This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine – a special edition with a double theme, Love / Ukraine. It can be delivered direct to you with an 1854 Subscription or available to purchase as a single issue on the BJP shop.
Ken Grant, Lin Zhipeng, Ying Ang, Sophie Gladstone, Ana Vallejo, and Craig Easton share an image that represents the concept of trust
Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship. Not just between lovers, but friends, colleagues, and even strangers. Trusting allows us to forge bonds and feel safe. But when we trust, we make ourselves vulnerable to betrayal. Although it is powerful, trust is also fragile: hard to gain, easy to destroy, and tough to repair once broken.
But trust is also one of the few forces that can hold a community together. Unlike love or power, trust cannot be bought – it must be earned. Trust in other people allows us to feel safe, and trust in good leaders can encourage communities to flourish. This is also true for photography: an honest bond between a photographer and their subject can make for a powerful exchange.
Below, Ken Grant, Lin Zhipeng, Ying Ang, Sophie Gladstone, Ana Vallejo, and Craig Easton share an image that represents the concept of trust to them.
I first went onto the Bidston Moss in Merseyside in 1989. The walk from the docks up onto the hill was a long mile or so, past men fishing as others burned copper wire bare from its trunking. I photographed there, on and off, until 1997, when decades of perished waste were grassed over. When curators looked at the pictures, some mentioned Mr Kurtz and his journey into darkness, but I didn’t recognise that fear or distance, and left. Others imagined how different these situations were from my own, but I had to tell them that I believed I was photographing my contemporaries, as I always do. I’d known some of the men from the wood yards and parks, from years wandering the docks. Remembering the trust and kindness of those like Macca, who seemed to know what I was doing would never bring danger, it’s clear, to me at least, that the only distance in this picture is time.
Five months and counting. He walks deserted streets. Rising concrete and glass monoliths. He speaks to no one, touches nothing. He knows only what I tell him – it is winter, a coat is necessary, the outside is dangerously unclean. We play hide-and-seek in the rain, the slick roads mirroring a metropolis built for people and inhabited by none. In October, he will be three. It will be one-sixth of his life where people cross the road when they see you and step out of elevators in fear, half-faced.”
I wrote this in June 2020. We were just one quarter through the longest lockdown in the world. My son is four now and struggles to speak to anyone outside of his immediate family. Selective mutism, they call it. We are asked questions in psychological screenings, such as, ‘Has there been a trauma in your family?’ I am never quite sure how to answer.
Trust is an interesting concept to think about in relation to aspiration and success. We’re encouraged to trust that if we work hard enough, buy the correct things, and make the right decisions, then we can have it all. Maybe even someone has told you to ‘trust the process’. I’m not so sure: countless times I have trusted products and productivity, but ended up back where I began. So instead, I create the glowing ideal of a life beyond my reach through photography. It’s quite simple; we’re all doing it any time we share an image online, or joke about our busy lives with colleagues. All I’ve done is tidy that continual performance into a project, and called it Promise & Demand.
I took this photo by accident in early 2018. I have been photographing my life, my experiences and my friends for 17 years. I photograph the stories of the LGBTQ+ community, and I photograph the relationships between people and objects, and my own connection to the world. I consider these various relationships as kind of ‘invisible’ to society. They do exist in the form of mutual trust. Trust is the most basic condition in all relationships. With trust, the relationship between people and the world can be continued.
Last year, queer couple Hayley and Nathan allowed me to photograph glimpses of what their love looked like. After they told me their story the second time we met, their eyes were glowing like fireflies. The third time we met, Hayley had twisted her ankle that same day. Not only was she in pain, but being a dancer, she felt uncertain about her near future. Nathan was focused on making her feel better. Their interactions were loving and caring. At the moment when I took this photograph, they were giggling and tickling each other.
When we are vulnerable and in front of a camera, difficult emotions can surface unexpectedly. Everyone involved has to be grounded to express with confidence what’s enjoyable and what’s uncomfortable as we step out of conventions and into the unknown. It was meaningful to feel their trust in me, it was comforting to feel I could trust them as well. Being part of their world for a few days felt warm, soft and tender.
Trust is a strange and enigmatic concept. People seem to use the word often when talking about my pictures, but it’s not something I’m especially conscious of. I photograph people… sometimes people I get to know over months or years, sometimes ‘passing strangers’ as Sternfeld so succinctly described that brief but intense encounter we photographers have with those we meet.
Bank Top was both – some people I spoke to for months before making a picture, some were passing strangers. I approach them both in the same way, genuinely interested to hear their stories. When I ask if I can make a portrait (and bring out a big, wooden 10×8 camera), I am asking for their trust. Trust that I will be truthful and represent the person as I see them, with dignity.
And it’s an extraordinary gift they give me, for which I’m grateful and do the best I can.