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Gomma Books : Simon Murphy : Govanhill


The first edition of Simon Murphy‘s Govanhill sold out quickly and the second edition of 500 copies (five times the number of the first edition), each one manually numbered, has just appeared. It will also sell out because there are two good reasons to get hold of a copy as soon as possible. The photographs themselves are the obvious attraction and the second reason is a superb design and book production that does them the justice they deserve.

Read between the lines and a place described as ‘dynamic’, with a ‘unique blend of heritage and modernity’ becomes fairly recognisable as a working-class, mixed race neighbourhood where income is too low to attract the interest of corporate clothes stores or other shops with a brand identity. This is one aspect of Govanhill and street signage in Simon Murphy’s photos relate to money transfers, cargo services and pay-as-you-go sim cards. The area has long attracted people from outside, not just other regions of Scotland but also from the north of Ireland, poverty-stricken parts of southern Italy and eastern Europe. East Asians have also settled here, alongside Roma people, asylum seekers and refugees. The number of different languages spoken in Govanhill is legion. No surprise then to find right-wing press calling it Govanhell, ‘the most demonised neighbourhood in Scotland’ as one newspaper described it in 2008.

Other aspects of Govanhill – truly diverse independent shops and festivals that reflect cultural pride – are best explored, if you can’t travel there yourself, through its strong social media presence. The people who live here have a resilience, energy and authenticity that helps explain why bourgeois neighbourhoods are relatively boring and depressing. It also helps understand the fact that only a photographer who is an insider can properly represent it through the lens of a camera. This is what unites Simon Murphy with – whether he is taking photos in England or Ireland – Tom Wood : two photographers responding to people in their dwelling places with integrity and razor-sharp images that bring form and content together.

The quality of composition in Murphy’s pictures comes from a combination of his skill and empathy with the willing complicity of individuals who trust him enough to stand before his camera without adopting a role or predictable poise. Sometimes he comes in close to their faces and on other occasions he catches them in moments of their individual being which place them sublimely in their environments and so intimately that the personal and the public merge flawlessly. This is photography of a rare kind.

The second edition is artfully designed and comes with a fold-out inset with text by Laura Barmwoldt that draws attention to Murphy’s ability to show how ‘the exceptional and the ordinary can be indistinguishable’.

Sean Sheehan

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