Photographer Josh Wilks first got his hands on a camera about four years ago as a Christmas present from his friend, renowned makeup artist Isamaya French. At the time, the collaborators desperately needed someone to shoot some concepts for them, and it was then that fellow photographer David Sims suggested: “Shoot it yourself then.” Once Josh picked up the camera, he already knew exactly what he wanted to do with it. He tells It’s Nice That: “For me, concept and plot is the driving force behind any shoot and as I despise having to do the same thing twice, I’ll unscrupulously adapt my visual style accordingly.”
For the latest issue of Ordinary Magazine, Josh presents the viewer with a confident self-taught style of photography imbued with humour and metaphor. Created by Max Siedentopf, whose work is characteristically mischievous, and Yuki Kappas back in 2016, the publication’s eighth issue asked us to look again at the ubiquitous loo roll. Each issue revolves around a different household item and for the loo roll edition, Josh took the opportunity to “do something that would probably get red flagged anywhere else” because he knew the editor had a particularly subversive sense of humour.
“So I asked my artist friend Emily to build me some assault rifles out of toilet rolls while I went about imagining a scenario where children have well informed, real-world motivations behind their games of cops and robbers,” says the photographer. Drawing on historical references and recognisable imagery, Josh hopes the viewer will recognise some of these references within the compositions and “derive some amusement from it.”
Titled Give me E numbers or give me death!, Josh’s shoot purports to the Occam’s Razor principle that “perfection tends towards simplicity”. He ended up contributing only one photograph to the magazine that Josh felt “encapsulated everything [he] wanted the shoot to be about”; that image being a reimagining of the famous photograph by Eddie Adams, taken in Saigon. But this also meant that Josh ended up wasting ten days painting a huge Ulster loyalist style mural that he used as a backdrop for some of the other images.
Also acting as a stylist on the shoot, Josh took inspiration from a series of “amazing photographs of women in the IRA who all looked so elegant with their long hair and sombre uniforms while holding deadly M16 rifles. I found the juxtaposition of beauty and danger to be quite compelling,” adds Josh. Extending these visual contrasts into his own work, the photographer combines childish naivety with the politically charged references. He even slipped a copy of the The Communist Manifesto in between some Harry Potter books for the shoot.
“As for the slogans,” explains Josh, “it didn’t make sense to reference groups like the ETA or the IRA exactly, so I had the kids come up with some of the messages themselves,” he says of the naively scrawled slogans stating “More TV, less reading” and “More sweets!” (Spelt wrong with a charming love heart as the exclamation mark’s counter.) Specifically casting redheads as a nod to the historical conflict between Anglo-Saxon’s and Celtic’s, Josh finally remarks on how the kids were “very easy to work with – better than a lot of adult models actually.” He even gave them the loo roll guns and berets to take home to play with as they were enjoying them so much.”
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