Art that examines the cost of money

Images from the photographic exhibition Of our Times: The Price of Money at the Artspace Gallery in Barton upon Humber near Hull. Pictures: Nigel Tooby
Images from the photographic exhibition Of our Times: The Price of Money at the Artspace Gallery in Barton upon Humber near Hull. Pictures: Nigel Tooby
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A new photography exhibition explores the damaging effect of materialism in the modern world. Yvette Huddleston reports.

In our increasingly materialistic world, the pressure – real or perceived – to pursue high earnings in order to acquire the “essential” trappings of a comfortable lifestyle is immense. But at what price?

A new exhibition entitled Of Our Times: The Price of Money by Wakefield-based photographer Nigel Tooby examines the human cost of chasing the money and explores the fall-out from the tough, uncompromising way in which business is often conducted today. “It’s a partly autobiographical piece of work and it was something that I needed to exorcise,” says Tooby. “I did it originally as a photo-book which I submitted to the Royal Photographic Society and in creating it I was looking at trying to do something new and different. The message is that business doesn’t have to be done in a cut-throat way. There are things that are done that are not really necessary and not totally ethical – it can damage people.”

He admits that his own life has been affected by the prevailing attitude that “back-stabbing and being hard is the way to do business” – and it is something he regrets. “I missed a lot of my children’s upbringing,” he says. “We had a very comfortable lifestyle but the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it – I lost a very valuable, irreplaceable thing and I needed to say something about it. Not all my projects are so personal but this one certainly is.”

The photographs in the book and the exhibition feature a businessman and his family. Significantly his wife and two children are depicted as mannequins. There are two images which particularly stand out as a comment on the damaging effect that overwork and the pursuit of money and status can have on domestic life. In Family Portrait 1, the businessman is pictured with his family. “If you look closely you can see that the wife has a tear rolling down her cheek,” says Tooby. “In the second family portrait we see the three mannequins without the husband – and in this the wife doesn’t have any tears but the children do. You can interpret the absence of the husband as death or divorce but it is the children who are the victims. Often it is what is not in the photograph that is important.”

Other images include a very eloquent close-up of a businessman’s hands handcuffed to his mobile phone, a whistleblower with a gun to his head, bottles of wine hanging around a pin-striped neck and a ballot box with wads of cash being inserted into it. “I have tried to portray a whole raft of things,” says Tooby. “Some of the images are shocking and sometimes brutal. I try not to pull my punches. I design images to be hard-hitting and even to shock but hopefully in a way that sends out a strong message.” The series of photographs have a strong theme and narrative structure and Tooby says that he likes to link images in order to tell a story. “I like to find ways that a series of images can be made more graphic – to communicate things that can’t be communicated through a single image.”

So far the exhibition has provoked plenty of debate – there have been, says Tooby “some interesting comments in the visitors’ book”. He knows that while most may criticise the main character of the businessman, and his attitudes, there may be some who sympathise. “People will love it or hate it but at least they will think about it.”

• Of Our Times: The Price of Money is at the Artspace Gallery, The Ropewalk, Barton upon Humber, near Hull, to March 1.