As a child, Irish photographer Enda Bowe was allowed to hold his mother’s twin-lens reflex camera in the pauses between the first communion portraits she took of pupils. “I never got to take pictures with her camera,” he recalls, “but I was often holding it, looking through the reversed picture frame, and losing myself with imagined images.” Today, Enda is a practicing photographer, having lived and worked in London for the past 20 years but he still credits his love of the medium to that early introduction. A documentary photographer, he was recently shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize for the second year in a row.
Storytelling is at the heart of each of Enda’s projects, which are concerned with “studies of people, their backgrounds, their myriad joys and sorrows, and speak of longing, yearning, aspirations and vulnerabilities,” all this and the “search for light and beauty in the ordinary.” These are fascinations that formed when he received his first camera aged 12; a small Kodak pocket camera.
“Looking back to that time, that camera became my vehicle for quietly engaging with the people and environments that surrounded me, it helped me to form meaning with the world through feeling the wonder and total beauty of the every day through the concentration of looking through the camera’s viewfinder,” Enda tells It’s Nice That. And engaging with others still very much guides his practice. “One of my favourite things through the process of working in the photographic medium is entering worlds and peoples lives you never dreamt of knowing, boundaries are crossed, friendships are made, and work is created,” he continues. “It is a beautiful gift and one of the most amazing things about working with photography.”
One of Enda’s ongoing projects is titled Clapton Blossom; a series which embodies these notions. Produced on a housing estate in east London, Clapton Blossom documents the inhabitants of said estate through portraits taken under one cherry tree. “[It] is a celebration of humanity and social diversity at a time when walls are being built between nations and political dialogue encourages us to mistrust each other,” Enda explains.
The series was inspired by a series of ten short films by Polish director, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Dekalog, in which each film portrays a different resident of the same housing estate in Warsaw. Enda tells us: “Kieślowski illustrates how although each character may not know one another, their lives become subtly intertwined as they face emotional dilemmas that are at once deeply personal and universally human.” In turn, Clapton Blossom is a snapshot of a diverse community and the shared experiences of those within it.
On the composition of the images, Enda explains: “These portraits reverse the standard narrative of estates as grim, grey urban places by showing the evident beauty and vulnerability in each person photographed, the back of a head, eyes closed, an open, unguarded expression, hinting at the universality of human experience. The portraits celebrate multiculturalism, the beauty and heart of humanity.”
The tree only extends these concepts, acting as a metaphor for connection; the overlapping and intersecting of lives. “The explosion of blossom reminds us of the democratic and levelling beauty of nature,” the photographer continues. “Enhancing the lives of everyone who passes it, it connects us, it is given to us all, it does not ask who we are nor where we are from. The tree and flowers, amidst the concrete, evoke a psychic commonality; by highlighting the beauty in nature, we are asked to see the beauty in ourselves and in each other.”
Ultimately, Clapton Blossom is indicative of Enda’s practice and its ability to investigate and mediate on the human experience. He leaves us with a Bruce Davidson quote that sums up his approach to photography: “I start off as an outsider, usually photographing other outsiders, then at some point, l step over a line and become an insider.”
Enda’s image Neil from the series Love’s Fire Song will be on show at the National Portrait Gallery between 7 November 2019 and 16 February 2020 as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019.
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