Jack Fleming's photographic work pivots on the idea of masculinity and male identity. Fleming's most recent work focuses on subjective exploration of masculinity, by visiting sterotypically known environments such as football grounds, pubs, car garages, boxing gyms and more. Fleming's work captures his subjects in a raw yet intimately powerful moments and is truly one to watch.
So tell me a little about yourself and how you started in photography?
My name is Jack Fleming. I am originally from Bristol but I have been in Brighton for the last three years on the Photography course here at the University. I began with drawing and I just found myself using a camera more and more. Probably because I’m quite impatient.
How are you finding University, what is your opinion on education in photography?
Its not for everyone, but I think for me personally I have learnt invaluable amounts. I have had some really important conversations with tutors and been given advice I wont forget. I also help out Ewen Spencer at his studio quite a lot and he has helped me enormously. So if i wasn't in Brighton I wouldn't have got that opportunity. That not university related but it kind of makes sense..
So how would describe the way you approach a series like this?
This is the longest project I have worked on to date without any breaks or interruptions. This sounds pretty cliché but to begin with I just go with what I’m drawn to and go from there. After time shooting I find common trends and look at what I’m actually photographing. Then bits of planning and communicating come into play. In this case that would be calling the boxing gyms and community centre’s to gain access. I admire people that can plan work they are about to make from the off.
What was it that drew you to this area in the first place?
In the early stages I found some statistics about the level of crime in Whitehawk in the early 2000’s that caught my eye. Tom Wichelow did a fantastic project around that time about Whitehawk being one of the first places in the UK to have residential CCTV put in place. It does have a bad reputation for itself because of that and I wanted to get my head around why.
Walking around the area, in places it lacks attention. But its not really that bad. So this was a conversation I had with myself for a while about youth and crime and the reputation of the area. I say this to people quite a lot but I looked through my work from the past 3 or 4 years, and I found all of my work is about men. Whether that be gang violence, drag queens, boxers or what ever else is in there. I had a long think about the themes which I hadn't previously paid any attention to. With that in mind I wanted to make work which was obviously an exploration of male Identity. Grayson Perry’s book the descent of Man and Jack Urwin’s Man Up have had a big part to play in the making of this work also.
Why do you suppose you have focused heavily on men in your work?
Because I am a male, and I share something with these people. Of course there are infinite reasons why it might be, and as it is only recently I have begun thinking about why. There are probably reasons which I haven’t considered yet, but the very core of it is just a genuine interest in people I share interest and similarities with, or perhaps something which I want to learn about. The camera allows me to get involved in new situations.
You manage to get stuck in the action and create images that become striking and personal, how do you go about interacting with your subjects?
It’s about feeling comfortable I think. It takes time to gain peoples trust and respect but once I have got that I think that’s when I make my best work. Another thing I find key is once the work is viewable to take them a print. That way others see what the work looks like and become interested in also being a part in the project as well.
Would you say that you have found your style? Or are you still working through and finding it?
In the previous comment I mentioned a light bulb moment of this theme of I had discovered, i think I have definitely pin pointed the central focus now. I think I am making progress but in terms of style and coherence I still have a lot to work on but it’s all positive.
Do you have any particular morals or ethics you stand by when photographing?
Not really. Because it’s a two-way thing and people that participate generally have an idea of my intensions so there isn’t ever an issue really. Good questions though I haven’t thought about that too much.
In the time you have spent on this series, have you developed different perceptions of Whitehawk since photographing? Or I guess better put, did you have any preconceived ideas before starting out?
What I am trying to convey in this work is a young man’s experience of these heavily stereotypical male environments. I chose Whitehawk because of the the accessible hubs for males to spend time in. However I have spent a lot of time in the community and as much as I knew the place had a bad reputation, my experience right from the early stages always contradicted that.
What do you look at for inspiration? Is it other photographers or do you find inspiration through other means?
I find myself looking at George Shaw’s paintings time and time again. I buy a lot of books and magazine’s. I like being able to just pick something off the shelf at home. I don't go to enough exhibitions but when I do that experience usually sticks for a while. Big influences have to be the likes of Doug Dubious, Ken Grant, Zed Nelson and before I started working for Ewen he was a bit of a hero for me. I had a stupid fanboy moment when I first started and split coffee all down my white t-shirt. Definitely a big influence. Others like Depardon, Parr etc as well.
What is next for you?
I don’t know really I'm just thinking about wrapping this stuff up at the moment. Im just really looking forward to starting a few new side projects and meeting new people. Something which includes masculinity, modernisation and beer. Urinals tick all of those boxes so perhaps that.
One To Watch
Words by James Wrigley
Photography by Jack Fleming
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