From Manhattan to Merseyside: Humans of Liverpool

by Lucy Uprichard

Inspired by the well-known Humans of New York blog, photographer Jack Brian Mawdsley has taken upon himself to document the many faces of Merseyside in his homage, Humans of Liverpool.

Currently studying for his HND (Higher National Diploma), Jack describes himself as ‘captivated by studies of critical theory and conceptual thinking relating to society and culture’, and states that ‘the camera has become [his] natural sidearm’. We caught up with Jack to hear about Humans of Liverpool, what it’s like to accost strangers for photographs, and other projects he’s involved in.

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Your blog is inspired by the now-famous Humans of New York – what made you think ‘Liverpool needs that too’?

I’ve always thought that Liverpool has had a great contrast of people and culture, similar though on a smaller scale to New York. A contrast that I believe has gone very much unseen alongside the individuality and interesting hidden stories and lives that the Humans Of Liverpool have to share. I saw an opportunity to take up a project that I already had a profound fondness of in New York. I was excited to bring something here that hadn’t been there before – to give people an insight into the lives of the humans of Liverpool. Until this project I’d only touched on photographic portraiture lightly so this was a completely new ball game. I thought what better way to develop this area than to take on this project based on portraiture, get out there, learn about, photograph and work with complete strangers?

The HONY guy sometimes talks about the aggro he gets from the people he stops. How do people generally respond to you wanting to take photographs and speak to them?

I’ve learnt over the course of the project that 99% of the time it’s all about how you approach a potential subject and the confidence give off. You have to be in a positive and outgoing mood, which can be very challenging to maintain for hours on end. It’s incredible how much I’ve learnt about body language and how simple phrases and words can make all the difference between meeting, learning and photographing a great person, or them saying “sorry, not today thanks” or “no, you weirdo”. When that happens you have to take it onboard and throw yourself right back into the game. It’s easy to take the knock and let being turned down bum you out. When that happens your confidence and mood vanishes! You have to be resilient. Get back on board and crack on!

Does anyone stand out as the most interesting person you’ve met so far?

I wouldn’t be able to put one person down as being the most interesting. I believe each person I photograph and speak to has their own unique qualities and interesting perspectives. I’ve met some cool characters! But each person is of great interest to me within his or her own right. Sometimes it feels less like I’m spending the day working on a project and more like a day spent chatting to strangers who I happen to take  photographs of.

Image by Humans of Liverpool.

Image by Humans of Liverpool.

On your blog you have two other projects that you’ve worked on: Harlem, NY and Non-Places. Can you tell us about those?

Non-Places was a project I embarked on out of the interest of an essay I read by an anthropologist called Marc Augé titled An Introduction To An Anthropology Of Supermodernity. A constantly growing proportion of our lives is spent in supermarkets, airports, hotels, car-parks on motorways, or in front of TVs, computers and devices. This influx on humanity by what Augé calls ‘non-space’ results in a deep alteration of awareness: something which we realise, but only in a partial and unintelligible manner. Augé uses the concept of ‘super modernity’ to describe a situation of uncurbed information and excessive space. After reading his essay I set out to photographically express some key quotes that he uses to define the areas of Non-place and Supermodernity, utilising the knowledge and understanding of the study that I adopted from the essay. This was an incredibly mind bending and challenging critical theory project and spanned over a three-month period. It changed and still does change the way I view the world around me and question what is. Since that project I always spend an amount of time looking into theories to further broaden and filter my vision.

Harlem, NY was a project that came from a curiosity I’ve always had for both Google street view and New York. One afternoon I spent six hours scouring the streets of Harlem through Google Street view, peering down alleyways and honing in on situations, interesting people and gatherings. I stopped at some point and found myself questioning “I’m sure I’ve been down this street? Yes! The Apollo Theatre, I passed there just before”. It was at that point I felt like I’d actually gathered an understanding for this place that I’d just ‘dropped a pin on’ a few hours ago. I felt like I’d been literally driving around this large neighbourhood for the past few hours, like I’d actually been there in person – it felt surreal! From the fashion and body languages to the restaurants, parks and activities going on in the background. So I started snapping these scenes off the screen with my camera that I recognised. When I came to look over the shots I started to see this body of work that was depicting not only what I’d documented Through Street view, but an identity and a feeling for Harlem as a place. I would step back from the photographs as a collective and within seconds identify shops, mannerisms, roads, architecture, signage and other key elements. I could stand in front of the collection and say, “this is Harlem!” I’m still working on it currently.

So with humans of New York, everybody knows what the HONY guy looks like now, to the point that people ask him to be on the blog. How important do you think the identity of the photographer is in a project like this?

Yes, everybody knows who Brandon is. His success has been phenomenal! The way I see it, the project is about the Humans Of Liverpool. The photographer is the vehicle for the project, as in many instances. However, as much as I love the feedback and recognition I get for my work ,I don’t feel the Identity of the photographer is of immediate importance with this project. The photographer should be known for his work, but I’d like the focus to be on the project. Recognition comes naturally from curiosity.

Image by Humans of Liverpool.

Image by Humans of Liverpool.

Lastly, is there anything you’re working on at the moment that you want to share with us, or any ideas in the pipeline?

I’m currently working on a piece to enter in for the Sony World Photography competition based on the Subject of Consumerism. That is going really well, and I will have some of the finals up on my portfolio site soon after my final shoot! I’m reading into a couple of Critical theory essays at the moment and formulating a few new projects for the near future.

You always have to be working in one way or another towards where you want to be, you can’t step off the gas if you want to make it!

Follow Jack on Instagram or see his work on his blog.

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