An instant can upset age-old balances but also trigger a new chain of events. With Rhythms From the Metroplex, photographer Jermaine Francis tries to capture the incessant flow of crowds in large metropolises, driven by the rhythm of Detroit techno. This ‘story in pictures’ focuses on the streets of New York and London, their teeming vitality, before the Covid-19 epidemic broke out.
The image for Jermaine Francis is not neutral and impartial but a process of external stimuli. What seems random is not, the iterations of similar elements indeed suggest that there is something constantly returning in the Metroplex. Jermaine Francis attempts to deconstruct the gaze of the viewer/spectator who reads and observes his shots. Has he succeeded?
Jermaine Francis and the Detroit techno: «Music has a symbiotic connection to Photography»
Let’s start with the title of your book, there are two important words: ‘rhythm’ and ‘metroplex’. what do these words mean to you as an artist?
The title of the book has duality’s and interactions in the reading and references. Metroplex is a term that refers to a large urban area which is formed of 2 more cities and their suburbs but also their interconnections and interdependence. They are single entities but they also at the same time can rely on shared resources , have economic ties and also infrastructure. It also refers to the Detroit techno label Metroplex created by Juan Atkins, hence the reference of colours and design of the cover of the book.
Detroit itself a metropolitan city, I had made the images listening to the sounds of Detroit techno which Segways into Rhythm part of the title. Music has had a symbiotic connection to Photography, Roy DeCarava, Lee Friedlander, Carrie Mae Weems are just a few examples. Detroit Techno has many properties similar to jazz, patterns, beats, improvised but with very deliberate arrangements. The strategy of repetition presents more information but this information for the viewer may or may not confirm or may disrupt the viewer’s ability to anchor down the meaning. These rhythms can be harmonious and also simultaneously present feelings of dissonance.
«In London and New York you can be in a crowd of people but be totally alone and invisible, but also surveyed»
Why do you switch from London to New York as if they were the same conurbation? What do you see as being similar? Are there differences instead?
Both London and NYC have some similarities, they are cities whose inhabitants are from a wide range of ethnic and social demographics, and in the center of the cities there is very much a street culture. Things happen on the street daily, people can walk and experience the city. You can be in a crowd of people but be totally alone and invisible, but also surveyed.
The interconnection of transportation, the metro in Nyc or the Underground as we call it in London. It also has many differences, NYC has always felt like a 24 hour city that London never quite has and only really more so in recent years. Nyc’s energy on the street is crazy, there is something going on all the time. London feels way more polite, and subdued, when I have returned from New York, London feels a bit tame in comparison.
Which neighbourhoods did you choose for your photographic investigations?
At first I did not choose neighbourhoods, specifically, I did not go with ‘I am going to the centre of a neighbourhood’. Then the work evolved, Harlem for example has a rich cultural history, the Harlem Renaissance as a Black American Cultural creative experience and influences not just in America but also this influence has been felt across the world, and vice versa. Bank in The City of London itself has obvious significance, its global relationship of commerce, its history, in terms of influence and what as a space it symbolizes. I see these spaces sometimes as protagonists for a wider dialectical discourse. Notting Hill-London is another example and has been a space that encompasses the narratives of working class British experience, the Black British experience which are combined not separated. The Carnival is an embodiment of the relationship and all its nuances. Historically and contemporary.
«An image is the product of external stimuli. In this project ther will always be a context of my own identity»
An image is not unbiased, but it is interpreted through the social, cultural, and political lenses that view it. Do you want to transform the racist, opportunistic, white heterosexual look into a gaze that can transform reality into a more inclusive place? How does your photography seek to enhance the human trait?
Yes, you are correct in the sense the image is not neutral and unbiased, it is reading and production is a process of external stimuli. In this particular project, there will always be a context of my own identity, even if it is ambiguous, as my own negotiation of space is compromised. It reminds us that I do not occupy the same space historically as the “White Photographer” does, more specifically the white male practitioner.
I think the image strategies in this book interrogate and deconstruct the viewer of the image into a place to question ‘the white male gaze’. I am not quite sure I can make those claims. If you, as a reader, feel that the work does this I am happy for this reading to be made. Although visibility of a Black demographic like myself is important in terms of inclusivity, this alone does not guarantee more of a sense of inclusivity. It also takes into consideration black, brown or any marginalized, minority groups and that their work can be read and be valued beyond just a narrow reading of race.
Our work can be read as this and potentially of more, for example in this the imagery is of a wide demographic, who are white, non white, of different genders and age. There are conversations of aesthetics, class, photographic strategies and so on, which can position the viewer beyond just the binary reading of race. It can be one and all.
Jermaine Francis and the “random rapaciousness of the lens”
Your photos are stolen outdoor shots, they capture the incessant movement in the streets, the random encounters at crossroads. They snap people whose identities we don’t know, going about their daily lives. It could be me walking there or even you. What fascinates you about this random, rapacious lens?
I am not sure I would describe them as ‘stolen outdoor shots’? In many ways we act as protagonists in the narratives of the city, it could be me or it could be you. It is also about this idea of the romanticism of the street photographic myth of the everyday. There is not one “magic” moment here but iterations of a moment. The description of the “random rapaciousness of the lens” suggests some kind of immaculate moment of conception. Images are not random, it is the repetition of scenes that are similar. The presentation of iterations, sequenced on the page, the repetition can suggest, also emphasize, something that is not random and does present any simple true stable description.
What I am more interested in are the layers, as I mentioned earlier, is the image, in how the viewer interacts, in the production and reading of meaning, and in the meanings. That the existence in spaces can be messy, with complicated narratives. It also plays with the notions of Photography being descriptive, metaphorical, or the capacity to connote a sensation.
Are you originally from Jamaica? How important are your roots to you in a world that easily forgets the past and where it comes from? What are the struggles you carry, day-to-day?
No, not myself, my parents were originally born in Jamaica, I was born in Britain, so originally I am from the West Midlands. I hold both the heritage of Jamaica and of British Culture. These two countries are maybe geographically separated; they are intertwined, culturally and historically. I am part of the generation of multiculturalism. I would deny those roots are forgotten, the question itself of where I was originally from articulates this reminder of who belongs in a Western space. As a Black person there is always a reminder of where you came from, and how you are positioned, even if you are born or a citizen, directly and indirectly at times. This experience can be schizophrenic, where the amplification of one’s place of belonging and non-belonging can be louder or more subdued.
A journey through the world of Post Industrial Britain: Jermaine Francis’ future project
Any of your new projects you care to tell us about?
I have a Video piece and installation made with Paris Gallery, Galeriepcp, about to be screened at the end of the year in Paris. It takes the viewer on a hallucinogenic, non linear journey through the world of Post Industrial Britain, vià dancefloors archive material, recently filmed scenes by myself together with Photographic stills. I will also be showing some new work dealing with the English Landscape in a group show called Soulscapes early next year at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, curated by Lisa Anderson.
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