It’s nearly five years since the night of June 14 2017 when a fire started in Grenfell Tower in Kensington and Chelsea and consumed the building, racing up highly flammable cladding which was installed in contravention of building regulations and as a cost-saving measure. The wanton collusion amongst a host of companies meant that 72 people needlessly lost their lives. Countless families, friends and members of the wider community had their own lives changed forever in that moment.
Over the past five years I have been participating in and making images of the aftermath and the dignified activism shown by the community of which I am proud to be a part. It’s likely to be 2023 before the second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry publishes its findings. People are angry, frustrated and tired of waiting. The upcoming exhibition ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ at The Tabernacle Gallery is a show of photography, video and installation which arises from, and is about protest, commemoration, and a call for justice.
I am an artist who primarily uses photography and photographic materials to explore notions of community, neighbourhood, and local identity. In doing so I hope to reflect the effect that infrastructural change, national policy and local activism has on the general ‘health’, capital, assets and resilience of (these) social structures and the populace. This project is concerned with photographing the aftermath and events surrounding the Grenfell Tower disaster of June 14th 2017, which happened a few hundred metres from where I live. As time passes and media attention waxes and wanes, I am attempting to use photographs as questions, reminders and challenges; to record and mark time; using the physical and metaphorical qualities of surface, exploiting analogue materials, alternative processes, graphic communication, time-based media and installation to chart the collective trauma and dignified activism among some of the most economically deprived people living in one of the wealthiest London Boroughs; people who are frustrated and angry that such a preventable tragedy could happen. The tower now stands as a brutal symbol; clad in white plastic and highly visible it waits along with the survivors, relatives, friends, families and the wider community for the outcomes of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. Now, we are approaching the 5th Anniversary of the fire. It will likely be 2023 before the report from the 2nd phase of the enquiry is published. Five years and no one has yet been held accountable.
‘Smoke & Mirrors’ June 13th – June 19th 2022. Open Evening Fri 17th June 6-8pm. The Tabernacle Gallery, 35 Powis Square, London W11 2AY. PDF Invitation here
‘Steve Mepsted’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ series draws attention to a disaster which demands to be remembered, a massive fire that engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower public housing estate in 2017, killing 72 of its inhabitants. As a local resident constantly reminded of these events by the tower’s looming presence, Mepsted’s work feels both like an attempt to process a disaster symptomatic of London’s inequalities and directly aggravated by them, while calling on others to remember what happened.’ Lewis Bush – in ‘Capital Culture’, Essay for Unseen Magazine Issue No. 6.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire I found it impossible to take photographs of the burnt out building. It felt wrong, disrespectful and crass.
It took me a long time to start making images that might go beyond reportage pictures and this is one of the first in a series of Polaroids I shot. I was interested in how Polaroid cameras were often used by police at crime scenes – to record details and the location of objects. They were considered truthful images and were used as evidence of proof in court and trial proceedings.
Polaroid pictures have a particular temporal quality; seeming to hold time within their surface in a peculiar, spectral manner. The pictures carry their usual hallmarks of indistinctness, colour shift and texture and don’t seem to record the scene so much as absorb it. While these pictures can be produced in a few short minutes, like answers unforthcoming; they seem to conceal as much as they reveal. I photographed the tower from a distance and obscured it with a disc of flowers, or clouds – images chosen to signify the passing of time and rebirth.
Polaroid cameras were often used by police at crime scenes – to record details and the location of objects.