In every village, town or city there is more than likely to be some stalwart of photography. A photographer who at one point or another will have shown their work around extensively, appeared in local news, in the paper or speaking on the radio, maybe even running their own gallery. This is pretty much how I became aware of the work of Berris Conolly who is a photographer based in Sheffield.
I wasn’t exactly aware of his work, but I’d been a resident artist/curator at a local gallery for a couple of weeks and his name had already cropped up a few times: “You should speak to Berris.”
Berris used to be part of a dedicated photography gallery in Sheffield, the untitled gallery, which later became known as site gallery, and after moving from photography to lens based media then visual art, it’s almost lost all of it’s identity and the city most of it’s photography output.
I jumped onto the internet to do a bit of hunting and discovered his website and his work. Like many photographers out there his work hadn’t really done the rounds much on the internet. I suppose coming from a different model of photography where prints were more important to getting work out there than pixels, this is to be understood.
I found his work full of charm and simplicity in a strange sort of way and given the glowing recommendations I’d received I thought it was only right that I actually meet the man to discuss his work and the scene in Sheffield a little.
When I did speak with him, he spoke about a specific picture which he became known for in the local area, and I could understand why. The image in question was of a local landmark which was now lost forever. A massive “hole in the road” as it became known, existed in the city I grew up in and a photograph of it by Berris donned many a wall of local people, including that of my parents’.
His work I suppose is documentary landscapes, and despite being produced in and of the streets, but I don’t think street photography would ever be where Berris considers his work to lay. It’s more urban landscapes actually, occasionally occupied with people. He said as much to me when I spoke to him about his Hackney photographs work last year.
“There’s no format concept to my photography, I photograph whats on my doorstep” was one thing he mentioned which I suppose does describe his work in the simplest ways. Berris left his job as studio photographer in order to be more creative with his work: “I’d been photographing catalogues of watches, not exactly a creative use of photography, even if for some time I did actually enjoy it. I was heavily influenced by great photographers such as John Davies and Lee Friedlander and I felt I needed to leave the studio to produce the sort of work I enjoyed looking at, and to become an independent photographer.” and this work was his local haunt at the time.
Adrian Wynn says it better than I could in the statenent for Hackney Revisited, which I’ll discuss later:
“In his spare time [Berris] walked the borough, noting the street corners, the facades and signage of the city, following the waterways and exploring the aesthetics of the ordinary – what is seen and how it might be seen. Some of the photographs from that period form the basis of this exhibition.
Memories of the 1981 city riots were still fresh, and the Metropolitan Police had lately been earning their overtime in the northern coalfields, public services in Hackney, as elsewhere, were under assault from the advocates of the political and economic virtues of market forces. Conolly is not directly concerned with this narrative, he was walking his usual beat, assessing the visual weight of the everyday, sifting it and sieving it, ensuring that his camera bestows on the commonplace its due dignity.”
Berris continued this form of photography when he moved to Sheffield, documenting it’s river bridges and the developments which were taking place in the run up to the world student games in 1991.
Architecture forms much of the basis of his work. From general street scenes with the buildings bustling with one another for attention, to photographs showing these buildings in context to their environment.
“I’d occasionally wait for someone to walk through a scene and fill a certain space or perform a specific role but people were never really the main focus. From time to time I’d get children come up to me and pose for a photograph, like the River Lea image, I didn’t ask them or position them, it’s just what came natural to them and I suppose it would almost have been rude not to”
For me the images do speak of a different time, when children would do things like this and there wasn’t as much of a stigma placed onto the shoulders of photographers as there is today. The photographs are largely about nostalgia and I imagine are stronger images today than they were when they were taken. Berris mentioned in passing that he wished he’d taken more straight documentary images of the surrounding areas too because as time passed he could see the value in these types of images more clearly.
Berris left photography in the mid 90′s only to return to it some years later as he began digitally archiving his negatives. His digital revalation didn’t stop there as he’d later pick up a digital camera and begin going over his work again looking at how the world had changed.
Something I take from Berris’ work and his journey (photographs aside) is that I imagine there are many other photographers out there in these local regions, whose work, whilst well known to the small art circles in that geographical location, are largely unknown to the rest of the world and more specifically the photography consumers on the internet. It almost seems a shame to not share this work and bring fresh eyes to it which I suppose is my driving thought behind this post.
My previous post to this is also a similar story. Paul Baldesare’s work has hung in quite a few galleries, but I only became aware of his work with thanks to fellow photographer Matt Stuart, who passed on my details when Paul was enquiring about a website for his work.
How many photographers are there out there who remain relatively unknown to the internet circles or our internet circles? Is it here where we could find this elusive definitive body of London street photography work which Martin Parr feels we currently lack? And if so how are we to find it? Is there a London equivalent of Vivian Maier somewhere out there that is waiting to be discovered?
You can see more of Berris’ work on his website along with the interesting project of revisiting the Hackney images with photographer Alex Pink.