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Article: Mark Pinder Interview

Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Spennymoor, 1998 © Mark Pinder
Posted on: 27 June 2022

Joseph Spence talks to Mark Pinder about his exhibition Macromancy: Britain and the North East of England 1986 – 2022 at Hartlepool Art Gallery until 9 July, and his forthcoming book of the same title which is due to be published next year by Kerber Verlag.

Macromancy encompasses work created over 3 decades and explores the social political and economic changes that the UK has seen as a result of the ‘neoliberal project that Margaret Thatcher unleashed on coming to power in 1979.’

‘The project has its emphasis on my home region, the North-east of England, which has been hit hard by the social vacuum created with the destruction of the industrial working class and their communities, and how resentment, anger and betrayal weaves a complex web through the narratives of the present.’ Mark Pinder.

Joseph Spence: I am wondering about your process of reviewing and editing thirty-five years’ worth of work – was it a challenge?

Mark Pinder: It was somewhat difficult. I mean the way that I have always edited for exhibitions is to print up 5×7 or 6×4 prints, pin them on the wall and not spend ages staring at them but, looking for a little bit and thinking about the links between the pictures within the narrative. The narrative structure for me is actually as important as the pictures themselves. I expect that might be a hangover from my documentary photography studies at Newport many years ago.

JS: Can you tell me about the choice of the title and how it relates to your methodology?

MP: I think we have to look at where Macromancy comes from. It means ‘divination using large objects’- and relates to how I see smaller stories being woven into a much larger and broader narrative about British politics and society – how the micro feeds into the macro.

There are two issues here. It talks about the way that I work as a photographer, and you’ll get photographers like Chris Killip who will embed themselves very deeply into one story, which is kind of like working on the micro. And at the other end, you have paparazzi photography and the hard news photographers who spend very little time and it is like, where do you find yourself on that continuum between those two extremes?

I have got a very short attention span, so I don’t spend more than a day or a couple of days on any one particular story, unless it is really interesting.

JS: Coming back to the exhibition in Hartlepool, midway through the exhibition colour photographs are introduced.

MP: I moved back to Tyneside in July 1987. Nobody was interested in grainy black and white documentary photography anymore; everything was colour and brash. It was as much to do with money, I was skint at the time. I kind of regret not working in colour in those days but it was just due to the fact that I couldn’t afford it.

JS: There is a picture of Jeremy Deller holding a sign that says, ‘This photograph should be in colour.’ I was wondering if that had anything to do with the black and white documentary photography of the North?

MP: I mean I have not met him since and it is just one of those weird stories. I lived in London back in the mid 1980s. I had a job in a camera shop in South London and I stayed friends with some of the guys who worked there. When I moved back to Newcastle, there was a friend called John Smith who I had worked and was from Dulwich which is where Jeremy Deller went to college. Anyway, John had just passed his driving test and just jumped in a car to see all of his mates who lived in different parts of the country. He turned up at mine one night and with his friend called Jeremy. He made this sign and I lived in Scotswood at the time and we both went outside and photographed each other with each other’s cameras.

So, somewhere in his archives there is a couple of rolls of film that I took of him with that sign. I took some pictures of him and vice versa and so there is picture of me holding the sign taken by him. I put that picture in just as a joke about the conceits of photography.

JS: I was looking forward to asking you about that, it is a fascinating story.

JS: Can you talk about the exhibition structure and its relationship with the forthcoming book with Kerber? The work is split into three or four sections?

MP: Four sections, yes. I mean my main interest in photography is social documentary and politics, so I split it up into four chapters. Essentially, the Thatcher and Major years, then the new Labour years and then 2010 to present. That segues into the final section, which is the quieter, contemplative landscape work from the places that I have been to previously, which is a direction in which my work is moving.

I have taken Survival Programmes (Exit Photography Group, 1982), as a kind of reference in that there are around four or five chapters. That is what I referenced in the exhibition layout with the text panels such as, Things can only get better, and so that is going to be the chapter dividers. Rather than just using grey for the black and white section, there is a dark red for the new Labour, a dark blue for the Tory section and a green for the final section. So, the actual book itself is kind of going to emulate Survival Programmes in that it is going to be fairly simple. The idea is to launch the book at the NGCA show next January.

Mark Pinder (b.1966, Born Barrow in Furness, Cumbria) is a documentary and editorial photographer based near Newcastle upon Tyne in the North of England with over 3 decades of industry experience. Regular commissioning clients have included: The Guardian, Financial Times, The Independent, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Channel 4, BBC, Health Service Journal, Community Care, Unison and Unite.

Alongside his work for major national and international publications, Mark has chronicled social, political and economic changes and in Macromancy: Britain and the North East of England 1986 to 2022, he brings this work together to offer a unique insight into the impact of these changes on the region.

Macromancy: Britain and the North East of England 1986 –2022 runs until Saturday 9 July at Hartlepool Art Gallery. The show then travels to Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland and will be on display from 28 January – 26 March 2023.

A monograph of the same title will be published by Kerber Verlag in January 2023.