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Photographer Dean Chalkley And Designer Ciarán O’Shea Talk To Tootal Blog About Their New Sgt. Pepper’s Inspired Exhibition

‘Reverberation’ is a new exhibition created by two award winning and highly regarded creative talents, renowned photographer Dean Chalkley and creative director Ciaran O’Shea from studio Discordo.

Dean is a contributor to publications such as The Observer, Rolling Stone and The Sunday Times as well as shooting numerous album covers. A close and long running association with the NME has produced many iconic images, including one voted in the top 3 best NME covers of all time. Ciaran brings a wealth of experience designing for record companies and an impressive range of magazine titles. Recent activities include designing record sleeves for The Horrors, commercial campaigns for Adidas and Stella, and running his own record label.

‘Reverberation’ features a series of large images inspired by The Beatles seminal album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and is presented at The Book Club in Shoreditch, London. The show is a progressive, and at times abstract, reflection of the album, exploring the thirteen celebrated songs from a renewed perspective

Tootal Blog caught up with Dean and Ciaran as they prepared to launch the event.

Why choose Sgt. Pepper’s, one of the most familiar albums in the history of Pop?

Reverberation Poster by Dean Chalkley X Discordo (© 2017)

Ciaran: We took Sgt. Pepper’s as more of a point to springboard off, so each of our seventeen pictures relates somehow to one of the thirteen songs. Some songs have multiple pictures but it was key for us to not recreate something that has already been done before.

Dean: We’ve all HEARD the album, and even heard songs that didn’t make it onto the album that we imagine did. Strawberry Fields Forever being one. But have we actually listened to them? We’ve heard them on the radio, in the car, on the beach… but have we actually sat down and immersed ourselves in them?

Because there is an awareness of Sgt. Pepper’s being 50 years old we listened to the album independently; we talked about it, agreed this was a good idea and then went away for a week. In that time we had the opportunity to let the album wash into us, to feel the atmosphere of it, and then think “How can we look at it through our lens and bring something to life in our own way?’

How far did your research go? There have been more books written about this band, and particularly this album, than any other.

C: For every track, there are a thousand stories. It’s interesting to look at it in a social / historical context, how things sit now compared to how they were 50 years ago.

D: As Ciaran says we’re not recreating something. We’re referring to it then showing it in a different way. It’s strange to us but there are young people who might not have even heard of The Beatles. A couple of generations back everyone had heard of them, whether they wanted to or not.

What’s the process? Is each image an illustration of one of the songs?

Photographer Dean Chalkley (L) and Ciaran O’Shea, creative director of studio Discordo.

D: It starts off with two guys sitting in a room, talking, listening to The Beatles… then it can take on a life of it’s own. Despite the margins we’ve got in our mind, let’s be loose so we can allow things to evolve. For example, the pictures are not called what the tracks are.

C: We thought that it was good to not tell people too much, but to let them find their own way. So you could be stood in front of a picture and suddenly “Bang! That’s A Day In The Life”. Others are not quite so clear, so it allows people a bit of a treasure hunt, to go and find out what’s what.

D: One picture allowed us to present prose in a particular way. A fantastic writer called Aimée Keeble wrote a new piece for us. We fused what she had written together with our intentions, so it’s almost a portrait of her only she’s not in it, just her words. Another song resulted in a picture of a horse. We couldn’t have planned for that shot but the way it developed… it became totally relevant so it’s like acknowledging that spark, seeing the potential and bringing it to life.

As long as people look at our work and then take something away from it. Everyone is entitled an opinion; it creates debate. So even if someone comes in and shouts “Sacrilege!” it’s eliciting some sort of response, which is better than mediocrity and numbness.

Many of your subject matters are friends and associates. Apart from the obvious “With A Little Help From My Friends’ pun what was the thinking behind this?

Present from the exhibition Reverberation by Dean Chalkley X Discordo (©2017)

D: This whole process only started two months ago with a telephone conversation, so it’s happened in a very condensed period, and that was intentional, to keep it dynamic. And there are these brilliant characters that we know, some who are very close to us. Everyone shared our joy of doing it. No one said “No”.

C: I think it’s interesting, the cast of people that we use. Looking at the album there were songs that were borne out of people that The Beatles knew. A lot of the songs were inspired by real events; real people, interesting people, and I think that’s a nice synergy between the songs and this exhibition.

There’s a guy we photographed for one of the pictures, Lewis, a fantastic looking guy; he’s shot in 64 frames and he’s got a tattoo on his chest that says ‘Live Forever”. So he’s got this connection to Oasis, a band hugely influenced by The Beatles, and now from Oasis back to this event, and this is a young twenty-something year-old geezer. It’s very interesting to see those reverberations. The pebble being dropped there, the rings spreading out and are still touching people to this day.

Did you change your opinion of the album across the course of this project?

C: My opinion is constantly changing. It’s a lot more melancholy than I remember it as a kid. Before I really listened to it I felt that it was a ‘fantasy’ album but so much of it is borne out of real life. I feel very privileged to be able to look at it and digest it 50 years on because you’ve got the wealth of stories that go with it, which gives huge depth to how you can appreciate it.

D: It’s also that counterpoint; you imagine it is overwhelmingly optimistic but you listen to it and think actually, it’s not quite as optimistic as it pertained to be, which is brilliantly subversive. When people think ‘Sgt. Pepper’, they think he is The Beatles but you listen to it and think, “He isn’t one of The Beatles, he taught the band to play”.

How long will it be before you can bear to listen to the album again?

D: We’re listening to it all the time. I’ve got it in my box upstairs. I’m DJ-ing tonight. Without a shadow of a doubt, there will be a few Beatles tracks put on. Maybe they will be presented in a slightly different way.

Given the mediums you have worked in previously does this feel like a natural progression?

Mantra from the exhibition ‘Reverberation’ by Dean Chalkley x Discordo (©2017)

C: Personally, yes. It’s been fantastic to work with someone as talented as Dean, and to conceive ideas then achieve them in a quite short space of time, and to the degree that we have done, it’s pushed me professionally and has felt like a very natural progression.

D: It has allowed us a great amount of freedom and scope. It doesn’t diminish your love for photography or graphic design but I think what we’ve done has brought it together. We’ve done a lot of literally, physically scalpelling out, there’s been a lot of manual application where we’ve shot stuff, printed it out, cut it out, re-photographed it, changed it… very old school but we left the rawness in there, as well.

C: Which is very much in keeping with the layered nature of that album and the analogue techniques they would have used.

What’s next for you, individually or collectively?

C: We’re finishing a short film with poet and musician Kojey Radical. He’s a Hoxton born lad, which is where we shot the video. There are massive literary connections in that area. Shakespeare used to stage his plays at The Theatre on Curtain Road. The Britannia Theatre, where Dickens used to go, was close to the Macbeth Pub though it is now a council estate with a blue plaque on the wall to commemorate it. And Kojey is a young lad, who has grown up there and embraced this tradition of narrating, speaking and singing.

D: When we were leading up to filming we talked to him about the local tradition and he was like “Oh! I didn’t know that.” He might have been having me on, he’s got a good sense of humour, but either way we hope that in it’s own way this ‘Reverberation’ event will to some have the same effect. People who’ve never heard of Sgt. Pepper’s will ask “What’s all this about?”

They might just as easily say, “Oh, look, some red pictures, that’s nice” but we welcome both those reactions.

The ‘Reverberation’ exhibition is at The Book Club, 100 – 106 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4RH until 5th November 2017. For more details visit www.wearetbc.com

A collection of images from Reverberation is available as a limited edition book from www.y-junction.net while stocks last

You can find more detail of Ciaran’s past, present and future projects at www.discordo.studio

And for more detail of Dean’s projects visit www.deanchalkley.com