Johny Pitts foregrounds the everyday Black experience along the British coastline
“I keep everything,” Pitts laughs. “There’s so many terrible photographs in my archive. It’s about seven terabytes, and maybe only 3 per cent of it is usable. But it’s amazing how, as the years go by, I find new things. What I thought was a terrible image that just didn’t work, suddenly it’s like, ‘Actually, yeah.’ You see it in a new light.” As circumstances change, how one valorises images changes in tandem. Different stories can be extracted from the same materials, and one can re-evaluate what is considered worthy.
A companion exhibition to the book is on show at Graves Gallery in Sheffield – Pitts’ hometown – until 24 December, and will migrate to Stills in Edinburgh in spring 2023. The exhibition was commissioned by Photoworks for the inaugural Ampersand/Photoworks Fellowship. “I wanted to create conditions under which a Black or working-class community could feel at home,” Pitts says. “It’s important to take all these semiotic visuals and atmospheres and think, ‘How do I welcome people into this space?’” Pitts’ family helped bring the exhibition to life: his sister made a playlist from a local pirate radio station and a table for people to sit at, peppered with maps and family albums. His cousin constructed a model of Pitts’ childhood home; his niece and her friends helped with production. Creating a feeling of respite was important, and Pitts wants viewers to find resonance in his images beyond the artistic effort that brought them about. Appreciative visitors have contacted him to say: ‘I was looking through your family albums, and I remembered having wallpaper like that’. “Those little touches,” says Pitts, “mean everything to me.”
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