Tales From The Laundrette is a new project from Katherine Green, documenting personal life in these humdrum local spaces with astute and specific images capturing the everyday moments. A social documentary photographer based in London, Katherine’s work focuses on the idea of community, and the bonds which forge those communities. Her work has been published in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, and she has exhibited at National Portrait Gallery, British Library and The Lowry. Tales From The Laundrette will be shown at two launderettes in Walthamstow, London during the E17 Art Trail, running from 30 May – 14 June 2015.
Drawn by the images and intrigued by the idea, I caught up with Katherine to find out more.
The laundrette has died out in many ways, with only a small few using it on a regular basis – do you think something has been lost by the laundry going in house, as it were?
The laundry is such a social place with a huge diversity of people, it’s a mixture of people – some who don’t have room for a washing machine or dryer in their home, or they’re living in temporary accommodation or they’re more affluent but their washing machine has broken. It’s a neutral space where people come together, some regularly, they chat, laugh, read, help each other or catch up on emails etc. For some of the older customers I met, it might be one of their only social interactions during the week. To find such a diversity of people in one social space is rare and special. This interaction and exchange will be lost if laundry’s were to disappear completely.
What does personal and social observations in apparently ordinary and insignificant situations tell us about the macro social and political situations in the world?
Blimey!!.. that’s a big question, I hope this answers it to some extent. What particularly interests me when I’m working is people and places that fall below or outside marketing targets, and people and places who don’t appear in the mainstream media because they’re not necessarily attractive to marketeers or advertisers. I think the people that visit here, and the people that I capture in most of my projects are important and should be reflected in the media, and represented. So much of what we do, where we go, how we dress, what we buy etc is dictated by marketing – whether we realise it or not. When people aren’t represented, it’s important to ask why. I think in this way, capturing an aspect of life and people otherwise overlooked, is a small political statement.
The piece will be accompanied by a soundtrack by music producer Hugo Slime – where did the idea to blend the two mediums come from, and what does it offer?
The sounds of the launderette are so rhythmic, and the snippets of conversation that you hear between the noise of the machines seemed ripe for making into an audio track. I often work with oral history and have short interviews alongside work, but in this instance I wanted to take that further and make a soundtrack that you listen to and immerse yourself in whilst you’re in the laundry. I couldn’t do that myself so I approached a music producer to commission a soundtrack. it’s been quite a challenge for him because the noises are quite ‘muddied’, there’s lots going on at the same time, and he was used to working with really crisp, clean audio! The soundtrack creates an atmosphere and I think, encourages visitors to listen and soak up the atmosphere as well as look.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from where I live and how it’s changing. I live in suburban East London. It’s not proper East End although there are/were elements of that. Over the past 10-15 years, there’s been a steady gentrification. Older ‘unfashionable’ institutions are being ‘improved’ and modernised, many long term residents are having to move away because of the rising cost of living here. There’s traditionally been great characters in this area, full of bravado, tall tales and laughs. A real tradition of story telling and tall tales. For me, something of the community – which has always been strong here – is being lost, commercialised and cleaned up. It’s loosing character and I want to preserve and record that character where possible.
How do you know when a photo will be art, social comment, or a random and wasted snap?
I don’t always I suppose! I try to take as many photographs as possible on film, the act of using a medium format camera means you work quite slowly and select a shot with more thought that if you were shooting on digital. I like the way this allows me to engage with people more. The context you display work in often changes the meaning, and so by presenting work in an exhibition, I suppose I am presenting it as art.
Can you tell me a bit about your previous work, and how this collection is an evolution?
My previous work has all been about engaging with the community and recording aspects of community life and history that wouldn’t otherwise be documented, people and places that fall outside media spotlight and interest.
I previously documented the last few months of Walthamstow Dogs Stadium, a well loved institution which had over 500 local employees and closed in 2008; for the Olympics I was involved in two major projects, the first was a personal project where I tracked down and documented elderly members of the 1948 Olympic team – photographing and recording their stories, the second was a three-year commission from National Portrait Gallery, called ‘Road to 2012: A local story’ where I photographed grass roots olympic sports in the olympic boroughs. Both these projects were shown as exhibitions. The most recent project was a year long residency on a housing estate in North Cambridge, working with a group of young girls and older residents, I put on an exhibition in collaboration with both which looked at how a new community forged it’s identity and the particular characters who led the way.
This project is a continuation of those interests in community and community bonds. In practical terms, as I recently had a baby I was looking for a warm dry place I could sit with her safely and take photos, and I had a long time interest in the life of launderettes and the nostalgic look and feel of them. This project is a celebration of the wonderful diversity of people who I met, and who meet each other each week, their generosity and openness in allowing me to photograph and record them is amazing.