Mark Simmons is a photographer/photojournalist based in Bristol. His work has ranged from documenting grass roots political campaigns to exploring the diverse spiritual lives of people in cities. Having run a successful commercial studio focused on the entertainment industry for ten years, he is currently exploring the role of narrative and agency in people’s lives.
In my lifetime I have seen a shift to a faster world of busy people, information overload and, paradoxically, greater social isolation in a world of 24/7 virtual ‘connectivity’.
The idea for this project began with a desire to look beneath the surface business & move our focus to what really matters. I wanted to construct an image of a member of the community that was a portrait, not just of them, but of their relationships, representing their central role in the lives of others.
By tradition we take formal group portraits of family at weddings, and of classmates and teammates at school and work. I wanted to use this convention to convene and create a new typology of formal group portrait that signifies the importance of an individual & their network of friends and acquaintances.
Local resident Soniya Mundy was up for the experiment. In summer 2016 a selection of her friends and acquaintances accepted an invitation via Facebook to come to The Park in Knowle to have their photograph taken with Soniya.
Soniya talked about tough love, tough talking, facing fears, finding true friendships, not judging, and the importance of confiding: “Life can be a lonely place, everyone has their dramas…. These people have helped hold me together when I was ready to give up”.
And of Soniya: “She is always there for me. She understood me straight away. We connected, she’s open minded, she’s been through so much herself”.
How often do we tell people how special they are and what a difference they make in our lives? How many times do we fully realise this only when they are gone? Each one of us is centrally important to many people. Let’s recognise and celebrate this more.