Daniel Meadows declares himself as a documentarist, and his works developed in the 70s and 80s are a good prove of it. Experiences such as the Graeme Street photo shop mark the beginning of a path in which the artist seeks to integrate himself in the subject’s environment and from there to photograph the subjects.
Meadows recognizes the influence of the American photographer Bruce Davidson, especially his work on the streets of New York where Davidson brings his humanist vision of social reality through commitment and coexistence in the environment. This strategy I have seen in some other photographers, who somehow mimic with the environment to minimize the distance that separates the subject from the photographer.
The photo shop was in the heart of a humble and possibly impoverished neighborhood, with mainly minority populations. The photographer’s continued presence in the neighbourhood may allow him to gradually gain the trust of the people in the area. There is an important presence of children in the portraits, who were perhaps the first to approach the singular photography shop.
The important thing about these approach strategies is to gain the confidence of the subjecst, without pretending to be one more of them, at least to get the photographer’s presence tolerated. This is also illustrated in the project “The Smoking Room” where Meadows lives for two weeks in a psychiatric hospital with the mentally ill patients, obtaining a series of photographs that would be difficult to obtain by a regular visitor to the asylum.
In the project “Free Photographic Omnibus” Meadows uses a new approach strategy, he goes to encounter with the subjects but he creates a state of expectation so the subject feel the urge to approach to the photographer. The bus where Meadow locates its art gallery, dark room and dwelling goes through 22 towns, and the coverage and support of national and local newspaper surely contributed to the success of the proposal. Again, the distance that separates the subject from the photographer is greatly reduced, although in this case the motivations are slightly different. Here we see a very different typology: young and old subjects, perhaps middle class, who either by curiosity or reported by the newspapers of the presence of bus in their locality, considered the experience as a kind of entertainment. A different strategy that engages a different audience and bring about different results.
Perhaps nowadays, when each person has a mobile with the capability to take photos, any of these two initiatives would not have the same repercussion, or could even be considered with suspicion, but in the 70s and 80s it could have been celebrated with joy, especially among children and young people. When almost nobody prints the photos, a free printed copy I doubt it is a claim powerful enough to attract anyone. In a culture of immediacy, photography today has to be taken and visualized practically at the same instant, and if it has the subject’s approval, it will be shared on social networks almost immediately. What added value can a photographer offer over the photo taken with the mobile phone? On occasions when I have been commissioned to take photos of an event, at the time of taking the final photo of the group I have been surrounded by countless people who use their mobile phones to take the final photo of the group, diverting attention of the subjects in multiple directions.
We often talk about the ubiquity of photography, its ability to multiply and amplify our view of reality… Here are 2 examples that may well serve to illustrate and extend this concept. The photo shop of Graeme Street becomes a meeting point for the subjects that attend to the proposal. In each photograph is drawn a line of the portrait of the physiognomy of the neighborhood, an identity that is formed with the sum of individual wills that negotiate his portrait with the photographer. Here the studio works as a collector in charge of collecting all those images, which then shows and gives them to each of the subjects. It is also interesting to reflect on the encounter that occurs between the subject and his photograph, a moment that Meadows has also documented; When the subject contemplates his picture, he is recognizing his own public image; Only the photo that receives the approval of the subject can be displayed publicly. The photo has the ability to represent the subject, and must faithfully match the public image that the subject recognizes. The ubiquity of photography operates here as an element capable of defining a collective identity from the individual, and the ability to fragment and catalogue the public image of the individual in each of his different photographic poses.
According to what Meadows exposes in one of the video montages shown on his website, the intensity of the photographic experience is the result of the equation that relates in direct proportion the distance (subject-photographer) and time.