Chris Bethell began his MA photography project The Duke of Earl when he was six. Desperately vying for attention with his classmates, Chris crafted an increasingly elaborate pack of lies around his family history. His mum had been born in Boston, a fact which fascinated Chris as a child, and soon he had everyone believing he’d started life there too. A regular character in Chris’ extravagant stories was his fictional view of hs grandfather “the Duke of Earl”, who Chris re-imagined as a jazz musician.
In reality, photographer Chris (who now counts Buzzfeed, Vice, Dazed, i-D, Metro, Refinery29, The Telegraph and The Wire among his clients) had never been to America until last year when he decided to trawl across the country’s east coast in search of his real life identity for his MA project turned book The Duke of Earl. The little lies of Chris’ youth had turned into an actual belief — albeit a belief of a fantasy — and, at the age of 23, he wanted to find the truth. The resulting photographs flit between the “real” country of his ancestors and the imagined America of the photographer’s childhood.
It’s Nice That’s editor Owen noted on seeing the work that “the photographer has actually gone out of their way to find people, rather than wait to encounter them.” It’s true: the images and their characters embody the strange sense of being lost and found all at once.
Chris’ work will be available to view tomorrow night at The Print Space gallery as part of Trajectory Graduate showcase.