This new publication by British documentary photographer, Anna Fox, could be seen as a mid-career retrospective and one that is perhaps been a long time coming. A comprehensive study of Fox’s work (the first, despite many previous publications), the book includes impressive essays by Jason Evans, David Chandler and the editor, Val Williams and focuses on 13 major bodies of work; early graduate projects to current, more personal practices. From the early 80’s school of the “YBP’s”, (Young British Photographers) Fox studied at the West Surrey College of Art & Design under Martin Parr and Paul Graham. No surprises then that this book shows influences of these new colourists and a tendency towards capturing the absurdity of middle class England.
Photographs 1983 – 2007 is quite a hulk of a book. Large scale, vivid photographic reproductions are contextualized by the presence of brief explanatory texts and each individual project is bestowed roughly 10 images apiece. The book begins chronologically with Fox’s early critical documentary work, including Basingstoke (conceived whilst still at university) and Workspaces, a playful and ironic look at the average office environment at the height of Thatcherite Britain, which, with it’s sardonic captions and 80’s cringe-factor delivers the same uncomfortable punch as Martin Parr’s “Sign of the Times”. In a later project, “The Village”, Fox makes a mockery of the local village women, portraying them almost warrior like; shot from gawky angles with violent gestures, open mouthed, balding and pink. Fox makes no excuses for this somewhat cruel treatment of her subjects which she wields like a weapon of revenge against her own experiences.
The book illustrates Fox’s aptitude to totally immerse herself in her subject matter, something more akin to performance artists such as Sophie Calle than a traditional documentary photographer. This book also showcases many of the projects in which she blurs the awkward line between herself and her subject matter, habitually recording like a diarist rather than documenting or observing. Cockroach Diary, 41 Hewitt Road and My Mother’s Cupboards & My Father’s Words are all bodies of work that are utterly frank and surprisingly refreshing. The most unexpected is 41 Hewitt Road, an honest record of Fox’s shambolic mid-1990’s home. You could be forgiven for originally thinking these photographs were documenting a residence close to demolition, or perhaps at best, a squat. To find that a typical middle-class family resides here is amazing. To find out it is the photographer’s record of her own family home is simply astounding. Most people air their dirty laundry in the comfort of their own homes; Fox makes a spectacle of hers.
Photographs 1983 – 2007 spans some twenty years of photographic career, and Fox shows no sign of stopping. The book reveals her ease at developing interesting and unusual projects (the simple kind we all wished we’d thought of) through personal experiences and encounters. The success of the book, however, is to see the development of Fox’s thought processes and how she has successfully moved from critical documentary photographer to compulsive diarist.