A PHOTOGRAPHIC exhibition created by a former soldier turned lecturer will open at
Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) in the New Year.
Craig Ames served in the British Army for three years, which included a six-month tour of West Belfast where he was an Evidence Photographer alongside his role as a combat soldier.
He now works as a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the Northern Centre of Photography at the University of Sunderland and is a much-respected photographer who has work in the national collection of photography at the V&A Museum in London.
He has exhibited at NGCA previously, and his new exhibition, Kill Zones, goes on show in the Collections Gallery on Tuesday, January 8.
Alistair Robinson, Programme Director for NGCA, said: “We are really pleased to show Craig’s work as part of our newly-refurbished Collections Gallery. The Collections Gallery gives visitors the opportunity to see extraordinary works the NGCA has acquired over three years, alongside our main exhibitions.”
The exhibition is a series of photographic works of ‘Mil-Sim’ (military simulation) gameplay arenas in the UK. Mil-Sim players try to create authentic combat experiences, based upon the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is achieved by the use of highly detailed replica weapons, wearing authentic military uniforms and employing standard military tactics.
Craig explained: “Kill Zones explores Mil-Sim’s fluidic relationship with reality and fantasy and how, in turn, pockets of the British landscape have been transformed in order to become theatres of recreational conflict.
“I was fascinated by these people who make such an effort to replicate a reality and I wanted to explore the fantasy world they create and how it compares to the reality I’ve experienced.”
In order to do so, he registered with a replica gun club and completed a training course to give him access to Mil-Sim sites in the north and south of England. He visited 12 sites in total, and was ‘staggered’ at the number of people who use the Mil-Sim sites.
Craig left his home town of Bishop Auckland to join up at 18 and a vague interest in photography was sufficient for him to be ‘volunteered’ into the role of Evidence Photographer.
His tour of West Belfast was in 1991, and as an Evidence Photographer he took pictures of scenes of crimes and weapons or explosive finds. He concealed a camera in his chest webbing and would take unofficial pictures while patrolling the streets of Belfast in an armoured Land Rover and on foot. In doing so, he created a unique perspective of a soldier’s view of Belfast during The Troubles.
“I really shouldn’t have been taking those pictures, but I felt it important not just to take the pictures I was told to, but to also document my experiences in what in effect was a war zone. I wanted to capture how in many ways the streets were immediately recognisable, the same architecture, the same houses as I was used to, but in a completely different and dangerous context,” Craig explained.
“I couldn’t do this officially, so took the pictures unofficially, but had no plans at that stage to exhibit any,” he added.
After leaving the Army, Craig decided to study for a career in photography, graduating with a degree in photography from the Kent Institute of Art and Design in Rochester, and then a Masters Degree in Photography from the University of Sunderland.
A decade after leaving the Army, he asked if he could return, this time taking photographs as a civilian. Perhaps because of his soldier past, the Army agreed and he started with his old regiment on the fateful day of September 11, 2001.
Pictures of his second stint with the Army were used in a book and his early work drew heavily on his personal experiences as a ‘foot soldier’ in the military.
Now his practice also encompasses his wider research interests, particularly contemporary representations of conflict and the military. Working in collaboration with British Armed Forces veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan alongside veterans’ organisations and charities he is also concerned with the ‘unseen’ consequences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
More recently, his work has returned to the home-front in response to Brexit and the rise of nationalism, while he is also researching the topics of drone technology and the weaponisation of Artificial Intelligence.
Kill Zones is supported by Arts Council England, NEPN and NGCA.
The NGCA, which moved into the ground floor of National Glass Centre earlier this year, is open daily between 10am and 5pm and entry is free.
For more information on Craig’s work, go to www.craigames.com