Storyville – Photography by Barry Cawston

Storyville – Photography by Barry Cawston

Whatever leaves a mark tells a story, and like the face of an old prizefighter, the streets of every town bear a myriad of scars, fruit of a million different tales of the city.

Places tell their stories through use and decay, and in Storyville, British photographer Barry Cawston has made a project of recording them.

[James Freeman Gallery, London, 16 May – 8 June 2013]

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Travelling across the world for his photographic projects, Barry starts by picking out basic visual patterns. On one hand are the regular rhythms of architectural design, ranging from aging colonial townhouses in Cuba to fading concrete tenement blocks in Brazil, which he uses as a kind of geometric framework to structure his compositions. Then on the other hand, he searches out the random ways that people inhabit and add colour to them: mismatched licks of paint, rough-strung lines of clothes, broken windows, totalled cars… Bringing the two together, what emerges are intimate portraits of the lifeblood of the built environment.

A collection of windows becomes a kind of brutal Modernist advent calendar, packed with urban tales and tragedies. Mountains of scrap metal combine with topiaried trees to create half-earth, half-machine landscapes in the grounds of a Japanese junkyard. Streaking colours run like paint-splattered rainbows across the face of crumbling buildings. This is the city as a beautiful idea: efficient, planned and functional; and then also as the place where people live – shambolic, eccentric, all over the shop.

Windows appear as a repetitive motif: places to look into, intriguing little gaps in a hard façade, revealing only a small snapshot of the life that is going on behind. Likewise, defining a sense of repetition in the seeming randomness of human behaviour is a consistent theme, such as in his image of air balloons in Myanmar, caught floating inadvertently in formation high above the ancient temples below.

 Through his images, Barry manages to capture something of how people and their environment interact and influence each other – how the city becomes infected with the harebrained unpredictability of people, while these same people become ever so slightly more regular and more ordered through their habitat. Storyville shows how the man-made environment somehow manages to become organic and palpable, thanks to the lives and stories that flow through and leave their mark.

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