In late 2011 I changed the direction of my practice in order to realise a commission from The New York Times Magazine, making work in London over six weeks. I had never worked for a publication before. I had also never worked so quickly; the normal duration for my projects being a year or two. The project provided me with an insight into race and class issues, contrasts between rich and poor, black and white, working and upper class, which is made explicit in the work. For me the biggest shock was the division of wealth in the UK, which seemed still to be defined by an archaic and offensive class system.

I found the contrasts in localised venues. Boujis, a nightclub in South Kensington frequented by Prince Harry, Lloyd’s insurance market, and the London Metal Exchange speak of a perennially class-based establishment Britain which is at odds with the subcultures and lifestyles generated by abject poverty in the UK.

Up until then, and subsequently, I have been realising projects whose primary audience, beneficiaries, and recipients are the very communities which featured in my films and photographs, with the art world sometimes absorbing the work later on. Here I was interested to understand what happened when the work was directly disseminated to a broader audience, such as the one which The New York Times Online spoke to. Would it be possible to explore themes of social division without employing the targeted book and image dissemination which characterised my earlier projects? My feeling was that the images themselves had to work much harder than they had in previous projects, to be more explicit somehow. My audience was different. The plan was to echo the visual style of iconic photographers of the 1970s and 1980s who also looked at an America or Britain undergoing recession, in order to suggest that the same economic and social forces present forty years ago are still strongly at play now. I explored themes of race, education, leisure, tradition, class and ritual, and worked to make the images look timeless or historically indeterminate. I had viewed London through a prism mixed with Charles Dickens and Norman Rockwell.

Mark Neville

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