Thursday, 5 February 2009

daniel lillie

We are the Maesglas boys
We ain't got no money
We drinks lots of beer
We drink Double Diamond 'cos it's full of good cheer.

When you'r walking down Maesglas Road
doors and windows open wide
The you'll hear ol'Sheppy shout
Get your fuckin' woodbines out!

We are the Maesglas boys

I saw Daniel Lillie's project 'I'll see you on the far post' presented at the Folio Forum at the Photographer's Gallery in January and was impressed by his sensitive portrayal of working men and their families on the Maesglas estate Newport, Wales. 

The images are intimate and appealing, they give a strong sense of day to day life in a tight-knit community where different generations of the same family support and sustain one another. Such close relationships are central to survival when faced with the insecurity of low-paid transient employment.

'Historically, socially and culturally the workingman has been a figure of strength and integrity, a foreboding presence both in the family and in the community.' Is how Lillie describes the inspiration behind his work. 'These images are about what men do with their time, be it with their family, friends or alone. They are about working and not working.' A sentiment prescient of the current dismal climate where working men's jobs hang in the balance. 

Lillie's presence as documenter is ghost-like, there is clearly a sense of mutual respect and trust, both on behalf of the photographer and the subjects he is spending time to record. Although an 'outsider' it is clear that he has been accepted into the community as an insider able to witness and document the intimacies of ordinary life.

The photographer was angered by Andrew O'Hagan's recent George Orwell Memorial lecture  'What went wrong with the working class?' which argues that 'the English working class is dead - it's traditions and values have been replaced by sentimentality and the false promise of celebrity and credit cards.' 

'With my project I intend to show that, while not the political force it once was, the working class exist and are not a Jeremy Kyle watching, McDonald's eating, Vicky Pollard-esque, catalogue dependent, benefit scrounging, powerless body of people.'

Lillie's images were received with praise at the Folio Forum lead by Joy Gregory, who encouraged him to return and continue documenting the community. I feel that this is a timely body of work that records life on the estate in a social realist tradition - reminiscent of work by Chris Killip and Graham Smith, and explored by filmmakers, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach - and looks at how a community faces and addresses the prospect of a bleak future. 

It will be interesting to see if traditional working class values will rise to sustain and strengthen when times are bad.

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