Chris Mear. Five Years: A Reciprocal Tribute

Legacy: A Reciprocal Tribute is an artwork conceived by Patricia Swannell in response to The Woodland Trusts flagship Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee. Patricia’s artwork takes the form of a plinth, inviting local families to make an annual family photograph against the backdrop of the developing trees. Charting both the changes in their family and the changes in the landscape they collectively call home. Five years ago Staffordshire University graduate Chris Mear was commissioned to photograph this selected family in the same spot in Leicestershire each year. 2018 marks Chris's 5th year as the commissioned photographer.


I could agrue that 2014 was my most succesful year to date. I became an artist in residence, I published my first book and I landed a modest succession of commissions which just about saw me through the remainder of the year. It was, finally, the year that I could actually defend the claim that I was a “photographer” - a claim which I have to admit I’ve, more often than not, not had the confidence to defend. But when it all starts winding down and I’m sat in a tree looking back at my brief holiday on earth, I will most probably remember the year 2014 for one thing above all others - a commission that goes by the name of Legacy: A Reciprocal Tribute. A commission that, all being well, will see me well into what I’m told they used to call “retirement age”.

The London based, Canadian born artist, Patricia Swannell was asked to come up with a location based artwork for the Woodland Trust’s flagship commemoration of the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012 - that’s 60 years on the old thrown. Interestingly, what Patricia devised was a “photo point” in a carefully selected location within the wood - selected to compose people, trees and landscape. 

The idea was, to me at least, both beautiful, poigniant and simple. To chart the growth of yourself alongside the development of your family the woodland and the wider landscape.

Patricia also visited the woodland site in the early days of it’s post-industrial transition and collected 60 native plants and wildflowers from which she made 60 etchings to make up a permanent exhibition - which moves to a new home this autumn. Each year one of these etchings will be replaced by my portrait of the Martinson family, a local family who live just a pleasent evenings stroll away from the wood.

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This Sunday evening will be the fifth exposure, the fifth year. And so far each time I have made that walk to the photo point I have been unable to prevent my mind from thinking to the future; what will this all be like in 60 years time? This year however, I intend to try extra hard to not venture though my mind in some ludicrous attempt to construct an imaginary future. My rabbit of almost seven years died this week and I hope to pay respect to my friend, my best friend, and teacher by beginning to practice his most important teaching; Life Is Now.

So I will experience the woodland for what it is, a wild place where the two Martinson boys are growing faster than the trees. A place of peace and natural unity which leaves you feeling a sense of hope and optimism in a world dominated by a species that all to often seems intent on losing its remarkable mind.

How lucky I am, to have been in such a right place, at such a right time to land a photography gig like this.

Sophie Barbasch - Fault Line

For the duration of March we were seeking work from photography graduates alongside Loupe Magazine to reward with a collection of prizes and interviews. A lot of time was spent looking through the submissions and decisions were finally made. Here we present you with our second runner-up!

Sophie Barbasch is based in New York and studied for a MFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and a BA in Art and Art History at Brown University. We've interviewed Sophie here about the series Fault Line.


Fault Line is a project I am doing in the small coastal town of Brooklin, Maine. The protagonist is my younger cousin Adam, who lives there. I also photograph my brother, father, and other cousins. I chose the title because a fault line alludes to where the earth splits in an earthquake (a metaphor for a divided family with a complicated history) and also alludes to fault, or blame (I wonder, how does a family support each other, even when things aren't perfect?) My goal is to show the weight we all carry and how we are both connected and isolated from each other.

Image from the series  Fault Line

Image from the series Fault Line

Can you introduce yourself? What and where did you study? What's your motto? I’m a New York based photographer. I grew up here, and I also lived in Providence where I got my BA at Brown and my MFA at RISD. I don’t know if I have a motto per se, but I think it’s important to laugh as much as possible. In terms of work, I think a lot about how you just have to keep going, always, no matter what!  

Give us an overview of your work. What themes do you like to explore? Regardless of the project I have a preoccupation with the dissolution of structure. In my work, there is usually tension between a desired/expected outcome and an actual/different outcome. I like images because they elude the structure and clarity of language—but even in my text-based projects, I emphasise words that have multiple connotations. I make collections of writing with pieces that undo, or undermine, the other component parts (i.e. there is a building up of meaning, or an argument being made, that is then undone). This undermining of expectation, or structure, is not always negative/nihilistic. It’s just my way of addressing life’s ambiguity.

Image from the series  Fault Line

Image from the series Fault Line

What encouraged you to submit to the Loupe Magazine and Photograd call for work? Have you got any tips for photographers submitting work for similar opportunities? I really like both Loupe and Photograd so when I saw the call for work I was immediately interested. In terms of tips, I don’t think I’m the right person to ask! I submit to a lot of things, and rejection is almost a daily occurrence. I guess the key is just persistence, as with most things.

How did this series come to the surface? What initially drew you to the coastal town of Brooklin? I have family there so it has always been important to me. I started the project for a few different reasons. I was finishing up grad school with a lot of questions and issues that I felt like I needed to address in my work, and this project seemed to be a good fit. I was getting to know my cousin better as both a person and a photo collaborator and wanted to work more with him. And I had been traveling and moving around a lot in the years prior, which left me wanting to return to a home base of sorts.

Image from the series  Fault Line

Image from the series Fault Line

Is it important you use your family as characters in your work? What were their thoughts on your ideas? For a while I was trying to address elements of my childhood in my work but the connection wasn’t direct enough. I decided to use my family members and to think of them as characters that inhabit this place and develop over time. It started with a few images that seemed to get at what I was feeling, and then I realised that my cousin Adam was a good protagonist for the project because he seemed to share my experience and outlook. I speak the most to him and my other cousins about the project. Although they are not photographers, they are all artistic (musicians, writers, performers) so it is intuitive to them. I usually have the initial idea, but they help me develop it by improvising in the moment and suggesting other things. They motivate me and collaborate with me.

Image from the series  Fault Line

Image from the series Fault Line

Where did you final visual influence for Fault LineJo Ann Callis, Andrea Modica, Viviane Sassen, Ingmar Bergman, Collier Schorr, Jo Ann Walters.

As family and relationships continue to evolve, do you think you can ever call this series complete? I don’t think it will ever be complete. I think the longer you work on a project, the harder it gets—the more complex things get. This mirrors reality and relationships. You have to examine more of yourself and show more of others. I think of this series in chapters. Even when one chapter ends, there is another beginning.

Image from the series  Fault Line

Image from the series Fault Line

What are your future plans? I’m currently working on a project about the construction of a railroad in Brazil. As for the future future—I’m not sure! Projects tend to lead into each other, but sometimes it’s hard to know what it is until it’s almost finished.