Posted 16 October

IMAGE © Phil Le Gal 60 Degrees North - Across the Blue Waters and White Lands

MAP6 are Richard Chivers, Phil La Gal, Mitch Karunaratne, Heather Shuker, David Sterry and Paul Walsh. Together they make up one of eight collectives exhibiting at Phoenix Brighton (Wednesday - Sunday 11:00 - 17:00) for the duration of Brighton Photo Fringe. This year they present The Shetland Project, having been a part of every BPF, since they formed in 2011. We caught up with them to chat the challenges of working in unfamiliar places, the joys of collaboration and the warm welcome they received from Britain’s most Northerly community...

MAP6 centre projects around the theme of place. What drives this fascination, and how does photography allow you to illuminate the relationship between places, and those inhabiting them?

Although our individual practices could appear as if we have nothing in common with one other, all of our work is driven by fascination with places. We’re each interested in how places can shape our lives and life experiences and use this as a starting point for how we try to understand and view the world photographically.

For our annual themed MAP6 projects we decide on a location unfamiliar to us all and after some time sharing historical and socio-economic insights, each member comes up with their unique point of interest and a plan of how they will direct their efforts. When you only have 5/6 days you need to have a clear jump off point. For the Shetland Project this included travelling around the islands to WW2 observation points, seeking out bird watching sites, tracing the 60 degrees North line, following in the footsteps of a poet, recording the housing topology and taking insights from the young.

The collective’s first project focused on ‘the psychological space’ of home. Since then you have made work on annual trips to unfamiliar places. What are the challenges and opportunities that come with being outsiders in the spaces you are photographing?

Being visual people one usually becomes inspired by a place and ideas often come from familiarity and being in the right place at the right time. So it’s very challenging planning a project about a location without actually visiting that place. Extensive online and visual research are required and a very proactive approach following up on leads and opportunities to plan out a direction. As outsiders, visiting a place for a very short period of time, we have to be fascinated by that place and all its nuance, to try to shape a personal impression.

Both the Lithuania and Moscow Projects were challenging, not just with the obvious language barriers. There were massive cultural differences too – we had no idea that people would be so suspicious or cautious of everyday street photography. Challenges came in the form of gaining permission for entering a military zone on the Belarus border through to accessing a Russian space station. As time is short one needs to get “creative” with permissions and in order to gain access to the Russian Space station Mitch posed as a Russian girlfriend to one of the astronauts grandsons (with his approval). More recently relating to the Shetland Project, Paul stayed alone for the majority of the time in an isolated cabin, to take himself away from the world and get him into a similar mind-set that the poet he was inspired by did more than 80 years before.

Collaboration is at the heart of everything Map6 does. Tell us what being in a collective means for you and how your collaborative process works in practice?

Collaboration is the cornerstone of how we work. We decide collaboratively on a location with an appreciation of each others personal practices, that will have elements for all such as architecture, landscapes and people. Collaboration then takes on many forms including the project development process, picture making, individual and group edits and final curation for each show. We each respect one another's opinion and are there to try to help develop one another’s practice. This can at times come down to making harsh choices, but its always with the intention of making the work stronger.

Map6 members’ individual passions range from long-distance walking to architecture. How do the collective’s diverse interests impact the perspectives you bring to the table with each project?

That diversity is indeed the strength of our collaboration. Over the course of the 6 years we’ve been working together, we’ve learnt so much from each other, and about our own practice by the art of working outside of our own fields. MAP6, is for all of us, a space to experiment and try new things.

This year you’ll be exhibiting The Shetland Project. Tell us about the experience of shooting the community in this remote location.

Shetland is closer to the Arctic Circle than London. The islands are really remote especially the island of Unst, yet the remoteness and isolation creates a natural community. There is a sense of spirit and belonging. As photographers we were made incredibly welcome. Radio Shetland did a segment covering our work when we were there – so by mid-morning – we were local celebrities, and everyone seemed to know who we were. Often people would stop us and ask us if we were one of the six. On one occasion somebody was picked up and driven around the islands, from a random encounter in the street. The Shetland people were really very kind and accommodating, so it was important to us that we made work that they would hopefully find interesting. We are planning to take the work back to Shetland exhibiting it locally, it would be wonderful to reconnect with those we met during our time there.

Finally, what can visitors expect from your show at the Phoenix?

Six different viewpoints that collectively create a singular vision. Six viewpoints that we hope talk to each other and spark questions, and help us to know more about a very unique and fascinating place.

Don't miss MAP6 in Conversation & Project Reviews at our Collectives Hub in Phoenix Brighton from 14:00, SAT OCT 20 - RSVP HERE

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