(selected by Andrew Hunt)
Bang Bang, 2007
Tom Ranahan's recent photographs of Great Yarmouth address the excessive culture contained within certain parts of our contemporary environment. Yarmouth has become a caricature of itself, and the place has a double-edged identity that clings to a strange semblance of reality. One could say that Ranahan's pictures reveal the town's particularly British split personality, or that they render any easy journey into pure fantasy farcical, as they hover in an edgy no-man's land.
Perhaps the real beauty in Ranahan's images is their incidental banality: there are no over-played theatrics, no social anthropology or distant documentary style. These pictures simply describe extraordinary places. Joyland I and Joyland II (both 2005), for instance, present straightforward images of a fun fair. Joyland II shows a cartoon fibreglass landscape populated by spooks and ghouls, as well as clowns and soft animals. The most successful of these elements is a rocket that's somehow embedded itself in the roof of the building – or in the grass bank of the fictional landscape. This spaceship also appears in Joyland I, which is perhaps the more unusual of the two pictures. The amusement park's gates stand at the centre of the frame, as does a modern Toyota van – and it's this inappropriate invasion of normality, or unnatural jump, that gives the picture its strange form of pathos. What's this vehicle doing in the picture, corrupting the already implausible nature of its subject matter?
As a native of Birmingham, it might seem surprising that Ranahan shows empathy with the diverse abandon of seaside culture. Yet, because his city in the Midlands is the only major landlocked metropolis in the country without a natural centre point or a river running through it, one can see that it is as equally fragmented as Yarmouth. Until recently – before massive redevelopment took place – Birmingham seemed beautifully without direction. The last few years have seen a massive change in the city's landscape and fortunes; the old Bull Ring's gone, and a lot of the more unusual local character has been thrown out with it. Ranahan has had his studio in the city centre's adjoining area of Digbeth for the past fifteen years, and he's been documenting the renovation of factories, the wholesale demolition of buildings, as well as the stubborn refusal of certain parts of the area to give up the ghost. So one can begin to see that, in this sense, both Birmingham and Yarmouth occupy a similar grey area of perception: at one moment depressed and highly strung, at another, elated and at one with the world.
Ranahan's latest works push this division between wonder and alienation further. They continue to evade any overbearing interpretation, and reveal more magical, disturbing and honest views of the artificial culture that lies at the heart of our contemporary world.
Andrew Hunt 2007
'I photograph places and environments that I either have a strong association with, or I may have only encountered once in my lifetime. Things that appear out of place or simply absurd appeals to my take on the world around me. I am not a photographer by training and I'm less concerned about the technical aspects of photography, rather I rely on my instinctive responses to things that for me demand to be recorded. I am also concerned with capturing a distinctive style of image making, which strives to stand out against the vast plethora of photographic images available to the viewer.
I have been interested in the process of urban regeneration and those buildings waiting to be bulldozed, to be replaced with developments. These new developments that, in their own turn, will become candidates for renewal in the future. I have witnessed this process happening in Birmingham's inner city area of Digbeth for the last 15 years, and have been photographing the old Victorian workshops, factories and office buildings, pubs, streets prior and during redevelopment. In the photograph 'Bloods' we see a rusty set of gates with graffiti and flyers, and a derelict factory that has the purple shrub buddleia growing defiantly through the cobbled courtyard. The factory has lost its purpose – it has been closed down and abandoned, to be bulldozed at some point in the future. The graffiti reinforces the neglect and the growing shrubs begin to reclaim the site for nature.
The anti-social behaviour and attitudes prevalent in cities like Birmingham have become another subject matter for me. 'Bang Bang' is a photograph taken through a bus shelter. The Perspex sheets have been scratched and a cigarette end has made a smiley face; the postcode B6/Lozells refers to gang allegiance. There is something of schoolboy humour about the ciggy face, but the black marker bang, bang words hold a more sinister connotation. 'Subway' is a photograph taken in Wolverhampton, and the graffiti and colours seem more artistic than sinister. Graffiti on our subway walls attracts my attention – sometimes with sinister and boastful slogans, sometimes with a one-dimensional humour or drawings that amuse me.
In 2006 I was selected for East International 06. The work I produced for that show came from a short residency spent in Great Yarmouth. 'Joyland' and other works, based on the town's seaside amusement 'attractions' and surrounding area, were the product of my research for the show. This trip to the coastal holiday town inspired me to visit other places with a coastal theme. In April 07 I visited the Gironde area of France to photograph the 'Bunker' series. In June I went to the Orkney Isles and spent time photographing the landscape and historic monuments. Living in Landlocked Birmingham, and as a child going to Ireland for summer vacations, it is only relatively recently that I have begun to be drawn to these places. This is a theme I hope to develop over time.'
Tom Ranahan lives and works in Birmingham. He studied Fine Art at North Staffordshire Polytechnic (1982-1985).
Selected exhibitions include: Colony at Zoo Art Fair, Royal Academy, London, 2007; New Generation Arts Festival, Birmingham, 2007; Pilot 3, Chelsea School of Art, 2007; Chinese Whispers, The Event, Birmingham, 2007; Winter Exhibition, Contemporary Art Projects, London, 2007; Photography show, Contemporary Art Projects, London, 2007; Bill Brandt and others, IPS Gallery, UCE Birmingham, 2006; East International 06, Norwich Gallery, 2006; Across the Waves, Birmingham International Airport and Shannon Airport, Ireland (solo), 2005; A Tale of Two Houses, Haden Hill House Museum, Cradley Heath (solo), 2005; Heritage Sites - Window Space Project, Birmingham (solo), 2004.