I love the fact that the Fringe is making use of Brighton’s churches. In this most aetheist (officially!) city, there are many small churches discretely tucked away, some of them no longer in use. For the next biennial, the Fringe might productively communicate with the council with a view to inhabiting empty buildings across town (like the former synagogue on Middle Street) and keep the vast majority of Brighton Photo Biennial in Brighton (and Hove, of course).
In case you hadn’t gathered, Amelia Shepherd’s show Silent Voice occupies a small corner of one of these (still active) churches, the Chapel Royal on North Road. It’s an intensely personal and private meditation on the uprooted life of one asylum-seeker, Momo, an Algerian now living in Brighton The absence-of-presence style offers a respectful approach for the representation of a man who is still facing challenges in relation to race and culture as l’etrangere en ville. He sometimes pretends to be French, just because it’s culturally a much closer association for local people than his mother country.
The emptiness of the church seems fitting for what is at heart a story of loneliness, or certainly solitude. As an exhibition, the panels didn’t quite do justice to the extremely sensitive photographs. A handmade book proves a much more apposite vehicle for this story, which was very much a collaboration between photographer and subject, in that the voice of the subject, Momo, moves in and out of the oneiric images, by way of textual fragments, obviously drawn from extensive conversations and transcribed verbatim. This particular deployment of image and text works well for such a subject matter. While the images can convey a sense of isolation, and can also reveal something of a life lived, it is the words that tie the story to Momo and his very specific journey to Brighton as an immigrant. The result is a kind of poetic documentary that is being used productively by young photographers at the moment. Its quiet power lies in its ability to engage the observer through the poignancy of a small detail, as simple as a folded sheet beneath a pillow, revealing a glimpse of a life that would otherwise pass us by.