Ken Grant is launching his book on Liverpool and football, The Topical Times for our Times at Photobook Bristol, but the other great book by Ken Grant is No Pain Whatsoever. This was published two years ago and brought a belated acclaim to Ken, who had been photographing on Merseyside for almost 30 years. It’s an example of slow photography, an antidote to the immediacy of news, photography and much of the photobook world. In No Pain Whatsoever you see images and ideas rooted in a community slowly coming to fruition, and you feel Ken having the confidence and knowledge to keep on making work, to keep on exploring the people and places of Liverpool over the years despite limited praise or recognition.
The book has a long history behind it. And interestingly, that trail extends forward. The more you go back to it, the better it becomes. It really is brilliant work that talks about people, place, about class, about politics in a way that is both poetic and profound.
I wrote the article below for the BJP and it was an interview most pleasant in so many ways. Speaking to Ken is like being slowly smothered in honey. Not in a bad wasp-stuck-in-a-honey-pot kind of way, or in a supposed-to-be-sexy-but it’s-excessively-sticky kind of way, or even in a daft-photo-project kind of way, but in more of a soothing, calming kind of way, a honey-and-lemon tea kind of way, a warming kind of way.
To listen to Ken speak is to be submitted to the Ken-mantra where the words slip out and you are lulled into Ken-world. Whenever I hear him, I become a little bit like him, his voice and his spirit diffuses across the room and becomes part of me for some reason; my voice softens and – just for a few hours – my tone becomes more mellow, my words more thoughtful. I slow down. I become kinder.
But despite all that soothing quality, I also leave strangely ennervated. I have a Ken-Buzz about me. Ken is one of those people who is generous in his words. So instead of just hearing about his own work, you hear about poets and writers and singers. You’re taken from the world of single-digit Liverpool wards to the quick rhythms of the streets of Glasgow, the dark brooding of the Deep South, the sullen skies of the midwest. And you leave ennervated, and improved. After talking to Ken for this article, I ended up reading Thomas Kelman and John Cheever, and seeking out poets and writers who spoke for the poor, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, for those who survived ( like the blinded protagonist of Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late ) against all the odds. Who beat the odds, or at least manage to live in such a way, with such a spirit that the odds are somehow transcended.
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