In 2015, I began delivering photography projects as live art theatre-based performances. The idea was that very few people see photography projects, particularly in exhibitions and specifically documentary photography. For over a decade I have experimented with presenting photography in new ways to reach bigger and more diverse audiences (audio slideshows, documentary Christmas cards, books, zines and podcasts).
Performance photography (which I’ve written about on my blog here) was a natural step on from this work, albeit a big step. I’d describe myself as a non-performer. But using video, music, karaoke singing (yes, KARAOKE SINGING WHILE SHOWING DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY*), spoken word, verbatim text and other performers has been been far more successful than I ever imagined.
After launching performance photography with my long-running project Outsiders – first performed at Redeye’s Hothouse event at Bluecoat Liverpool, part of Look15 Liverpool International Photography Festival – I have developed several theatre-based projects.
I was commissioned to create a piece called Northern World by Fuel Theatre, as part of their New Theatre In Your Neighbourhood project and I’ve appeared at several performance festivals and events including Drunken Chorus’ Drunken Nights IV (Sheffield) and Fieldwork Photography Forum (University of Central Lancashire, Preston).
All of this work is detailed in my CV.
*NOTE: I can’t sing.
These are my performance-based pieces:
Central Lancashire Homesick Blues
Photographing Fags, Freaks and Fighting
Pub Karaoke Photography Exhibition
Garry Cook’s The Meaning of Life
Promotional text for shows:
Outsiders – a five-minute pop video showing portrait images of unusual, unique and misunderstood people (subjects include a racist, paedophile, war veterans, activist, religious extremists, train spotters, dominatrix, cerebral palsy sufferer searching for sexual connections and Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who have both lost family members in the conflict between the two sides) while I stand live in the theatre space holding words written on cards which correspond directly to the people featured in the images shown.
This show is hugely popular with audiences, results in a spontaneous round of applause and, when Q&As are part of the presentation, provokes huge debate and a lot of questions from the audience.
Technical requirements: projector, projection screen/wall and sound. This performance can be performed several times in one day. Some written words not suitable for children.
Northern World – a live-art photography presentation, mixing beautiful and gritty images of Northern life from the last 100 years with iconic images of historical world events.
The unique cross-platform work incorporates music and spoken word performance to deliver a compelling and nostalgic look at what it is to be from the North and how that experience has shaped our lives.
From early sepia-toned formally-posed prints through faded compact camera images to bright, flash-fuelled camera-phone shots, the huge changes in photography over the past century has echoed the revolution in our own lifestyles. Ranging from industrial landscapes to family snapshots, Northern World is a photographic history of Northern England placed within world history.
Technical requirements: projector, projection screen/wall and sound. This performance lasts 10 minutes.
Garry Cook’s The Meaning of Life – using film, photography, music and live spoken-word, The Meaning of Life examines one person’s role in society through an immersive theatre experience.
Through a triptych of films running simultaneously, the visual performance explores themes of belonging, purpose and identity of the individual in the world around us.
The Meaning of Life uses archive historical film, iconic imagery and poetic performance – and themes of war, human behaviour and popular culture – to deliver a unique, cross-platform live-art event.
Technical requirements: projector, projection screen/wall and sound. This performance lasts 15 minutes.
Worn – exploring the hidden world of selling used clothing on eBay, mostly used tights and knickers. This thought-provoking presentation includes verbatim text (recited by me and volunteers from the audience) detailing conversations between buyers and sellers of used underwear on eBay. This fetish world, backed up by visuals (still images of eBay listings, particularly the images they post) and filmed sequences detailing the history of sex in Western culture and the attitude of the British media towards sexual fetishism, culminates in a moral examination of the work of journalists in contributing to prejudices in society. During the making of the project I was offered explicit images of a male British Member of Parliament wearing women’s tights – this interaction and the morality of exposing the MP becomes a central moral message of the performance: Should we as journalists ruin someone’s life and career by exposing their fetish private life which is neither illegal or harming anyone else?
Again, this memorable performance stimulates huge audience debate.
Technical requirements: projector, projection screen/wall and sound. This performance lasts 40 minutes and includes explicit (verbal) adult content.
Worn promotional text:
Revealed! The hidden world of selling intimate used clothing on eBay.
Unbelievable! Worn is a lecture performance using video, photographic images and verbatim text detailing conversations between eBay sellers of worn clothing – usually tights, sometimes sweaty socks – and the people who buy them. This is a secretive trade not strictly permitted under eBay selling policy – yet exists and thrives with a high repeat-purchase fetish customer base.
Photography! Primarily focused on images used to sell worn clothes on eBay, this performance is a fascinating insight into a secretive trade not strictly permitted under eBay selling policy – yet exists and thrives with high repeat-purchase fetish customer base.
Warning! You may find yourself turned on during this performance.
Part-performance, part-lecture, part photography exhibition, Worn is a unique, socially-aware show that will give you an insight into other people’s lives – and force you to reflect on your own attitudes to sex, society and the British media.
The show explores themes of sexual fetishism and shame – and how we gloriously fail to deal with these subjects in British society.
‘Hilarious + brutal in equal measure. Loved Worn by Garry Cook’
WARNING: Contains graphic language
Image of Outsiders taken by Andy Ford
Black and white images of Worn and Pub Karaoke Photography Exhibition taken by Robert Norbury