Spurred on by the pandemic and its global implications, Samuel began to capture his home county of Devon, reflecting on industries already in decline and the impact of this and global crisis on local populations. Due to restrictions, he only traveled within 10 miles of his own home.
“The region is mostly in a state of perpetual decline and continues to be,” he says. “It’s not just the pandemic; it’s also the long-term cuts of successive governments. The impact of the coronavirus has exacerbated this decline, and we can see it both economically on a larger scale and locally in the streets. The money is being invested but not in the right areas. As a photographer, I think we tend to spot that where others don’t.
Throughout his series, we learn about seaside towns like Torquay, known as the English Riviera, where the upper classes enjoyed their vacations in the early 19th century. “The grandeur the area once had is long gone with an urgent need for rejuvenation,” continues Samual. “The old quarries on Dartmoor which produced slate for export around the world are now just an old tin shack in its place. The large building abandoned in the works is a former dairy and ice cream in North Devon.. It used to be one of the biggest dairy producers in Europe but it closed in the 1990s and was left derelict. I think it’s a good analogy between past and present.
These photographs are not just a reflection of South West England; they demonstrate Samuel’s concern for Britain as a whole and its place in the world. “When the UK entered the first major lockdown in March 2020, I realized the events unfolding across the planet were a moment of enormous significance, both economically and geopolitically. I knew that I wanted to do some work on what was happening in front of me, and working through some kind of major crisis has always been on my mind, but I never thought it would actually happen.”
“As the pandemic progressed,” he continues, “I started creating work in my area. I live in Torbay in Devon, so we’re mostly surrounded by sea and countryside, so everything I photographed had to involve the sea and use the notions of the island and isolation as a theme. We don’t have much infrastructure or anything substantial here, so a poetic and thoughtful response was l approach I intended to take. The project began as a simple landscape work, but quickly grew into a broader reflection on Britain’s place in the world as the pandemic and political situation were changing.
“As the rhetoric and posturing began to escalate between the US and China, I realized the balance of power in the post-Brexit world had shifted. The UK was caught on a rope steep with nowhere to go, while the United States seemed unable to respond.Everything our country needed, like PPE, covid testing and equipment, came from China, and we were completely dependent on factories located in countries far away to help us and literally save people’s lives. This widespread political unrest has got me thinking about Britain’s place in the world and the effects it will have on us in the future.”
The series includes Samuel’s friends or people he has met through acquaintances as well as local neighbors and interesting characters. One individual, named Tim, was someone he met on a VE Day walk through his neighborhood. “They were having a street party, and they kindly invited me to have a beer with them, socially distanced, of course. As the evening progressed, they rolled an old television down the aisle and we watched the Queen’s VE Day speech. They all sang the national anthem. It was quite a unique experience, but a photographer’s dream!”
What does Samuel hope people will get from the show? “I hope this will allow people to reflect on the events of the past few years, while inspiring them to make their voices heard to call for positive change in the future,” he concludes.
British documentary photographer based in Torbay, Samuel Fradley directs the South West Photography Collective which aims to promote photography in its region. He graduated from Plymouth University in 2018 with honours. Follow more of his recent work on instagram.