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“Trip to Norilsk”, Rosie Marks, 08.14-10.19 (2020)
Rosie Marks, 08.14-10.19 (2020)Photography Rosie Marks

Rosie Marks’ voyeuristic photos capture everyday life’s banal absurdity

08.14-10.19 gathers together five-year’s worth of photographs celebrating the ‘strange, beautiful, and sometimes amusing’ moments of modern life

Rosie Marks has a knack for noticing the absurd, hilarious, and poignant details of the everyday that all too often escape our notice. Known for her voyeuristic portraits of people absorbed in daily life, Marks trains her lens on the oddities of our normal, and reconfigures our sense of the ordinary.

Her new book, 08.14-10.19, gathers together 526 images taken over the past five years, offering fleeting moments of insight into the lives of others, all while drawing our attention to how peculiar we all are. Often compared with Martin Parr – a fellow chronicler of the idiosyncrasies of modern life – Marks’ work is a humorous vision of humanity and its oddities. From the quiet despair of a long-haul flight, to catching the last tube home after an office party, or a moment of contemplation in the hairdresser’s chair, she presents us with details of the world around us that we've previously taken for granted and invites us to reconsider it all more closely. 

Mostly nonconsensual and unstaged, her photographs allow us a glimpse of people at their most unguarded. This aspect of Marks’ work is an integral part of how 08.14-10.19 functions as an antidote to the self-consciously curated portraits we encounter on social media. Raising questions about how we’re observed by others, she also turns the gaze back upon herself by inviting a psychologist to appraise her character based only on her work, and she includes this impartial psychological profile within the book to accompany her photographs.

Take a look through the gallery above for a preview of 08.14-10.19 while, below, we talk to Rosie Marks about her covert portraits of the general public, the deceit of social media, and her hopeful vision of humanity.

Could you tell us a bit more about 08.14-10.19 and how it’s a reaction to the ‘deceptive’ pictures we’re used to encountering on social media?

Rosie Marks: The name 08.14-10.19 refers to the first and last dates the pictures were taken, so it spans over five years. For me, it was a way of documenting situations around me that were often overlooked – a reminder that there are so many strange, beautiful, and sometimes amusing things happening around us. I used to think it was my way of going against what one might see on social media – pushing oneself into his/her best light, a reel highlighting magical moments etc. But I think, in some ways, these pictures could be considered in a similar vein, because each one is 0.3 seconds of someone else's life, a frozen isolated moment I have witnessed, and most of the time I have no idea what happens for the remainder. 

Despite your amazing ability to capture what’s absurd and hilarious about everyday life, I think there’s also something very optimistic and poignant about 08.14-10.19 in terms of what it reveals about humanity in general. How would you position it on the axis of hopeful or cynical?

Rosie Marks: Mostly hopeful! Generally, these images were taken with a fascination of the subjects and my own interest in documenting the world around me, in the same way that previous generations have done. I think in the past year or so, the pictures have taken on a new meaning, maybe because it could now be a book about all the things that were second nature and normal practice at the time, and are close-to-impossible now. So, in that sense, the sensation is quite hopeful. On a basic level, it shows people at their most free, honest, quiet.. seemingly content with their lives.

“For me, it was a way of documenting situations around me that were often overlooked – a reminder that there are so many strange, beautiful, and sometimes amusing things happening around us” – Rosie Marks

I love the idea of including your psychological profile in the book and allowing yourself to be observed in this way. How did it feel to be scrutinised in this way? And what conclusions did the psychologist come to? 

Rosie Marks:
Interesting! And a little harrowing. I was curious about what someone might think of the book who didn’t know me personally. Though I hadn’t thought about a lot of the things she writes, most of it is undeniably true. It’s reassuring to have psychological theories and explanations for the things I do and the way I see the world. My favourite paragraph is this one: 

'It is easy to assume that the thrill-seeking part of her has increasingly gotten braver. From secretly photographing on the London Underground, where many people are already on their phones, to taking up her phone and directing it at a next-to-naked lady on the beach giving her the middle finger. Has the search for that dopamine rush clouded her judgment and given rise to a sense of entitlement? Apart from the dopaminergic reward system, what other driving forces might there be behind this work? She is certainly driven by a need to explore and document the world around her. Could it be a way of relating to others? A way to understand her own life? Without a doubt a wish to entertain and potentially to make us see something we would not have stopped to look at otherwise.’

Are there any particular pictures in the book that you think most define 08.14-10.19? If so, please could you talk us through them?

Rosie Marks: Generally, I think the body of work as a whole makes it special – a mass of images from all over the place. I’m not sure one or two images stand out. However, some of my favourites are from a trip to Russia in 2019. It took me several years to find a way into Norilsk, one of the most polluted cities on earth in the Arctic Circle which, in the end, involved a five-day riverboat. The whole experience felt new to me in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time, so maybe that’s why the time stands out to me. 

Is this an ongoing project? Can we hope for another volume in five year’s time? If so, are there any ways in which you predict these pre-COVID-19 images will be markedly different from the next collection? 

Rosie Marks: I think I’ll always take pictures like this, but I think some innocence has been lost in the making of this book. When looking at it again it feels like my most intuitive work. Recently, I have been working on slightly longer-term projects, getting to know the subject a bit better; spending more time watching the project grow and evolve rather than snap moments of instant and fleeting interaction. Maybe that’s the next step. 

What kind of overriding impressions do you hope this body of work will leave with viewers?

Rosie Marks: Hopefully, something positive about life – that interesting and beautiful things happen all around us, during banal moments and routine events. I think the book has taken on a new meaning in the last year or so with COVID-19, so now it could be more about the things that were once normal and are now impossible. 

08.14-10.19 by Rosie Marks is published by Dobedo and available now