Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Graphic Images - Marcus Bleasdale and Paul O'Connell

Marcus Bleasdale is world renowned for his photojournalism, and in particular for his graphic black-and-white reportage from the Congo. He's worked in the region for almost a decade, earning World Press Photo awards and cementing his reputation with a book, One Hundred Years of Darkness, published in 2002.

So he's one of the last people you might expect to work on a cartoon, but that's exactly what he's done, teaming up with Christian Aid's youth initiative Ctrl.Alt.Shift and graphic artist Paul O'Connell to transform his images into art. 'Ctrl.Alt.Shift got in touch and said they loved my images, but that they were trying to reach out to a new audience and take a less traditional approach,' says Bleasdale. 'They asked me if I was interested. My only concern was to protect the integrity, respect and dignity of the people in my pictures but when Paul sent the images back, I liked them a lot. They were shocking, engaging. They really hit the mood. Paul knows his art very well.'

The images are presented with very little text, but they narrate the Congo's grim situation, showing how the ravaging of its natural resources and people has lead to the breakdown of society. The first images show a boy standing over a city skyline, holding a machine gun against a blood-red sky. In the three next frames, demonstrators, police and shadowy figures stand under the words 'Un Congo Fort et Uni' (One Congo, strong and united), while a later page shows a globe surrounded by the words tin, diamonds, uranium, gold, copper and oil. The story is part of a group exhibition and comic book, Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption, and is being shown in its entirety at the Lazarides gallery in London, which also represents Banksy.


O'Connell thought carefully about how best to approach the work, opting to 'remix' Bleasdale's images into completely new scenes rather than simply redraw them.

'Marcus is the person who went there to bring back evidence of what's happening,' he told Design Week recently. 'When Marcus saw the strip and commented to me that it reminded him of his nightmares, I felt that I might have done a decent job of things. Just reading about the situation and engaging with it emotionally made me sick to my stomach a lot of the time. I really can only imagine - and try to convey that imagining - how it must feel to the people of Congo to live day-to-day with those experiences. The situation in Congo says such dark and terrible things about what some human beings are capable of normalising and justifying.'

British Journal of Photography 02/12/09

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