Bristol-based photographer Jamie Earle Murray can’t quite place his finger on what initially drew him to his chosen medium. “The funny thing about photography is you can very quickly get a sense of gratification in the early years,” he tells It’s Nice That, “You create a photo and it has a lot of the bare bones of the great photos, reality, spectacle, banality. It excites you, or at least it excites the child that feels unsure of their creativity.”
Today, Jamie’s work sits somewhere between documentary and fine art, telling stories which draw on ideas from history and folklore. His series’ take a subject, or subjects, and unpack them, forcing him to engage with them in a number of ways. “Making what can be considered documentary work on a series of contentious subjects I do my best to always enter situations without judgement,” he adds on this point. “The best thing about carrying a camera is that it is an excuse to walk into any situation that you would normally not feel at home in, to understand a bit more about those operating in a different environment to you.”
When exploring a subject, Jamie will do so organically. “I like to use the phrase guided circumstance,” he explains, “you have a rough idea of where you are going but you are open to whatever is thrown your way on the journey.” This occurred a while back when Jamie was trying to create a body of work on a ship. “After failing to be accepted onto residencies and having meetings with shipping companies cancelled, I had a stroke of luck and ended up on a navy warship,” he recalls. “The images from this ship hark back to elements of my original idea but they also gained new layers of meaning that I hadn’t considered during the inception of the work.”
“Guided circumstance” was also at play in his most recent work, and the one which caught our eye, Folly. The series began when Jamie became interested in the “spectacle of crime” and wanted to “approach the polarised notion of good and evil.” Thanks to his previous experience on the ship, he assumed he would be able to enter a prison to make work.
“Whilst planning this I also felt it pertinent to meet with ex-prisoners to get a grasp on their experience of the institution,” Jamie continues. “There was a moment where I realised that any access to a prison I received would be incredibly limited and unable to represent the experience of the prisoners. What I did have were these incredibly evocative conversations with ex-prisoners that represented much more than just the experience of prison, they were the journey of an individual who descended into that space and rose back out of it again.”
Folly, therefore tells these individuals’ stories in portraits borne from, and inspired by, their own words. The series is presented in diptychs, something which initially arose out of play but which quickly became a much more considered process. “Some images were referential to the conversations, some to traditional notions of good and evil,” Jamie tells us. With images of two birds, grass caught in a drift of sand and deer, the work raises questions around spirituality and philosophy: “a kind of soul searching that stems from a persistent theme in the conversations.” Ultimately, the series is a mediation on what happens to a person when they are institutionalised and, at some point, have to navigate reintegrating back into society. When the nature of these individual’s pasts become clear, the series, which is already imbued with an atmospheric serenity, becomes something much more moving, taking on a certain sombre.
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