Double Dactyl.  Photographs by Nick Waplington

Double Dactyl.

Photographs by Nick Waplington
Trolley, London, 2008. 128 pp., 54 color and 2 black & white illustrations. 2 color gatefold., 8½x11".

Publisher's Description
Double Dactyl accompanies Nick Waplington's solo show at The Whitechapel gallery, London, December 2007-January 2008. One of Britain’s leading contemporary photographers, Waplington first came to public notice with Living Room (1991), a photographic portrait based on the everyday lives of two close-knit families in Nottingham. Since then often working in book form, he has become known for photographing British social scenery, and his life and close circle of friends and family in East London, where he lives and works.

As an artist, Nick Waplington cannot be categorized. His work combines the enigmatic and the everyday, the complex and the straightforward, and the title of his latest exhibition embodies these uncomfortable dualities. The word “dactyl” comes from the Greek dactylos, a word with a mundane literal meaning: “finger.” In the technical language of poetic theory, however, a “dactyl” refers to a unit of rhythm that has three syllables, with the emphasis on the first (the long-short-short pattern resembling the joints of a finger). And yet this aesthetic terminology seems less pretentious when we realize that a “double dactyl” simply describes the rhythm of the artist’s name: Nicholas Waplington. If the photographs in Double Dactyl are united by anything, they are united by Waplington’s own multiplicity as an artist. His body of work could be described as a journey around the documentary, one that has prodded and played with notions of authenticity, authority and truth that conventionally define the genre. It could also be described as an experiment in doubleness.

With Double Dactyl he elaborates further, the images are all large format, referencing the grand traditions of history painting, classical mythology and landscape photography, and also exploring notions of photographic “reality,” by working with constructed and digitally manipulated images taken from these large format photographs.

The photographs collected in Double Dactyl demonstrate that Waplington’s dualities continue. Some of these images convey a sense of barren desolation, a bleakness made up of washed out colours, forlorn exteriors and empty landscapes mostly taken from the middle distance. Of the 56 photographs collected here, only about a third depict people, while the majority suggest an absence in our physical environment that is infused with a sense of neglect and abandonment. Even landscapes take on a memorial quality – Bluebell Wood (Picture For my Father), 2004/2007 – or become symptomatic of environmental malaise in Dropping Like Flies, 2005, permeated with a semi-apocalyptic, polluted glow.

And yet, other images in Double Dactyl show an intense engagement in the lives of people, and in personal, social and geographical communities. Beach scenes taken around the British coastline chart a map of working class resorts popular with families, but in decline since the advent of affordable air travel. Above all, street scenes taken in London’s East End, where the artist lives and works, are in many ways emblematic of its distinctive character and identity.

Double Dactyl features 56 reproductions of this new body of work to be exhibited, its surreal and often subtle use of manipulation confirming Waplington’s idiosynchratic approach to contemporary photographic practice.

Nick Waplington has exhibited internationally including at Deitch Projects, New York, The Philadelphia Mudeum of Modern Art and the 2001 Venice Biennale. He lives and works in London.

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