What the hell you got, 2016?
3 August 2016
2016 will go down in history as a year of seismic political developments in the UK and US, and we will associate those events with a series of images which have scarred our retinas for life.
In the UK, photographs of Nigel Farage in front of his famous 'Breaking Point' billboard, Boris Johnson looking like some weird overgrown toddler strung up on a zipwire - waving his little Union Jack flags - and the young David Cameron in a dinner suit posing on steps in Oxford with the other Bullingdon boys all took on huge meaning.
Those photographs speak volumes - we can’t look at them now without remembering shameful lies, political corruption, and other toe-curling activities.
Meanwhile, the red face of Donald Trump with his weird yellow hair-do leers out at us from millions of social media posts and repetitive memes. What will the American people determine that this man will be remembered for? The rest of the world can only look on and quake in our boots.
The ongoing refugee crisis continues to deliver some of the most heinous images and film on record - the mountain of discarded life-jackets in Lesvos - and innocent, exhausted bodies washed up on European beaches.
As if all that wasn't bad enough, there's been a record number of deaths of much loved celebrities and musicians throughout 2016. Iconic photographs of some of the most important and talented cultural figures of the 20th and 21st century, who passed away this year, are imbued with new sentiment.
On a brighter note, the recent visual spectacle delivered by the producers of the Rio Olympics opening ceremony was a call to action on climate change - with a clear focus on the importance of nature to the survival of our species. Because we knew many millions of people around the world were watching, those dazzling animated colourful scenes beamed live to our screens inspired hope and solidarity. For a few moments.
Images relating to life-changing events which took place this year, both good and bad, will stay with us for decades to come.
So let's make more of the good stuff. Can we?
I have been working on two really exciting image-related projects so far this year, which both use strong satire via street art, photography and creative writing to draw attention to the fall-out of recent political events and encourage political expression.
Both projects are targeted at mass audiences.
In June, the We Are Europe group, conceived by Jonathan Porritt and Caroline Lucas to encourage young people to vote against Brexit, asked me to source a respected grafitti crew for a mural commission, intended as a lynchpin image for their campaign. I chose the uber-talented Paintsmiths who we have worked with in the past.
The resulting 'Kiss of Death' mural depicting Boris Jonnson kissing Donald Trump went viral around the world, almost before the paint was dry. It's an iconic image which will endure. Even in its short lifespan it has already taken on three different phases of meaning - from its original concept as a warning of the dangers of Brexit, to illustrating a growing feeling of fear in response to the result of the Brexit vote, to now serving as a reminder of something none of us saw coming - Boris Johnson made UK Foreign Secretary by our new PM, Mrs May.
The amazing 15' high image, made on a large wall on Stokes Croft - Bristol's most well known street for for grafiti art, is a take-off of the famous 1990 Berlin Wall mural 'My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love' by Dimitri Vrubel depicting Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in a fraternal embrace. That image was originally captured in an iconic photo taken during the 30th anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the German Democratic republic in 1979.
Just two months on, the now infamous 'Kiss of Death' Boris/ Trump mural has already received over 1,000,000,000 Internet hits through viral, international coverage.
This month, I'm launching a really exciting multi-faceted new photography-based project, 'Are We There Yet?' which has been a year in development. Its aim is to provoke original thought, untarnished by media intervention, and to encourage political activity.
More coming soon on that!
The title for this blog article is taken from a song in ‘Hair’, the famous anti-Vietnam war theatre and film musical: “What the hell you got 1968, which makes you so damn superior? Aaaaaand gives me such a HEADACHE!”
Well I say pass the Nurofen.
2016 certainly isn’t finished with us yet.