In 2011 I was commissioned by the small but progressive arts organisation Multistory to make work in the Black Country, an area to the west of Birmingham in the post-industrial heartland of the British Midlands, a place hit particularly hard by the current economic recession. Covering some 350 sq km, it's home to just over one million people, with some 15% coming from Black, Minority or Ethnic origin.
I began by making a number of urban landscapes, but soon noticed the vast array of beauty salons and gentlemen's clubs peppering the area. Investigating this further, I discovered historical precedents for the success of both beauty and sex industries in times of austerity. In response, I made a series of short movies in a number of thriving salons and nightclubs to 'complement' the apparent bleakness of the landscape depicted in the stills. In a further series, I photographed elegant footwear against a backdrop of grey concrete and crumbling brick.
Collectively, the project seeks to ask questions about perceptions of beauty and the importance of looking good in spite of it all. Mark Power's Black Country Stories opened at the New Art Gallery, Walsall in the summer of 2012, a combination of stills, videos and a sound installation using the names of cosmetics colours and tattooist's dyes, read with a strong Black Country accent. A magazine-style catalogue of the work can be purchased here.
Meanwhile, Multistory's series of commissioned projects in the Black Country continues with, among others, Martin Parr, David Goldblatt and the novelist Margaret Drabble.