An Interview With: Joshua T. Gibbons
Who are you and where did you study?
I am a London based photographer with an interest in social realism through documentary portraiture.
I am a recent graduate of BA Fine Art Photography at The Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design in East London.
What were your main concerns when approaching this project?
When dealing with a subject matter that is so personal, I was wary of exploiting the project participants; something the mainstream media has a tendency to do when approaching sexual culture in Britain. So, whilst I wanted to create a visual commentary on the emergence of sexually orientated social media, I did not want to create a fantastical expose, more a series that endeavours to humanise the community making use of such platforms.
The photographs are intersected with some rather explicit text, Is there anything you chose to edit out?
No. The pieces of text are recreated verbatim and completely unedited from messages received by the project participants and myself.
Although not representative of the entire community, I felt it a usefool mechanism to sequence the extremely graphic text alongside the subtle portraiture to create a duality that is metaphorical of the way we as humans present ourselves in public and in our sexual lives.
Text is an extremely useful tool for the documentary photographer, and although there is arguments against its use by puritans of the medium, in this context, where communication plays such a vital role in the experience of using these social media platforms, I felt it necessary to have a representation of the dialect and language that is employed by certain elements of this online community.
Was it difficult to gain access to the individuals?
Very, and this was to be expected. Although not necessarily focused on this particular element of British sexual culture, mainstream media outlets in this country have reported extensively on “alternative” sexual culture and do it in such a way that the community has grown suspicious of journalists and those involved with the media. Therefore, I would find myself at times communicating and gaining the trust of a participant for upto 2-3 months prior to shooting. Luckily, I am persistent in nature and a good communicator otherwise this project would not have happened.
Also, when researching the project, my initial age group for participants was non-specific although I quickly learnt that the elder generation of individuals making use of these platforms were far more cautious of involvement compared to the 18-35 demographic. So, although I feel it is that younger age group that is really embracing such online platforms, my decision to focus on them, was largely guided by the lack of cooperation of their elder peers.
The way the empathetic nature of the portraits juxtaposes with the text is a great strength within the project. In what way do these correlate with the photographs you have sequenced them beside?
When sequencing any documentary series, you are always attempting to create a sense of over arching narrative, so although there might be more obvious correlations between certain images, for e.g. The portrait of David, a cross dresser that dresses in a traditional burka for sexual enjoyment and the text that follows his image relating to the sexual exploration of a young muslim man, there will also be more subtle examples of such relationships as well. These do not always require explanation, preferring to leave that as something for the audience to consider and reflect upon.
To what extent did your own perception of this sexual culture shift and change throughout the project?
Whilst I would always have considered myself as liberal in my attitude towards sex, growing up in Britain there are certain power structures that guide your opinions on such matters whether you like it or not. Working this project has helped me to confront some of those misguided stereotypes and I would say I am much more accepting and open minded person because of it. Never the less, it not entirely escapable, after all sexual repression is as British an institution as Pimms at Wimbledon or Tory peers with an eye for young boys.
Finally, could you share your best advice to current students and recent graduates?
Quite simply, put the blinkers on. Do not worry about what anyone else is doing, just make-work and keep putting it into the public domain. Recognition will come.
Also, be prepared for mountains of rejection (Which, should ultimately make you more bullish) and an industry full of individuals who believe they know what they are doing but couldn’t organise a handy in a brothel.
Lastly, stay on the hustle.