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This photo project immortalises soundsystems as works of art

Brian David Stevens has focused in on systems found at Notting Hill Carnival

  • Seb Wheeler
  • 28 November 2018

Soundsystems are works of art. No question about it. And photographer Brian David Stevens has immortalised some of the most famous, found at Notting Hill Carnival, in a series of striking images.

Stevens made early morning trips to Carnival to catch the systems before the crowds descended, both in their natural, regal state and with their protective tarpaulin on, revealing two sides to these totemic structures.

The photographer has linked with London print studio, publishing house and record label Tartaruga to create a series of limited edition prints of the images he made at Carnival, each a striking artefact detailing the rugged beauty of soundsystems.

We caught up with the two to find out more about the project, read on below.

When did the soundsystem project start?

Brian: I first shot them in 2004, then reprised the project in 2016, the second time round we shot half of the systems covered up due to the inclement weather and a nod to the artist Christo.

Tartaruga: We got involved in the summer of 2015, when we printed the first box set of prints. It felt like a great project to marry our interests in photography, music and screen printing.

Why the focus on soundsystems?

Brian: Because they are beautiful objects in their own right. I used to work as a roadie so developed a deep appreciation for speakers and cabs. Each system is individual and full of character. Seeing them in the street before the crowds arrive, you see them in another context.

Tartaruga: There’s an abstract quality to the stacks when they are photographed in isolation. Brian’s images ask you to look at them in a different way, as these beautiful, fleeting structures, and yet you can’t get away from their very clear function: to get people dancing.

What's your favourite system?

Brian: I don't have a specific favourite but I'm drawn to the smaller, more hand-made systems.

Tartaruga: One of our favourites from this current set is of the covered stack on orange. Reminds us of an elephant.

How did the collab between Brian and Tartaruga come about?

Brian: Jeff Barrett from Heavenly records loved the photographs and featured them on his site and I think Tartaruga saw them there.

Tartaruga: Yeah, Jeff featured the project, and we instantly knew that this would make a cool print project. We’d been fans of Brian’s photographic work for a while and this felt like the perfect project to collaborate on. We then went on to publish his book Brighter Later.

Why's it important to immortalise these images in print?

Brian: Hopefully it's a new way of seeing the systems, being about to see them as standalone objects.

Tartaruga: For the love of carnival, photography, and ink on paper!

Tell us about the print process and the formats the images are produced in.

Brian: The screen prints are very different from photographic prints, they have a beautiful rough quality and we can make them affordable which is important, the whole process is very hands-on.

Tartaruga: Screen printing is a simple, fun and inexpensive process. The aesthetic you get – to us at least – is a perfect match for carnival and the soundsystems specifically. They're a little rough around the edges and the imperfections are often what make some of the prints so special.

Why are soundsystems art?

Brian: They are something I’ve always been visually attracted to, a connection to a past life I guess.

Tartaruga: ‘Cos we say they are!

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