Ed Gold on photographing isolation and preserving cultures

Photographer Ed Gold has spent the last four decades documenting communities. His portfolio is diverse and features people from different parts of the world, from his home town in Essex to Afghanistan. But all the communities he chooses to study have one thing in common, isolation. People fascinate him, but “particularly ones who want to be self-sufficient and independent of the on-grid system.” While he acknowledges the richness of mundanity and regular urban or rural life, he’s found himself gravitate towards the marginalised groups of people who live of the fringes of civilisation or cut-off in some way. “I’m excited by danger and surviving it.” he says. “I like the challenge of hardship and being able to experience raw wilderness and nature.”

“I’m concerned by traditions and cultures becoming extinct so want to preserve the history of these communities for centuries to come.”

With one of his series titled Afghanistan Bed Spaces he documented the inside lives of British soldiers. He lived with the Battalion Parachute Regiment (2 Para) at their home base in the UK and on duty in Afghanistan, even accompanying them on patrols to get a real sense of what it is like to be a member of the regiment.

M’Hula Crew, Country Folk, 1999, Digital print, Dimensions variable

With his Patagonia series he explored the lives and homes of communities of Welsh decent living in rural South America. These aren’t surface explorations, and Gold typically spends several years of each series of photographs, living with these groups of people and embedding himself in their daily lives. 

David and Sky Atchley, Nowitna, 2017, Digital print, Dimensions variable

At present, Gold has been exploring the Alaskan wilderness, where he’s lived on and off for almost a decade. Earlier this year he spent three weeks with the Atchley family. He lived with them in their small log cabin out in the snow covered hinterland and involved them in the crafting of his documentary. “All members of the family were concerned that they should be portrayed as being themselves in the photographs and that nothing should be staged or contrived.” he explained, “All three of them were keen to be interviewed and wanted to share their attitudes and feelings but were camera shy. A lot of reassurance was involved on my part and photographs were made as events unfolded naturally.”

Romey Atchley, Nowitna, 2017, Digital print, Dimensions variable

Expectedly, living off the grid the Atchley’s do came with several physical challenges. But they are just one aspects of Gold’s Alaskan adventure. Among other things he’s spent time being part of a four man seal hunting crew on a small open boat, even getting stranded amidst tons of crashing ice. He typically keeps detailed written recordings or voice notes of his experiences and observations, which have important aspect of Gold’s practice and capture the kind of data that photographs cannot.

“I’m passionate about giving a voice to everyday people whose lives usually get overlooked.”

Gold approaches his craft like an ethnographer, but studying and documenting the lives of communities is one aspect of his work. Protection and preservation is as much of a focus. “I’m passionate about giving a voice to everyday people whose lives usually get overlooked.” he says “I’m also concerned by traditions and cultures becoming extinct so want to preserve the history of these communities for centuries to come.”

Blaze King, Nowitna, 2017, Digital print, Dimensions variable

Gold’s work in Alaska isn’t quite done, but he already has his eyes set of other parts of the world and other people. “Next I am documenting The ALCAN, the Alaska Canada Highway, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, by motorcyle – it’s a 1,350 remote road with a lot of history, characters and stories. Then I will be journeying to Australia’s remotest community in the Gibson Desert. I have already studied Inuit and Athabascan lives and wish to compare those to Aboriginals who have the oldest continuous culture on the planet. My greatest ambition is to document The Pitcairn islanders in the south Pacific, Diego Garcia, Siberian Inuit, Mongolians, the list goes on.”

Corrie Locke, Country Folk, 1992, Digital print, Dimensions variable

About a 100 photographs from Gold’s different series have been brought together for an exhibition at Firstsite gallery in Colchester; right from his earliest series Country Folk which documents the life’s of agrarian people in Essex, Wales and Scotland to his most recent pictures from Nowitna.

His photographic works will be accompanied by small extracts from his diary or by sound recordings which the gallery says offer “a further narrative and a deeper, more intimate engagement with the subjects than the images alone can provide.” 


Ed Gold: Other Worlds is on view from June 17 to September 17, at Firstsite, Colchester.

edgold.co.uk;

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