A project that touches on the human need for common belief systems

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“For the past three years at college, my photography has been narrative-based and focused on the merging of reality and fiction,” says Gemma Dagger, who has recently completed a BA in photography at City of Glasgow College. “A previous project looked at Alpine folk traditions and occult philosophy. I suppose the Maryhill Peoples Group and Community Hall project was a continuation of my need to create these odd worlds.”

For this series Dagger created a fictional group, which she photographed in a local community hall in Glasgow. Inspired by television programmes about hypnosis, as well as religious shows and occult rituals, Dagger explores ritualistic behaviour and the various constructs and forms of religion by instructing her subjects (mostly friends, who volunteer to take part) to pose in specific ways.

The project touches on the breakdown of community, group mentality and the human need for a belief system, she explains. “I wanted to create a fake construct – Maryhill Peoples Group and Community Hall – and produce a small pamphlet of images and words as a memorandum to this secret society. The composition of the images had to be precise and symmetrical to reflect the structured nature of ritual and worship,” she adds. “I always arrive at shoots with everything storyboarded so I can give most of my attention to directing my subjects. I had already imagined these very austere, detached scenes.”

Dagger researched the work of writers such as French sociologist and philosopher Émile Durkheim and French Marxist theorist Guy Debord by way of preparation, and also took inspiration from cults and religious sects she came across during her research. “Durkheim proposed that our first and foremost constructs for understanding the world have their origins in religion,” says Dagger. “Debord suggests that the reliance we once put on religion, and the control it had over us, is now replaced by the all-consuming spectacle of mass marketing. I wanted to use photography to create my own interpretation of this secularisation of society by constructing symbolic situations, which depict almost surreal versions of reality.”