New Exit Group is a film collective, formed in 2019, with the aim to produce photographic stories based on narratives told in a slow-paced style, creating a space to document explosive, life-defining moments and create an understanding of the wider context and humanity of these events. We talked to Simon King, co-founder of New Exit Group about BARDO: Summer of ’20, their new zine which covers some of the tumultuous events from the summer of 2020 in the UK.
Hi Simon please introduce yourself and tell us about the New Exit Group?
I'm Simon King, one of the co-founders of New Exit Group, the others being Andrew Blowers, David Babaian, and Sagar Kharecha. We formed in 2019, as a response to some of the shortcomings we felt we'd identified in the way many current stories are told through photographs. We decided to invest our time and energy into hyperlocal communities and stories and to use film to do so, in order to maintain the integrity of our images - always having the negative to prove the story. Of course, once we started to work on some of the stories that emerged in 2020 we needed to evolve in some ways to keep up with everything we felt we needed to document. This didn't change our methodology in terms of cameras or film, but did in terms of the actual stories we found ourselves able, or indeed compelled to tell.
What's the significance of using film over digital for these projects?
Film, and an analogue approach in general, feels to us to embody honest, intimate, and integral work. With the physical negative we can shut down any accusations of fakery or forgery - just look at what's possible in even outdated versions of photo manipulation software and you'll see why so many journalistic photographs come into question. It can be very difficult to persuade someone about the nature of a digital file by simply presenting a different digital file.
The intimacy of the analogue process goes beyond any way we work and influences our publication and release process. We do not give away our work on social media, to be lost in the noise. The relationship between the audience and their device gets in the way of a relationship between the audience and anything that device delivers. We print, either individual darkroom images, zines, and hopefully books one day. Physical copies as individual artifacts to be held, rolled, folded, framed. The photograph as a thing in and of itself - something to be related to in its own terms. You will not find more than a handful of our printed, published images anywhere other than in print, which means they maintain their value, and offer something truly unique to those willing to actually support the kind of work we are producing.
Choose one of your favorite photos from this zine and tell us a bit about it.
My personal favorite image in the zine appears on page 19, this one, by David Babaian (See image below). David made this with a Leica rangefinder, 28mm lens, and Tri-X film. He actually started shooting on 28 near the start of March if I remember correctly, and honestly, as much as I know gear doesn't matter, his use of that lens just clicked somehow, and I think his work overall has benefitted massively since. You can really see the way he constructed this frame, the layering of foreground, midground, and background, which keeps you engaged throughout the frame - a really excellent composition. He managed to achieve this technical and aesthetic result at 28mm, working inside a very energetic crowd, which takes a lot to do - a physical, mental, and artistic feat, and I really respect him for this image (maybe even a little jealous).
It was hard to choose one specific image from the zine to talk about - one of the most intricate aspects of making it in the first place was the sequencing, stringing images together so that the publication was more than a collection of individual images, a showcase of work or highlight reel, but one holistic narrative that flows from page to page. Seeing this image on its own is great, but seeing it in the context of the overall sequence imbues it with all kinds of meanings and implications. It's part of a greater whole.
Do you think there has been a shift in attitudes towards film photography over the past few years?
I think that those who have always enjoyed it are continuing to enjoy the process, but what has been wonderful to see is the number of newcomers discovering the process of owning every aspect of creating an image. I don't think there's been so much a shift as a new generation picking up these tools and putting them to new uses. Access to the internet means that it is not just the "greats" who hold influence, via gate-kept publications, but instead, inspiration can be discovered in obscure, preciously unsung creators. The film community is welcoming and enthusiastic - there are answers to most questions, and if not there are people ready to help you solve any problem you may encounter. If there has been a shift in attitude towards what film photography offers then in my experience it has been a positive one!
What's planned next for the New Exit Group?
We have a lot planned! One of the benefits of working collectively, and with no external deadlines, is that we can spend time on all kinds of work individually while our large scale projects take place in the background, slow and steady - but because of the work we're likely to be produced individually, it all will connect eventually. The next subject we've discussed looking at is religion - specifically the way that different religions manifest and coexist alongside a British identity. Hopefully, we'll have something to show for that within five years or so, but it feels like if we don't apply a few more constraints to nail the direction down then it could take a lot longer.