Guy Bolongaro (born Crewe, U.K, 1978) studied sociology before becoming a social worker. Around 2014, burnt out by work and frustrated by his attempts at making documentary films in his spare time, he began taking photographs as a form of daily art therapy, making images on his lunch breaks and walks home from work.
What was first a remedy, soon became a compulsion and then his profession. A few years after the birth of his first child he shifted focus from the public sphere to the family cosmos, turning attention from his walking routes to his domestic routines.
His book ‘Gravity Begins at Home,’ is the culmination of his photography in that period and was published by HERE Press in 2022. His personal, commercial and editorial work has appeared in Vogue, New York Times, I-D, NOON, GQ, The Wire, The Guardian, The FT, C41, Wallpaper, Tank, The Creative Review, Elephant and many others.
Where are you from, where are you based now and can you tell us a little about both?
I’m from the north of England but spent much of my life in London. I now live in Hastings. We moved a couple of years ago as lockdown reinforced our reasons for wanting to leave the city. We wanted more time, space and to be close to the sea. I have an ambivalent relationship with London now as it is increasingly unforgiving place.
Absurd affluence side by side with extreme deprivation, a housing crisis, insidious colonisation of public space by private forces, corporate sanitising of the wilder zones and a neutralising of alternative energies, to name just some of the toxic forces that infect the city.
What give you that thrust into being creative following your burnout?
I needed a simple daily creative outlet that wasn’t too cerebral or head-based. Something where I could just respond rather than having to carry a scheme or anything pre-conceived; something to build new patterns and habits of mind, help me to be more receptive and to quieten the internal monologue.
Photography was ideal, and it began to be very helpful and therapeutic to wander around with my gaze directed outwards just responding and capturing things that pleased me. I had painted when I was younger, so I quickly began to enjoy this way of making images so quickly. I found it very satisfying and exciting, I looked forward to seeing what I could get tomorrow.
Do you feel studying sociology in the past now crosses over into your work?
Yes my interest in anthropology feeds into my photography, and certainly being a social worker had a big impact on how I photograph people. I like to think I’m more empathetic and respectful after years of doing that job, and I enjoy building relationships with subjects.
Please tell us about “Gravity Begins at Home”.
I was asked by a favourite magazine, NOON, to contribute a story at the beginning of the first lockdown. It was an opportunity to bring together the images of family life I had been making around that time and then Ben Weaver at Here Press suggested a book of this work.
We love Ivor Cutler at home so his song Gravity Begins at Home felt perfect for the title. Ivor introduces the song like this:
‘Firstly, I try to stress the importance of home and the family: I feel they are terribly important. And secondly, I try to stress the fact that the theory of gravity is a lot of nonsense.’
I like the many readings it allows, but for me Ivor is saying that being together at home is important but let’s question the rules, and the received wisdom about how we should live as families. Let’s put it all up in the air and see where it lands.
Do you have plans for another book in the future?
Yes, I’m working on another project with Here Press but I haven’t got much to say about it at the moment other than it will be work made mostly outside of the home.
What draws you to the vibrancy and energy in the subjects and scenes you shoot? How do you go about capturing these scenarios and snippets of time?
The couple of years I spent just walking around, intellectually semi switched off, just responding to what I liked really helped me to expand my field of awareness, take notice of my environment, and move towards a healthier engagement.
This opened my perception, I think, and allowed me to be much more sensitive and receptive to the possibilities of the moment, to better sense when something might happen and see the potential for an image within a fleeting situation.
Can you tell us about the abstraction in your work and some of your earliest influences?
I respond to shapes, colour and contrasts I think so often there is an abstract quality yes. I used to enjoy painting and drawing so I think I have that tendency to build an image a bit like a painter, or collagist. As a teenager I liked Di Chirico, Ernst, El Greco, Max Beckmann, and later De kooning and Guston. Guston probably my favourite, I also love John Baldessari especially his photo collages.
Does your attitude towards shooting change when shooting commercial projects as apposed to personal works? All your work has its own identity, how do you find the balance in getting the images you and the client your working with want?
I try to bring the same energy and intention to make images that excite me. I try to make something that feels fresh. It’s not always possible but that’s what motivates me and I try not to distinguish too much between contexts.
Is photography still therapy for you or do you view it in a different light now?
No, its still very much a release, an outlet and a therapy. A daily necessity.
And about your earlier film work, do you have plans to delve back into it again?
I haven’t made a film for close to 10 years. They just take so long to make and ultimately, I’m not good at editing my own work and I had very limited technique with the camera back then. I found it very hard to be decisive in the edit and like a painter who can’t work out if it’s finished yet, I would over edit, leave too much in and just generally ruin it somehow. I should have worked with an editor and relinquished control; I think I might have been able to make something worthwhile but as it is everything I made didn’t quite succeed.
I couldn’t ever quite realise my ideas. I don’t know if I’ll return to moving image, I think I’m even a bit scared of it now. Maybe one day I could get the confidence again to just direct. Film needs to be a collaboration without doubt. With photography the process is so beautifully simple. Click. Next one. Click. Easy.
What’s coming next?
Another book this or next year maybe and hopefully a nice variety of work; commercial, editorial, newspapers. I’d love to do some reportage/documentary assignments. I’m opening a studio/gallery/project space in Hastings so that’s the focus just at the moment.
Where can we find you online?
My website has been ‘‘under construction’ for many years.