Dan Wood – Suicide Machine (Second Edition) Book Review

Here we are with another fantastic book by the one and only Dan Wood. Today we are going to be taking a look at the second edition of his fantastic project ‘Suicide Machine’, published by Another Place Press.

Synopsis:

The Bridgend suicide incidents are a set of suicides involving young people in Bridgend County Borough in South Wales, UK. Reports speculated that a “cult suicide” was to blame. As of December 2008, there have been twenty-four known deaths in or from Bridgend county since January 2007, though police have found no evidence to link the cases together. Many of the suicide victims were teenagers between the ages of 13 to 17.’ – Wikipedia

The idea for Suicide Machine came about in 2009 whilst checking into Gatwick Airport, London for a flight. After looking at my passport the desk attendant asked, “Bridgend, isn’t that where all the suicides are?” It then dawned on me that the town where I was born, grew up in and still live, was now infamous, nationally.

In 2013 I decided to start documenting “The Town With No Hope” and the people who, like me, live there. What is it that makes a ‘normal’ town like Bridgend end up with such a bad reputation? On the surface it is just like any other town. In fact, it’s probably a step above other towns due to its near-perfect location, lying alongside the M4 corridor, a mere two and a half hours drive from London. Additionally, Bridgend sits just ten minutes away from beautiful coastlines and wonderful valleys, and is twenty minutes equidistant between Wales’ two main cities of Cardiff and Swansea.

Fence on Grey wall Book Review - Dan Wood 'Suicide Machine' the south west collective of photography

Similar to his other fascinating and intriguing publications such as ‘Gap in the Hedge’ and ‘Pove The Great’, ‘Suicide Machine’ is focused predominately in his hometown of Bridgend in Wales. Bridgend is a town in Wales that for several years has received a hounding in the press for numerous issues, the events mentioned above being one of them. This has subsequently caused a rather misguided and incorrect stereotype of the area to be formed and believed by outsiders. Wood says that ‘Suicide Machine’ aims “to rediscover Bridgend and determine if it’s as generic, oppressive and regressive as the tabloids and other media outlets made out at the time of the suicides.”

Book Review - Dan Wood 'Suicide Machine' the south west collective of photography

The events mentioned above are nothing short of horrific. Suicide, as a subject, is something I suppose many of us would try to avoid discussing. Suicide and mental health issues can be caused by a number of issues. These issues can range from personal issues within someone’s relationships, to economic issues such as finances or gambling or poverty, or social issues such as drugs and alcohol as well as many other issues. Suicide as a subject is complex, with no simple answer or solution.

Photographically speaking, this is a complex and wide-ranging subject with many avenues of exploration. Wood has approached the narrative cautiously, sensitively and most importantly, ethically. Wood has never overstepped the ethical boundaries of being a photographer and demonstrates how projects should be created when working with a controversial or sensitive theme in mind.

Book Review - Dan Wood 'Suicide Machine' the south west collective of photography young couple stood by garage

As I sit here and write this piece for you all, it has been just over a year since I lost a dear childhood friend to suicide. Suicide and mental health are problems in our society that must be discussed and tackled, which is why this particular project has deep rooted and emotive meanings that make it more than just a photography project. These powerful and emotive narratives are something that Wood has mastered over the last few years and is something he deserves more recognition for, especially in the British photography scene. There is more to life than just being a photographer and defining success by publications, it’s about who you are as a human and what you set out to do in the stories you tell. I believe in the future; Wood’s work is going to be looked back upon as a genuine, authentic representation of the period we are experiencing.

In Britain, I feel that many of us would like to see, especially during these difficult and uncertain periods, a return to this authentic, raw, Chris Killip style of photography that meets real people and explores real subjects. We want to see authenticity, Britain needs authenticity.

Suicide Machine and the rest of Wood’s work speaks volumes to me and many others. This is the reality of Bridgend. This is life through Wood’s truthful eyes. It’s authentic and explores a subject that many would avoid. In one image we have a man loading a rifle, in another, a woman stood on the street, did they know the people who died? Their stories are shrouded in mystery, but yet their portraits tell us so much subjectively as your mind wonders from page to page.

Book Review - Dan Wood 'Suicide Machine' (Second Edition)
Book Review - Dan Wood 'Suicide Machine' the south west collective of photography woman stood on street corner

Both editions of Suicide Machine were published by the superb Another Place Press. As many of you have likely read my reviews before, you will know that I am a big advocate for them and their publications. Another Place Press believe in low cost, affordable photo books and support talented emerging artists. In this edition of ‘Suicide Machine’ the book has been excellently designed and produced. The paper stock, layout and print of the images are gorgeous, whilst the design of the cover looks brilliant and flows nicely with the narrative of the imagery.

The design and thought behind the book’s narrative have certainly worked in its favour. When I received the book and left it on the table my mother genuinely came up and asked me if I was okay due to the title. I found this interesting as we live in a world where it is often argued that we have become desensitised to graphic imagery or issues such as suicide, as it has sadly become all too common in our society. Many books lack that emotive trigger and get ignored, but that type of emotive response will work wonders for the imagery and narrative of ‘Suicide Machine’ as this work is so much more than just pictures.

Book Review - Dan Wood 'Suicide Machine' the south west collective of photography man stood in car park

The imagery featured in the book is detailed, intriguing and really tackles the media stereotype of Bridgend itself. Wood’s photographs are raw. His images are of real places and real people. This project documents real people going about their day to day lives and Wood has been able to capture that just by being on the ground with his camera. Taking good portraits of strangers is challenging at the best of times, but to Woods credit, they are fascinating pictures to look at, they leave so many questions in the viewers mind especially when combined with this difficult and thought-provoking narrative that is suicide. Wood makes Bridgend look like an interesting place – perhaps the Welsh Tourism board should give him a job?

Dan Wood is a fantastic Welsh Photographer who deserves way more credit than he gets. If you are reading this and like what you see, follow his social platforms and share his work!


Dan Wood

“Born in Wales, UK, 1974, I’m a self taught documentary and portrait photographer that discovered photography in the early 90’s through the skateboard culture. My work has been featured in many publications including The British Journal of Photography, CCQ Magazine, Ernest Journal and Jungle Magazine. I’ve participated in over 45 exhibitions both nationally and internationally; including 6 solo shows. In 2018, I was announced as one of the winners of the BJP, Portrait of Britain prize.”

“Several pieces of my work are held in the permanent collections at the MMX GalleryLondon and Film’s Not Dead Print Room, London. Suicide Machine/Gap in the Hedge books & prints are held in the collection at the Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol.”

Photographer

http://www.danwoodphoto.com/

Article by Collective Director Samuel Fradley.

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