David Severn is a social documentary and fine art photographer based in Nottingham. His work is concerned with the relationship between people and place. More specifically, how individuals and communities interact with or are affected by their environment. Within this context, he is particularly interested in working class culture and the places associated with it both historically and today.
David attended the event marking the end of Paa Joe’s month long artist residency at Clumber Park (in May 2013). We were wowed by his photos from the day and how they captured the spectacle and atmosphere of the procession.
We will be posting some of David’s Paa Joe photography alongside this but If you would like to see more of his work you can find him at www.davidsevern.com. He is also on Twitter and Instagram.
How did you get involved with the Paa Joe event?
David: I’d met Ben been during the World Event Young Artists festival (2012) in Nottingham, which we were both working on; Ben as filmmaker myself as a stills photographer. I was blown away by his WEYA film and was intrigued to hear of any future projects. I’m often at Broadway (where Ben has an office) working and drinking coffee in the CafeBar, so would run into Ben quite regularly and on one occasion he told me all about his plans for the Paa Joe residency and the documentary he’d been working on. I thought the whole project sounded amazing and very exciting, something I’d love to be a part of. When the residency had finally come to fruition, Ben came back to me about being involved and invited me to photograph the Paa Joe event at Clumber Park. I was keen to shoot in my own style, using film and a rangefinder camera, so excused myself from turning over tens of digital images, which Ben totally understood. This meant I had freedom to consider more carefully which moments I would photograph and more importantly, what I would not photograph!
What are your favourite memories of taking part in the project?
On a simple level, the beautiful weather that day, drinking nice beer and being with friends. I spent a lot of my childhood at Clumber Park too, it’s where I learnt to ride a bike, so going back there brought a lot of good memories to mind. In terms of the project though, I thought the journey from Nottingham added so much theatre and excitement to the day. It really felt like you were going as part of a community to witness this incredible spectacle in these very opulent surroundings. It was a major highlight of 2013 for me.
How would you describe your work and your approach to photography?
I describe myself as a social documentary photographer. My personal work takes the form of mid / long term projects whereby I explore place, culture, community and environment. I’m interested in the relationship between people and place, often pairing portraits with associated landscapes or interiors to build a narrative that suggests and hints rather than boldly describes. Coming from a mining background, my work is typically concerned with the working class and more recently, young people. I shoot almost exclusively using film with a 6x7 rangefinder camera.
Which photographers and artists have influenced you?
The list could go on forever but I will list a few:
Tell us about some of your other recent / favourite projects
In 2012 I completed a series of pictures looking at the reinvented social uses of former colliery sites in and around the former coal mining stronghold of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. The project also explores the current social situation in the area, particularly in relation to its post-industrial recovery. More recently I’ve photographed travelling showmen families at home in their trailers during the Nottingham Goose Fair. The portraits, which were exhibited during Goose Fair 2013, portray showpeople in a sensitive light and seek to quash commonly held misconceptions about the community. I have a few projects in the pipeline but I’d rather not spill the beans on them just yet!
Where can people find out more about your work?
My website is the best place to start! davidsevern.com
I’m also on twitter @davidsevern.
Back in 2011 I got an email from Ben that was, as is his way, very direct and to the point. It just said something along the lines of “Here’s a trailer I’ve put together. Do you want to help produce it and make it into a feature?” I watched the trailer and as soon as I heard Paa Joe’s laugh and saw the images of the different coffins there was absolutely no question, of course I was going to help to produce it!
And so the whirlwind began - applications for funding, Documentary Campus Masterschool, pitch workshops, Doc/Fest good times, and of course, going to Ghana. I’ve only been over once, to collect Paa Joe and Jacob before their trip to the UK, and it was incredible.
I was supposed to go another time, around New Year ‘13, but, the powers that be had other ideas. Just a week or so before Christmas 2012, on the day Ben and I were due to go to London and meet James Hunt from Sky Arts, I fell down the stairs and broke my foot. I was absolutely gutted as it meant I wasn’t allowed to fly with a cast on my foot and was strongly advised not to make the trip. I couldn’t believe it.
The reason for the January trip was to film Paa Joe building his mother’s coffin, who had died earlier that year, and then her funeral. I so wanted to be a part of it. At the time I was struggling with my own grief, as my Dad died just a week before I tripped down the stairs, and I thought that going to Ghana to visit Paa Joe and be with his family during their time of grief might help me in my grieving process. But alas, it wasn’t to be.
When Ben came back from the trip and showed me the footage he’d shot, I found it incredibly powerful. I was still going through the motions of what had happened and watching Paa Joe, this big, strong character, organise funeral proceedings, build his mother’s coffin, and be surrounded by his family was somewhat difficult to watch but very beautiful too. As I watched, memories of my father that had been locked away were released back into my consciousness and I felt as though I could see this in Paa Joe - as I watched him putting the finishing touches to the stunning white coffin, I imagined that memories of his childhood and his mother were being unlocked too.
Paa Joe & The Lion follows a man trying to save his business and legacy, but it also shows a man, and a family, dealing with emotions and difficulties that each and every one of us have to too. It is poignant, moving yet also celebratory and has had a deep impact on my life. I treasure this film, and Paa Joe and Jacob, very much and am looking forward to the next stage of the journey.
Here’s just one of the many reasons people are supporting Paa Joe & The Lion, and we could couldn’t be happier about it!
I have such respect for the people who make their living through art and creativity. I have collected some of the most beautiful work on my visits. I have seen fantasy coffins and admired the work that went into them. I also am a photographer and have done some film work, so when I saw this project it was a “marriage made in heaven” art and a documentary.
I want to help preserve this craft and supporting this project brings awareness to the creativity of the great carpenters of Ghana and their gift of teaching others to carry on with this tradition.
Paa Joe’s craft needs to continue as an integral part of the local funeral culture and as a craft of creative art. I feel compelled to help you make this happen. Preservation through documentary awareness. Great project. When this is completed, and I know it will happen, I will be making a trip to England to hopefully meet you and the team and see the outcome of my investment.
Best wishes to you!