Isabel Armitage in conversation with photographer and activist, Wayne Crichlow, on destigmatizing art, increasing accessibility, and making art political
There is a sense of stigma that revolves around art. Labelled “pretentious” or “show-offey” if you are plastering your social feed with a snapshot of a toilet seat and claiming a deep connection between yourself and the ceramic lid. Whether we like it or not, the notion of going to an art gallery can sometimes be inaccessible to many and Wayne Crichlow, a photographer born in Hackney has destigmatized the gallery by removing it all together.
Both a photographer and activist, Wayne Crichlow is known for pioneering accessibility to the arts as well as partaking in extensive shoots at various BLM protests earlier this year. Currently in the near completion of his two year project, Wayne teamed up with Future Hackney, a long term collective dedicated to documenting social change in East London; to take the stigma out of art. Situated on Ridley Road in Hackney, the ‘art gallery’ will open on 6th November 2020, displaying nine large format images that allow the community to access art on their doorstep.
“Galleries attract certain types of audiences. We as individuals may not necessarily feel part of that group so therefore don’t go. I want to help make art accessible to all,” said Wayne, when I spoke to him earlier this month. He creates honest depictions of real life as he aims to be “a visual storyteller” in his kingdom of images.
I spoke to Wayne about how he is making the art world a more welcoming community and at the same time, documenting one of the most whirlwind years of his living life as a result of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Wayne on Black Lives Matter
Wayne went to school in the late 70s and early 80s. “There were riots, racial friction with the police, and Black people’s resistance to stop and search”. The demographic for activism in his earlier days Wayne recalls as “some left-wing students and Black people”. With everything that has happened in 2020 in regard to the BLM movement, now more than ever, Wayne sees looking back on his previous experiences of activism in a positive light. Why? Because people came in their masses in 2020, regardless of the colour of their skin or the age of their body.
This summer, Wayne noticed a change, one that made him stop and think – finally. “At protests the range of people was so much broader. It was politically neutral. Everyone and anyone were coming out and saying – Really?”. Really. That is the response to racism that the majority are now adopting. “We can’t be treating other human beings how we have been doing” and finally society has decided to call it.
Living in Hackney all his life, Wayne “felt a real positive vibe” from all the protests he attended. “This wasn’t just in America; this is a universal movement to readdress our institutions”. Good old-fashioned humanity, and Wayne was there to document it all – on the front line – finger braced on the button, ready to take a photo of not just a moment, but a movement. “We don’t want to be doing this again so let’s get it right this time”.
Moments vs Movements
If the sky is pink one evening and your average smartphone user snaps a photo, does this make them an artist?
In our modern-day society, we all have the ability to create at the click of button. It takes a fraction of a second to take a semi-decent photo and tie a label around its neck, calling it ‘art’. Wayne sees the moments vs movements as “what visual creatives are up against”. If ‘anyone can do it’ how are artists going to survive?
“Social media and technology have allowed a tsunami of imagery. There are zillions of images and it is very rarely that I am stopped in my tracks”. For art to catch Wayne’s eye, a story needs to be behind the photographer’s lens.
Wayne does not “post for hearts or thumbs up” as he witnesses Instagram’s masses be “fleeting moments that don’t tell [him] anything”. “Social media has highlighted the little bit of narcissism in us” and turned the art world into a bottomless pit. Everyone’s snapping, everyone’s an artist, but Wayne is projecting art that actually tells a real story – one that is accessible to all. He sees his work as a “kind of documentary” that has been thought out, calculated with his favorite form of photography coming from a wide focal 35mm lens.
Wayne, on photography
It is interesting the photographer’s eye. They see things that others overlook. May it be a particular shadow or a leading line, the eye of the beholder sees things in a different light.
When shooting with a 35mm lens, you have got to get in closer; delve into the crowds, in the thick of the action, to achieve that perfect shot. “You’ve got to be confident; you’ve got to be virtually invincible and during the BLM protests, I held my ground and people actually moved around me”. By shooting from chest height Wayne captures natural facial expressions, as getting down to ground level prevents anyone playing up in front of the camera.
Because we have all done it haven’t, we? A hair toss here, a sensuous smile there; we love the camera, and if we know it is there, we are going to act up to it. By getting close in the BLM marches Wayne has caught real images and by having “the camera in your hand and not in front of your eye, you can take everything in around you”. “We as humans communicate through body language and eye contact, if we break the communication by having a camera in your face, everyone starts asking questions”. What are they doing? How am I being portrayed? The natural is gone.
“Patience. Blending in. Being honest with what you see. I want to preserve those moments, to look back and feel part of that movement.” – Wayne Crichlow
We live in a world where photos are everywhere. Our lives are filled with moments and flickers of – let’s be honest – nothingness. Wayne has created images that mean something. They are part of a movement of history that will be looked back on for decades, even centuries to come. Photographing things that matter, of people that care, in a world on the cusp of monumental change.
Follow Wayne’s Instagram here.
Follow Future Hackney here.
Donate to the Steven Lawrence Charitable Trust here.
Donate to the Windrush Foundation here.