A personal journey into the heart of the struggle for Central America 1988. Exhibiting at the Printspace Gallery and is part of the Red Gallery Off Site projects.
You could no more describe Grant Fleming simply as “a photographer” any more than you could usefully describe any of the 120 countries he’s worked in simply as “a place.” If words could do these matters justice, we wouldn’t need cameras. Some things resist easy description, as in this case does the person taking the pictures.
‘HASTA LA VICTORIA!’ is his first major exhibition and showcases images from his first overseas trip with a photographic objective – the upheaval in late 80’s Central America via the southern states of the US.
Grant Fleming became politically active in the 80’s after fortunately escaping a prison term after a number of collective ‘misdemeanors’ in his youth. He changed direction and turned to music, tour managing popular punk band Sham 69 at 18, was involved in the Mod Revival in the late 70’s, then played bass guitar with the Chords and Lords of The New Church and toured the US until the group split. Finding himself back in London on the dole, he started playing around with a camera. He would go on to cut his teeth as a photographer in the UK – at Wapping, the South African Embassy, through CND, the Miners strike and the NHS demos to name but a few.
He developed a growing interest in politics, and in particular, Latin America (a love of which exists to this day), primarily through popular culture via The Clash and their album Sandinista and later Oliver Stone’s movie Salvador. After leaving the cinema on Tottenham Court Road in 1987, he turned to his friend and said, “I’m going there.” He explains, “Mad as he thought I was, I set the plan into action, having had a period on the dole after a band splitting up and my wife being deported, I took a job in Phillips Colour printers in Spitalfields, learnt more about the photographic process, got the cash together and off I went, passing the Republican Convention in New Orleans on the way.”
Inspired by the brave and the bold, particularly the war photographer Don McCullin, Grant wanted to put his own resolution and endurance to the test. To see if he could hack it as a photographer, “to see if I had the balls”, dramatic circumstances duly unfolded and challenges presented themselves. In Panama City, he was arrested one evening by a drunken immigration officer who was publicly reprimanded and made to apologise. The following day, the immigration officer had mobilisedlocal street gang ‘The Famous Ones’, and Grant found himself with a gun held against his head and was run out of town.
In three months, he traveled through eight different countries. He explains “I wanted to see if I could handle it in conflict zones because I’d soon be found out if not. But rather than just go into the revolutionary strongholds and play it safe behind ‘friendly’ lines, I decided to undertake a journey throughout the region, and visit all the countries of Central America, some of which were more hostile than others. Witnessing life in all those places would not only turn out to be an unforgettable and life changing experience, it would also serve to give me a better understanding of the issues down there. I timed my entry into the US to begin this ‘all-seeing’ mission overland to be in New Orleans for the Republican convention, populated of course by the very architects of the foreign policy that kept the people of where I was heading to oppressed. Even though this felt like I was entering into the belly of the beast it was worth it.”
¡Hasta La Victoria! is Grant Fleming’s first major exhibition after a 25-year career in photography. It is also a political landscape that he felt was in need of revisiting. “I’m going there!” remains a mantra that inspires him just as surely as “Who Let Him In?!” (the forthcoming book of his adventures) has proved the astonished response from doormen to dictators and assorted authority figures, unsure how to process the arrival or indeed manage the departure of East London’s restless and relentless son.
The Printspace - 74 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DL
Exhibition continues till 20th of Nov 2013 - Monday to Friday: 9am to 7pm