Written By Gisele Bone

Top Joe set up his equipment in front of me, about a yard to 1.5m away, wearing his fluorescent yellow jacket.  When he was fiddling about with his tape player I had clocked the old-style camera was facing me rather than away.  He sat down to my left, looked and at me and said, ‘3-look-at-the-camera-2-1’, and I turned and gave a lips-together smile.  I wasn’t comfortable enough for a ‘I’m-happy-smiling’ smile.  He began by apologising for taking my photo and hoped that it hadn’t made me angry.  I wondered if an unhappy subject had punched him: Top Joe gave me the idea that I had a right to be angry.

As part of Documentation, Top Joe asked me where I was from and what I did.  Soon after, he explained that he wasn’t really called ‘Top Joe’ but he was being played by a man whose name was Chris and his practice was pretty new to him.  He didn’t want to deceive me and thought that he needed to let me know as he’d received a cooked chicken from a couple he’d photographed in Liverpool (where he’d been trialling this piece) and felt anguished because he was not being straight with them.  I thought about this.  I felt duped and confused, like I didn’t know who I was talking to.  I repeated what he’d just said (except the bit about the chicken) to try and clarify what he meant.  It became clear that this revelation was of no consequence but the fact that he’d thought it important enough to bring it to my attention made me feel he was tricking me.  We talked about putting on an act and how it’s normal to put on different faces for different situations.  He seemed appreciative of this meta-chat.  Then he described how Documentation was all about sharing a brief moment with a stranger.  The artist continued to ask me questions and I, bizarrely, gave him information about my life that I only speak about to close friends.  My guard had dropped: perhaps it was all part of one of our acts.

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Image credit: Hazard / Top Joe

Written by Sarah Spanton

My observations of watching Top Joe’s work are from another perspective. He undertook subtle, calm interactions with people: inviting them to have their photo taken with him, and quietly chatting to them. My reading of the work was that this was about a meeting of strangers, and at its core modelled how strangers might find ways to relate to each other. The camera, photography and tape-deck music were a vehicle to allow this to happen.

I enjoyed what I saw of the work, especially the contact I witnessed between Top Joe and another photographer, who just happened to be in Manchester to take photos on his own SLR camera (see Hazard Soundscape post, for an audio recording of some of this interaction). They chatted amiably about their cameras, sharing the camaraderie of analogue photography. And inverting the artwork, the man with the SLR camera asked if he could take Top Joe’s photo and then did so.

I’ve been interested in ideas around communication and how strangers relate to each other for some while, and have written blog posts on this elsewhere (#1 & #2).

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Image credits: Sarah Spanton / Top Joe

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