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The public call out for the inaugural CIRCA x Dazed Class of 2021 initiative asked audiences to submit a 2.5 minute film in response to the theme ‘Communion’ set by interdisciplinary artist and lecturer, Angel Rose. After receiving 2,000 applications, we are proud to present the 30 finalists who will each receive access to the Dazed Space and have their work exhibited as part of the CIRCA programme, appearing across public screens in London, Tokyo and Seoul this September.

Expanding on their commitment to help support the talent of tomorrow, CIRCA and Dazed appointed a community of jurors including Cauleen Smith, Frank Lebon, Hugo Comte, Simone Rocha, Dexter Navy, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Michele Lamy to select their top 5 submissions. From this, one lucky finalist will be selected by world renowned performance artist Marina Abramović to receive the #CIRCAECONOMY cash prize of £30,000.

With public art spaces diminishing, investment in arts education being cut and artist communities at risk, this joint initiative aims to empower the next generation of artists working in moving-image by platforming new voices and points of view from local communities on a global level, giving them unrivalled media exposure and the tools to help kick start their careers.

ALFIE WHITE, UNTITLED; COMMUNION, 2021

My name is Alfie White. I am 21 years old, a photographer and, technically, with the existence of this now, a multidisciplinary artist who explores themes he’s passionate about through multi-media and text (..and breathe!).

The past couple of months have just been living life, in simplest terms, really. The video captures a good chunk of it: seeing friends, seeing my girlfriend, doing all things fun and all things which every young adult has been yearning for in the past year. With lots of photos taken in between and all the while relying on Universal Credit. I also had my first official group exhibition the other week and have been enjoying getting back into graphic novels—recently, ‘Watchmen’ by Alan Moore.

This video is my best attempt at piecing together something which communicates this individual human experience of mine, with all the emotions which have been felt throughout, influenced and refined by the idea of ‘communion’.

Generally speaking, I start off as a literal person, then, as time goes on, I become more abstract. The theme ‘Communion’ here has not been exempt from being subject to that interpretation, and so it too was taken literally and then more abstractly as I sat on it (albeit for only three days or so, since I found out about this a bit last minute).

Its title is Communion, its influence is also communion, which is better to be described here as life itself—my life, and all that makes it what it is, which also just happens to be the people and things seen in the video, all who I love very, very much.

How did you become an artist and what was your route to your current practice?

ALFIE WHITE: Three years ago, 18-year-old me graduated from college without the faintest idea of what to do with my life. Faced with the void of adulthood, mounting existentialism, and pressures to go into further education, I went into retail work with the idea that I would begin an electrician apprenticeship the following September. Those around me called me a fool and said I need to give photography—strictly a hobby at the time—a shot, and so I did, saying to myself that if it didn’t work out I would just continue my original plan in the world of electricals instead.

It didn’t work out, but I’m stubborn and found what could be a small calling on the way. I’m literally unqualified to do anything but be creative, so here I am, attempting to make a living off of that. It’s been about two and a half years now and whilst circumstances have changed, the process is more or less the same: making work that is meaningful to me and that communicates my interpretation of the world, to the world.

Can you identify any elements of your community or collaborators that have had a strong influence?

ALFIE WHITE: Back when I was working a retail job in 2018, bored, I would watch people outside from the shop floor. I remember seeing all these moments and feeling so touched by them, wishing I could capture them in some way and share them with others. In that sense, it’s been the community itself that has influenced me the greatest. It was around the same time, though, that I discovered Andre D. Wagner’s work, which really opened my eyes to the type of imagery that can still be made today.

I’m still influenced by my community, as do those moments still touch me as much as they did back then. Nowadays, I’m influenced a lot by people around me, artists and non-artists alike. Contemporaries include but are nowhere near limited to Aliyah Otchere, Sara Messinger, Brian Wertheim, Kai-Isaiah Jamal, and Andre, of course. I went to an exhibition by an artist and friend of mine called Jenna Coombs back in the beginning of 2020, and that really had an impact on how I thought about art and my work, influencing it in a more personal direction since.

Would you consider your practice to have a positive social impact, and if so in what way?

ALFIE WHITE: It has a positive impact insofar that any form of imagery does. I do not think my work or any form of art can have a massive impact on social causes or issues in any tangible sense, as ultimately these things require a variety of respectively tangible responses to match the complicated and nuanced nature of the things they’re responding to. However, I think imagery is a powerful tool in shaping the perspectives of people, the image having the ability to shift a person’s mindset instantly and unsolicitedly, and consider my practice to be effective in that, at the very least in making people see things from a different perspective; not necessarily an honest perspective, but one that looks at things a bit longer and harder than you might otherwise.

I can make an image and someone, without even meaning to, might stumble across that image and suddenly feel something towards this person or situation, and from that emotional connection, a foundation of empathy is built, and from that, said tangible responses might now happen. I believe it’s in that that a positive impact can be had. I think my work’s impact, if it has one, is as a small catalyst for further actions down the line.

That said, I think the work I do in more documentary focused projects generally can have a positive impact in spreading awareness and making sure that voices are not left unheard or stories left untold. But that’s in more of a retrospective sense; those who I’ve met situations won’t have been made better by my photographing them, but sometimes the only thing that can be done is make people aware of it.

How would winning the #CIRCAECONOMY cash prize of £30,000 impact your future practice?

ALFIE WHITE: It would allow me to properly invest in my work without sacrificing other things, providing a massive security blanket for me to comfortably work without constantly thinking about money and jobs, and would mean I could finally sign off of Universal Credit (woo!). I know £30,000 is life-changing for everyone, but it’s so much for me that the idea of it is almost abstract; even if I added up all the money I’ve earned from 16 years old, it wouldn’t come close to that amount.

At times, I wonder if this is actually working out, if my ‘practice’ is a practice at all and isn’t just a daydream I’m attempting to realise. The prize would work things out, would make my practice a practice for certain and would solidify that daydream into more of a feasible reality, making my ‘future practice’ something of certainty. A goal of mine is also to eventually live and work in NYC—not permanently, but for a bit. It’s more of a dream than a goal but having this money would make it seem a whole lot more possible, a whole lot more like a goal.

What would you do with the money?

ALFIE WHITE: I got a guy who said he could flip it into 60 grand easily if I just give him two weeks.

Kidding! The first thing I would do is probably buy a laptop, as everything is currently done off of my 10-year-old desktop. Then I’d give the rest to my guy, of course.

No, but really, it would largely go back into my work: supplies, new darkroom equipment, a new camera, maybe, so I could work on B&W and colour simultaneously; then all the other constant costs that I am in a monthly quarrel with. I’ve been on universal credit for the past 15 months, so spending has been generally on the bare minimum and only what I really need and which doesn’t break the bank.

I would resume counselling because Lord knows we all need it. Not at the £5 per session rate and £5 per session quality I was getting before, though.

If I didn’t have access to these studios now, I would put money towards that, but otherwise, right now it would go into allowing me to live without relying on monthly, soon to be removed income support or random, underpaid jobs. I live at home with my family and with COVID and its effects on the past and current climate, I wouldn’t think of moving out, because that money could go to them and the house instead. It is an idea, though, and one that might be realised sooner than I think, if circumstances allow.

I would also probably take them out for dinner, though, as I’ve never been able to do that before.

I’ve been trying to go back to New York again as I have friends, family, and work acquaintances there who I haven’t seen. I’m eager to establish a basis to hopefully get work and create more of a possibility of living there eventually, as well to continue the ongoing body of work I have there. I have money saved for it, but this would help a bit with those additional costs as well as possibly staying longer. I also have an ongoing series on the skaters of Gibraltar, which I would recontinue with some of this money.

Generally, though, the money wouldn’t be instantly spent. Partly as there’d be a buffer period of processing what just happened, but mainly as a lot of its value would be in increments and in not being spent, if that makes sense. Having the money there to be used would make the prospect of actually living as an artist suddenly a more reasonable and actually realistic prospect, and I know that there are probably whole lists of necessities that I don’t have now as I simply can’t afford them, but that would begin to appear with such a sum and sudden advancements it would bring in my career.

Oh! I’d upgrade website hosts, actually. I’m currently with Format under a monthly subscription which I’ve had literally since I was 16, at about half the cost of what it should be with the increase of their prices over the years. I think I’d move over to squarespace, if I was given the money.

If you are awarded the #CIRCAECONOMY prize, how might this affect your community?

ALFIE WHITE: Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy security and comfortability, both of which either mitigate or entirely remove external pressures and upsets which are influenced by a person’s wealth. In receiving this money, said external pressures and upsets would be greatly alleviated, their presence taking up less space in my mind and, by extension, my capacity to ‘do’, meaning I would now have the capacity to pursue more selfless ventures without risk of it sacrificing my wellbeing or work.

In my spare time, I’ve been/trying to deliver workshops and photography sessions with colleges and mental health organisations. This is unpaid and I don’t intend to ever charge for it, but naturally, with work and life, it becomes difficult to dedicate the time and energy I’d like to towards these things. The financial stability this would provide me would allow me to not focus as much on making quick cash and instead put that effort and time into something that benefits those in my community.
Additionally, I’ve wanted for a while now to bring an assistant on board for when I have a job, as a way to teach them and get them involved (I really don’t need assistance with the scale of my current jobs), but refuse to do so unless they can be paid appropriately for their time. I’ve also wanted to bring people in to assist me in stuff like sorting out my archive, prints, etc. The money would allow me to do that and hopefully begin a long overdue trend in paying people for their time, irrespective of what they’re doing for you, as well as going against the gatekept nature of some of these scenes and the general inaccessibility of them, especially for BIPOC and other minority groups which said inaccessibility applies even more to.

The thing is and finally, no one is really making the work I’m making right now—as in, like, really really making it. That’s not to try and make me come across as something special, as it’s simply that they’re choosing not to (I suppose) and that in London/England, other forms of photography are more popular; nor is it to make out that I’m selfless, as photography most definitely isn’t. There just doesn’t seem to be that same passion for the ordinary person here or commitment to documenting one’s community as there is across the pond and in other countries. And that’s not to say that I’m capturing things in some objective or always positive light—but I’m documenting them at the very least, and if these things don’t get documented, they’ll be forgotten about. Winning the prize would help prevent that from happening.