Graduates question photography and meaning in projects that touch on UFO sightings and a remote island in the South Atlantic

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If you’ve heard of fourteen-nineteen – the publisher behind books by Jamie Hawkesworth, Daniel Shea and Sean Vegezzi – you may be surprised to hear that its founders are only just graduating. Lewis Chaplin and Alex F Webb started collaborating in 2008 after finding each other’s work on Flickr. After studying together on the art foundation course at Camberwell College of Arts, Webb went to the University of Brighton to do photography and Chaplin headed to Goldsmiths College to study anthropology, with a particular interest in visual anthropology. The pair continued to publish books together and work on collaborative projects (such as Mr Cad, which documents the eponymous Croydon camera shop’s last hour of trading), while also working on their own projects.

Webb’s two related projects, Blind Landing Experimental Unit (BLEU) and Sunrise County, both take alien life on earth as their subjects. BLEU focuses on Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, the location of Britain’s most famous UFO sighting, while Sunrise County purports to show photographs by a Suffolk local named Norman Scoggins, as well as images by an unknown photographer – perhaps an alien life form. The images deliberately blur fact and fiction and mix photography with declassified MoD documents to reflect “the conflated accounts of the landing that have evolved since the 1980s”.

Chaplin’s project Tristan also questions photography and its ability to construct meaning. Taking the remote British island of Tristan da Cunha as its subject, it plays with the idea that the images apparently bring it close, while in reality it remains thousands of miles away in the South Atlantic. Some of the images have been made by Chaplin himself, and some are by other photographers, but so far he hasn’t visited the island. “I am explicitly trying to address the impossibility of me making work that definitively says any one particular thing about Tristan. After all, I have never been there – yet,” he says. “Tristan is an entirely mediated place. Being so difficult to access geographically [and because visitors require permission from the Island Council], we know it through images.”

Meanwhile, Webb and Chaplin, along with their friend Ben Pender-Cudlip, have made a music video for indie folk band Noah and the Whale – a commission that came about after the duo launched Vegezzi’s book in New York and ended up being profiled on MTV’s website. They already have enviable careers, but they say they are looking forward to ‘getting stuck in’ now that their college days are over.

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy