I first met Kevin Mason about 18 months or so ago when he was still DarkDaze and had teamed up with Adam Bronkhurst and Matt Halls, to start Garage Studios. Back then he was getting known for elaborate sets and lighting setups, making the maximum use of the huge Vine Street space and the talented group of set builders, make-up artists and stylists around him. There was another side to DarkDaze too though. As well as his earlier graffiti documentary work, and the more recent festival shots, and a whole body of work I was unaware of, there were always his more personal shots of his then partner and muse Sally Reynolds. Often shot in available light, and often on Polaroid, these photos always seemed more Kevin than DarkDaze.
30 weeks ago, DarkDaze started a new project. Every Thursday afternoon he would meet up with 16 year old model Georgie Hobday for a photo-session. Every Thursday for 30 weeks. Culminating in a Polaroid set taken on the 6th May. The day the exhibition opened.
He called it his Vanity Project.
On one level those 30 weeks documented a lot of changes. Changes in Georgie’s confidence in front of the camera. Changes in the way the photographer worked with his model. And the change from DarkDaze to Kevin Mason.
From the outside looking in it seemed very much like a back-to-basics metamorphosis. Almost like a photographic Rick Rubin had stepped in and stripped his work bare. But DarkDaze didn’t need a Rick Rubin, he did it by himself – and this exhibition is a fascinating record of that journey.
Walking around the exhibition the overwhelming impression is of fun. From Bunny Ears to Ballet Leaps, as we get to the later weeks rarely do we get the impression that Georgie is modelling for Kevin, more that Kevin is photographing Georgie. Maybe that’s part of his talent?
The exhibition itself takes a brave approach to presentation. Rather than a uniform set of prints hanging on walls, the 30 weeks of obsession shown here are hung from the ceiling week by week, a mixture of large and small prints and every size inbetween, colour and black & white, and plenty of original Polaroids. Some of the photos really stand out – the giant grin with the big hair, the ballet leap, the plastic lensed shot with Brighton Prom’s famous giant lobster – but they all have a place and a part of the story to tell. Picking a favourite is nearly impossible.
This is very much my personal interpretation of the exhibition. I’ve probably got facts wrong and misinterpreted motivations, but the fact it made me think about those things rather than just “nice photo” is an achievement.
Is this the end of the elaborate sets and lighting? I don’t think so somehow – but I like to think the Big Works in the future will be informed by by those 30 Thursday afternoons.
If you can’t make it to the exhibition on the last weekend of May there’s also a book available – I’d recommend either or both.