Henry Mullins – Michelle Sank – on the social matrix

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

This small booklet, aka a zine, is the third of a series published by the Societe Jersiasise Photographic Archive, under the Editions Emile imprint, that investigates their photographic collection, founded by Emile F. Guiton focused on the Channel island of Jersey. For context, Jersey is located in the English Channel between France and England, although just off shore of France, it is nevertheless a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom, with a mixture of British and French cultures. Volume 2 of Editions Emile (Occupation at leisure 1940 – 44) documents the island’s 5-year German occupation during WWII, perhaps the closest that the Germans came to domineering the English during that epic war.

For volume three, ED.EM.03, Henry Mullins / Michelle Sank on the social matrix, a juxtaposition is created by the editors between the historical photographs of Henry Mullins that date to the 1860’s, with the recent portraits by Michelle Sank. At first blush this book appears to highlight the differences of the passing of 160 years in photography; warm toned black and white photographs created by wet collodion on glass with that of contemporary color. The stilted poses required for the longer colloidal exposures versus the fluidity of the current instant moment.

Only on delving into the details of the photographic content that more differences become evident; Mullins provides a view into an older high-society that could afford the pricey photographic process, a new social requirement brought on by a similar set of Royal portraits. In the 1860’s a photographic portrait was a token of prestige and an indication of class, in part resulting from a commercial promotion by the photographer. Not observed in Mullins photographs are the ‘common man’, but a formal documentation those who locally on this island welded power; both political and economic. Interestingly, the editors also include an early photojournalist attempt by Mullins that actually appears very contemporary due in part to the limitations the photographic equipment and processes.

This set of formal portraits are contrasted with Sank’s color photographic portraits. Her portraits appear to include the entire social spectrum, from the formal environmental portraits of persons who are affluent or in power, to the casual everyday shorts, tennis shoes and crop tops women standing adjacent to the shoreline. When these two periods are juxtaposed, it is interesting to note the similarity in how some of individual(s) chose to pose (or perhaps directed by Sank). Studying the photographs of the past and how dated these may appear to us today, we can also wonder how the current color photographs of Sank will look to viewers in 160 years from now.

The Editions Emile series has a similar trim size, printing and binding that unify the look and appearance of these publications as a set.  The small size makes these zines very comfortable and easy to read, and the random layout and sequence of the images avoids these becoming a static document. The list of plates at the conclusion of the book allows one to study the photographs as presented without detracting captions. 

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Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal

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On the social matrix – Henry Mullins – Michelle Sank

Photographers:  Henry Mullins, born in England, unknown where he died, Michelle Sank, born: Cape Town, South Africa, resides in: Exeter, UK

Publisher: Societe Jersiaise Photographic Archive, Editions Emile, copyright 2021

Essay: Gareth Syvret

Text: English & French

Stiff covers, saddle stich binding, four color printing, List of Plates, printed by Park Communications (Ltd), London, ISSN 2633-5093

Photobook Designer: Patrick Cahill

Editors: Martin Toft & Patrick Cahill

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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