Having a word with… Les Monaghan

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Les Monaghan is a photographer based in Doncaster. His interest is in society, with a particular interest in those that are deprived and affected by recent changes in political policy. His current project, Relative Property is an investigation into a few of the more than a million people that are living in destitution in the UK today. His aim is to engage with and truthfully represent  a subject that is continuously misrepresented in mainstream media, in order to make the public aware of the struggles that millions more in poverty are moving closer to facing on a daily basis.

Where did you study photography?

I took photos as a kid and they all had camera shake. At Doncaster Art College studying graphic design I enjoyed the dark room and printing (I was mediocre), the teacher was uninspiring but he did get excited about an essay I wrote on Tim Page – the only interesting book I remember in the library. I didn’t go to Uni till much later, I studied on the fantastic (and now defunct) History of Film, Photography and Graphic Media. Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Tagg’s The Burden of Representation were the core of the course. Two modules were with John Taylor, Uses of Photography I and II, it was awesome, he’d already published A Dream of England and we saw the research for Bodyhorror. John Taylor’s thinking has probably filtered into most of my work. I did a Practice module, we had tasters  and then I chose a couple of years worth of photography. We didn’t get anything like the help that you would expect – it was solely tutorials – but my tutor did note that I had ‘an eye’. I would take 3 to 4 monographs home a week; Paul Graham, Martin Parr, Chauncey Hare, Chris Killip, John Davies, Peter Fraser, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Bill Owens, Karen Knorr, John Kippin and Victor Burgin are who stuck in my head.

What inspires you to create your work?

Inspiration is from what I see and what bothers me, I got particularly aggrieved by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report on destitution published last Spring, and by the reaction it did and didn’t get. That anger sustains me even now, as the Relative Poverty project drags on.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the UK today?

The scene is what it is, the people who would get ahead in any other business or industry get ahead. A friend once said to me, “there are so many great photographers we haven’t heard about”, I think he’s right.

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What format do you like to shoot in and why?

Like most people my age I started in 35mm film, from press days I was always pushing film. I tried some medium format but I’ve been happy with the practical quality of DSLR since 2010, Nikons are pretty good in low light.

What is keeping you busy photographically these days?

Relative Poverty takes most of my time currently but its been a struggle to fund, so I continue to take community based work and I’m grateful that there still is some to be had. Today I spent an hour or so with one of my families shooting as we walked through town. Tomorrow I have some commissioned portraits to make. Wednesday I’ll spend the morning with one family and the afternoon with another.

Images from Relative Poverty and The Desire Project (2015-16).

You can follow Les on his blog here:

http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.co.uk

and follow and support Relative Poverty here:

http://www.relativepoverty.org/