Our Instagrammer in Residence project invites emerging Instagrammers from around London to experience life at the Barbican and share their photography on our social channels and also in a digital exhibition throughout the Centre.
Our second Instagrammer in Residence is London-based Dolly Brown (@londonlivingdoll), whose Instagram feed invites us on beautiful, minimalist journeys as she takes us to art exhibitions, dance rehearsals and architectural discoveries.
We talk to her about what makes a good picture, what photographs Degas would have taken in the age of Instagram, and how the Barbican Centre inspires her.
How would you describe your style of photography?
I’m drawn to shapes, lines and colours and tend towards a minimalist, carefully composed style that focuses on details, where the part becomes a metaphor for the whole. The foot or the elbow of the dancer rather than the whole dancer, for example, or the frame and a section of a painting rather than the whole painting.
“When you are on the estate or in the arts centre, it feels as if the rest of the city has receded into the distance…”
What inspires you about the Barbican and its neighbourhood?
I’ve always thought of the Barbican as an oasis in the middle of the City of London. In some ways, you are right in the thick of things, with the London skyline rising all around, but at the same time, when you are on the estate or in the arts centre, it feels as if the rest of the city has receded into the distance. I love the way that the estate has been designed to shut out noise from the surrounding streets and to create public places of leisure and rest that in some ways feel private. I also quite like that the estate feels a bit like a warren. While it can be confusing for the uninitiated, there is a sense of pride and achievement that comes from working out all the quickest ways across, through, into and out of the arts centre and the estate. After many years of going to the arts centre and wandering the area, I’ve come to know it well. In some ways it feels like home even though I don’t actually live there! I do dream of retiring to a flat in the estate one day and going to the symphony every night.
What makes a good picture?
In a word, complexity, whether that is visual complexity or complexity of concept or idea or ideally, both. I’ve recently been looking at the Magnum photographer Alex Webb’s pictures, and every single one is like a punch in the face. There is so much going on in each image – both visually, with multiple subjects in fore, middle and background, and conceptually, with several competing or contradictory ideas present in each frame. They transcend in some ways the time and place in which they were taken while at the same time being completely rooted in the locale. Pictures like this are more than just pictures – they are art.
“I always love the process of taking the photos more than anything that comes after it.”
Which one of your photos are you most proud of, and why?
I’m probably proudest of the dance photographs I’ve made. It’s a wonderful thing when a choreographer invites you into the studio and trusts you enough to let you document their process. I always love the process of taking the photos more than anything that comes after it, though. By the time I’m posting the photos the glow of creating them has already gone. The series I think is the most beautiful was taken in a converted abbey in Suffolk, of a rehearsal of a site-specific work by the Canadian choreographer Robert Binet(@rbinet). The space was split-level, and some of the dance was intended to be seen from above and some from ground level, with the intention that the audience would be encouraged to move around the space and the dancers. The day I went the entire space was suffused with this gorgeous high summer light and the pictures just made themselves.
Which five Instagram accounts should everyone follow?
@dalberda – Devin Alberda is a dancer with New York City Ballet who is in my opinion the finest dance photographer out there today. His pictures eschew the stagey perfection or fetishisation of the (typically female) dancer that you see in a lot of dance photography and really show what life backstage and the working life of a dance company is like. Whenever I look at his pictures they make me think, if Degas had been a photographer (and a dancer!), these are the kind of pictures he would have taken. Sadly, Devin is now prevented by the management of the company from taking any further pictures, but he continues to post images from his extensive archive on his feed.
@bandini3000 – Guy Bolongaro documents the inner city in an almost minimialist, super-saturated style. He always hones in on an unexpected detail and he gets close in. You feel that he identifies with the people he shoots in the street. His images are always surprising, always interesting, always strange and always excellent.
@oggsie – Olly Lang is the first person I met through Instagram who challenged and trusted me to think differently about Instagram and photography. From the earliest days of Instagram, he was one of the first advocates of the merits of mobile photography, particularly in the context of street photography. He thinks conceptually about photography and social media in ways that have pushed me to think more deeply and to look more carefully.
@nickyhirst63 – Nicky Hirst is a London-based visual artist with an eye for the beautiful and interesting details that most people never see. Whether it is tiles, window panes or evidence of living things having pushed beyond or worked around the man-made environment (a series of hashtags #accommodate63), her images always delight me.
@thisaintartschool – This photography community run by Anika Meier (@gert_pauly) and Jorg Sengers (@jorgsengers) is what Instagram was made for – bringing people together through images. They run ‘assignments’ inspired by various great photographers, such as Candida Hofer, Martin Parr, Saul Leiter, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Stephen Shore to name just a few, encouraging people to engage in that positive feedback loop of looking at photography, taking pictures, looking more, shooting more.
Follow us on Instagram @barbicancentre to see more of Dolly’s photography in the coming weeks.