‘I’m quite rude when I take photos’ : New photo book by local artists conveys the feeling of ‘Just Passing Through’

Seconds after beginning my virtual chat with Brighton photographer Joe Willis and graphic designer Meg Turvey, Meg began nonchalantly flipping through their new photo book and Joe sucked lazily on a Frube yoghurt. A few minutes later, upon my request to hear more of the photo captions that Joe had written, he ducked out of shot in unexpected embarrassment. His simultaneous familiarity and reserve stuck out to me, at first, admittedly, because of his contrariness. Also, however, because the tension is exactly what comes across in their new photo book, ‘Just Passing Through’.

Despite the two being ‘friends for ages’, the book is their first collaboration. While Joe has been creating film photography for years, ‘slowly building confidence’, Meg was finishing up her graphic design degree at Kingston University in London. The project was mutually beneficial for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as Joe said, ‘I’m really bad at actually presenting and showing my work and this person here [enthusiastically pointing at Meg] is excellent at doing that kind of stuff’. Secondly, because at uni Meg found that ‘a lot of the time we just make like one product for ourselves and for our portfolio’ and was itching to ‘make a book that was actually real – to publish it and produce multiple copies for people to have’.

Just Passing Through

The book itself is broken down into three categories, neatly separated by titled translucent paper (which Meg informed me was a nightmare to budget). ‘It starts with ‘Happy hour’, which is general human interaction and direct kind of encounters’, Joe explained. The section is filled with intimate portraiture, featuring surprised grins and pupils dilated by an unexpected flash. ‘I’m quite rude when I take photos’, Joe admits, ‘because I don’t ask. I just do it so much that everyone gets accustomed to it. Then, once everyone is accustomed to it and they’ve stopped hating me for flashing their eyes shut, you can actually capture a nice shot.’

Next up is ‘Quell being’; ‘there’s people in it, but you can’t see their faces. It’s sort of indirect. And the final chapter is called ‘French exit’. Even less traces and no people’. Progressing through the chapters colour photography seeps into black and white, human faces draw away, and moments of human movement transform into shots of dead animals. The juxtaposition of intimacy and distance is slightly existential. The coexistence of the two makes the animated images of ‘Happy hour’ feel more alive, and the reserved photography of ‘French exit’ feel even more lonely.

Just Passing Through

Each chapter is premised with another translucent page that’s somewhere between a contact sheet and a table of contents, featuring each photo in the chapter and the aforementioned captions. Some are descriptive, one photo captioned ‘after Mash Tun with some heads, dancing on a table to passed out in the stables’. Another photo of a water waste pipe suggests the pipe’s angular cap is to ‘avoid chopping old people in half’. Others are more personal – ‘Tippy toes. On my way back from Devon. My dog Penny is the best and she now lives out there on a farm. Yes it’s a real farm, shut up’. While all tonally tongue in cheek, the captions contribute to that feeling of zooming in and out between being in the action and an outsider to it.

After the laborious process of making the books, which involved Meg ‘hand screen printing all of them and then blocking the title’ in gold foil, it’s perhaps no surprise that securing final copies felt ‘sooo good’. ‘I have a friend’, Joe said, ‘who messaged me saying he’s just had a little cry looking at the book. It just makes it so tangible’.

If you’re willing to risk shedding a tear and would like to buy a copy of Joe and Meg’s book ‘Just Passing Though’, click here. If you like to see what creative endeavours each of them get up to next, click here and here.

Words by Kate Bowie

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