Downs from the city. I’d sometimes walk that way, through Fulking, or else along the old railway line, when I didn’t cycle or hitchhike my way there and back. As a teenage boy in late 1970s and early 1980s, I saw Brighton as a place very unlike my quiet conservative village. It was a city full of possibilities and cultural horizons, a place where I could meet other like-minded boys to spend days skateboarding at the Level, and nights seeing bands at the Concorde or Sherry’s or the (aptly named) Escape. Now, as a middle-aged artist based in London and New York, I often think back to those years and the visions of the future I had then, and the dreams of a teenage boy walking through the fields or along the sea.

Half of the images I made are a kind of composite self-portrait, filtered through those memories. I photographed boys at the skateboard park at the Level, boys around the age I was when I first began to think of my share of the future – and the “equity” I imagined in that future. These are not the only teenagers in Brighton, or even the only teenage boys; they are part of a minority subculture, within Brighton’s multicultural communities. Photographing them, I think about how different their sense of “equity” must be, growing up in a much more diverse place than I did, in a time of Green MPs and environmental initiatives. I juxtaposed the portraits with images of the flowers of the South Downs for a few reasons: as a reminder of my long teenage walks across the Downs, as an image of growth and futurity, and also as a vision of constancy in the midst of the changes that happen in cities and lives.

The other half of the work I made, on the idea of “economy,” makes a different kind of juxtaposition. I thought about how the city of Brighton exists, and has always existed, in relation to two limits: the Downs and the sea. It takes its identity from those surrounding natural phenomena, but is also bounded by them. I made images of businesses operating in and with that defining periphery, who contribute to Brighton’s economy by linking the city to its natural environment. For example, I photographed green initiatives in the harbour, including a company who use recycled glass to make breeze block for building, and a company who produce wood chips for power stations. I also photographed small shops selling local food products sourced from the Downs or fish caught off the local coasts, as well as businesses operating on the Downs themselves, including a mushroom farm, an organic pork farm, and a cannabis farm.

For me, the work as a whole, in its various juxtapositions, brings together the past and the future, the personal and the global. Brighton is made of young people with their own dreams of the future, and older people who are making the economic future, particularly by working with the natural world.