Retrospecting Sandy Hill by Chris Shaw
WORDS BY : LIZ RAISS
Flipping through English photographer Chris Shaw’s Retrospecting Sandy Hill feels a bit likely handling a rare artifact, because, in a way, it is. Chris Shaw left the original copy, a dense but slapdash scrapbook of Sandy Hill residents, on a Farnham train sometime between ’86 and ’89, but reproduced it as faithfully as possible in 2015 for Morel Books. The resulting 96 page tome is warm testimony to a working class town where a young Chris Shaw felt at home.
Sandy Hill, a mixture of private and council housing, lies on the border of Surrey and Hampshire, North West of Farnham in England. While studying art at a nearby college (where he was often sent away for drinking in class), Shaw fell in love with the Andover estate in. “I felt alienated from my fellow students, but found a home on the Sandy Hill Estate,” he recounts. Shaw spent three years taking photos of the residents of Sandy Hill, giving them prints in exchange for more pictures. “I liked talking to ‘normal’ people. Obviously they were obsessed with cars and bikes — they were ‘normal’ to me.”
Back in his studio, Shaw would scrawl notes in permanent marker alongside the images he captured, not discerning between the banal (“This van needs cleaning”), the random (“The triumph of the Oedipal man”) and the upsetting (“Jim said she was jumped, humped, and made to undress in the wilderness”). These scribbles, juxtaposed with the Shaw’s lively black-and-white photographs, hint at the contours of a world the viewer can jam its nose up against, but never fully enter.
Today, Retrospecting Sandy Hill still holds an intimate, transgressive magic. Like looking through a stranger’s photos that you happened to find on a train.