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Nick Waplington and The Holy Land

The British photographer talks to Dazed Digital about his first UK exhibit in over 4 years, looking back on working in one of the most controversial and sacred cities in the world

Since his youth, Nick Waplington has had a penchant for capturing the world around him. His acclaimed catalogues of works have been, and continue to be, founded on his unique ability to document his surroundings. It’s this ability of Nick’s that has led to collaborations with powerful and driving creative forces such as the late Alexander McQueen, whose work Waplington was entrusted to document whilst shadowing the designer for his documentary book. It’s also the reason why he is one of Britain’s most celebrated conceptual photography artists. 

Waplington choose to leave London behind in 2007 for a short sabbatical to Jerusalem - a stay that was initially only meant for six months manifested itself into four years and his new exhibit, the first in London since the artist left in 2007, is due to launch tomorrow at Hackney Wick’s See Studio. Long Way Back To Nowhere: New Works From The Holy Land features a slight shift from photography, incorporating sculpture, video and painting. Ahead of the exhibits launch, we talked to Nick to find out about his time spent in one of the most controversial and sacred cities in the world.

Dazed Digital: Why did you move to Jerusalem?
Nick Waplington:
I was offered the chance of a studio there initially for a six month period. When I went I knew that I would end up staying longer as six months wasn't going to be long enough for me to really achieve anything worthwhile, but I didn't imagine I would still be there four years later. 

DD: How has the city influenced you?
Nick Waplington:
I could spend a week answering this and never get to the end as Jerusalem is one of those cities which even after a lifetime of discovery it would still hold many secrets. It is also a city of constant change and renewal. Beyond the historical and religious aspects it is the largest city in Israel, that is if you agree it is actually in Israel, this in turn leads to the conflict. The conflict shapes daily life in the city because it is basically two cities plus the Old City. So living there is a very emotional experience and I have been really lonely there but that in turn has meant I have had to throw myself into my work. 

DD: Is it possible to focus work on the West bank and avoid political connotation?
Nick Waplington:
No, even the name West Bank is political, just by choosing it it is a statement in itself. The Israeli right and mainstream call the area 'Judea and Samaria' and the left use the term 'West Bank'. While Palestinians and the Bedouin call it Palestine when talking about themselves or West Bank when referring to the Israeli occupation. 

DD: What did the participation of local people bring to the work?
Nick Waplington:
Well I worked with various crafts people from the different communities on the production of the work so they brought their skill and expertise in their chosen activity. Some of the Palestinian craftsmen who worked with me on the project like the glass blowers and wood turners work in family run businesses and have learnt their trade from their parents. Now like almost everywhere else they are threatened by cheap imports from China. The last traditional Palestinian head scarf manufacturer based in Hebron just closed. 

DD: How did your view of the region change in the four years you spent there?
Nick Waplington:
This is simple, I went there believing in the 'two state solution' like most people do, but I soon realised the Israeli's have no intention of giving up any land or sovereignty, so one state it is and that's how it is going to stay I believe. So the sooner they introduce democracy the better, it is not a complex situation, one man one vote is very simple and would work just fine I think. 

DD: Was there any particular aspect of your time in Jerusalem that you struggled to depict?
Nick Waplington:
I wasn't actually trying to depict my time in Jerusalem, but personnel issues do manifest themselves in my work without me actually realising until much later on. It is interesting for me to look back at my work and find personnel hidden agendas within the work. I consider these to be my own secret takes on my work, something I can hold on to once the work is in the public domain and no longer belongs to me. Once you exhibit work people bring their own interpretations to the work, you cannot control art, thank goodness.

Nick Waplington - Long Way Back to Nowhere: New Works from the Holy Land – Private View: Thursday 1st December, 2011, 7pm- 10pm – SEE STUDIO Exhibition Space, 13 Prince Edward Road, London, E9 5LX. Exhibition until 28 Jan 2012.