Essex as a county has been historically judged by misguided stereotypes, summed up in the Spitting Image’s anthem, Essex is Crap. Radical Essex is an ongoing project dating back to 2016 that aims to uproot these malignant categorisations; it “re-examines the history of the county concerning radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture, and sheds light on the region’s vibrant, pioneering thinking throughout the twentieth century”.
At the end of June, Radical Essex was released in stunning printed form by Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea. The publication seeks to tell “an alternate story”, to what we’d classically hear in The Only Way Is Essex. At times images are tiled upon beautiful pages of marbled ink, which see branches of pink, blue and green spread out like landforms. The custom typeface, designed by Fraser Muggeridge Studio, has been morphed subtly and simply; with the "o"s often replaced by diamonds, suggesting mystic and alternative roots. The book explores and “celebrates the extremes of this innovative and experimental county”, Joe Hill, co-editor explains. “From early modernist architectural experiments to worker colonies and pacifist communities”. Trapped between the city and sea, Essex became a “form of escape, a testing ground for experimental ways of living”. Examples include Tolstoyan communes, the anarchist-pacifist open house Dial House and the religious retreat of Othona Community.
The publication is accompanied by gorgeous photography from the award-winning photographer Catherine Hyland. As well as images documenting the at times brutalist, modernist architecture, the book also features a new series of work, People of Othona. With her signature soft, light colour palette, the portraits are intimate and striking. As the subject stares at the viewer, we share a personal moment. Founded by RAF chaplain, Norman Motley, the Othona community works within a religious framework, set off-grid by the sea. With slight blue and green tones, Catherine’s images are reminiscent of the ocean, carefully capturing this tone.
The county “also lays claim to being the birthplace of British modernism, with the country’s earliest building in this style built on the outskirts of Braintree”. Throughout its pages Radical Essex is laced with striking examples of the county’s architecture. The innovative buildings are captured by Catherine, striking a calm and melodic tone.
Radical Essex is available at Focal Point Gallery or online via Cornerhouse Publications
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