Ahead of the exhibition launch of the Tottenham chapter of the New Chieftain photography project at The Cove on 29 July, we popped into Blighty India Cafe and had a cuppa with Agenda Brown, the man behind it all.
Can you give us a brief overview of the New Chieftains project?
The New Chieftains are a tribe defined by their tenacity; they are non-conformists and this work is celebrating their power, creativity and drive. We are witnessing a new way of being, each time a New Chieftain reveals themselves. It’s about me curating and putting together these fantastic individuals that display a particular set of traits…
The project is really about making people slow down and explore other areas of a personality rather than what someone does, how much money they make, how well they make shoes or bread or bags. My interest is more in the process behind it, going another level deeper, maybe talking about their challenges, things they’ve overcome, their mindset or how they see things.
What traits do you look for?
Tenacity, stubbornness, resilience, creativity.
Why did you decide to start the project?
I started the project because I was meeting these people before I was actually looking for them. I was just being confronted by them… it kept happening again and again and I thought ‘it would be good to start talking to these people’, which I did, and then I thought ‘OK, maybe I’ll photograph a couple’. I thought ‘OK, this is definitely looking like something that could be more than just an interest – it’s something that could be a body of work’.
How does the New Chieftains project break down into different tribes or chapters?
The aim of the project is to produce a book and documentary so what you’re seeing are different chapters as they launch. There are chapters based on Tottenham, Berlin, Nordic females, Kyoto craftsmen, for example. They are stand alone projects but they’re chapters of a book so they all have their own life and can be exhibited separately but they’re all part of the wider project.
Can you give me a brief summary of your career and what led to this point now?
I’ve always been working in creative fields – graphic design is the thing I’ve done for the longest. I got very bored with that, got a camera, taught myself and found myself doing quite high end jobs at the beginning when I didn’t really know what I was doing. I went through all kind of photographic fields like magazines, newspapers, but that wasn’t really my thing. Then I found that photography was a route to my obsession with people… Now I’m working on more long term meaningful work.
What is it about people that means you have to tell their stories?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I think I always find something in people that interests me no matter who they are and I always think, ‘why don’t people know that thing about that person?’ Often I think people get known for something quite obvious and what’s two or three layers below is more interesting to me.
How many people will be featured in the Tottenham chapter?
I’m launching with six people to start with, but that’s really an endless thing because I think personally I know at least 50! Even when it gets to the book it will keep going – whether that’s online or in another way, it’s an ongoing thing.
Could you tell us a bit about who will be featured in the Tottenham Chieftains chapter?
Master Frank who runs Pinda Kai Do is a phenomenal character. He is teaching young people to teach martial arts and he’s been doing that in the same room [at Chestnuts Community Centre] for 21 plus years.
Then there’s Anna who runs a charity shop but there’s a lot more behind it. A lot more community engagement, she has a whole health project, an alternative fashion idea – that’s just a window into her world, there’s a lot going on in it.
What’s the most stand out story that you’ve come across so far?
They are all fascinating individuals, but if I was to choose one it would be Ingmari from the Nordic female chapter, which is not launched yet. She is one of the first supermodels. She’s 70-something now. She’s been a model for 50 years and she still is modelling very much… She’s very much surrounded in this luxury, privileged lifestyle, flying around the world, everything comes to her, she’s appeared on 14 Vogue covers… She’s only interested in nature and trees… She does it because she has to get from A to B but she’s not chasing that. She never has been. She’s not interested in tonnes of money, it’s really about people and how she can relate to nature.
How long have you been working on the project so far?
Physically creating it, about five years, but mentally around eight years.
What else can we expect from the project?
You can expect to see exhibitions and supper clubs, which I’m very passionate about. I’m very much a foodie. I’ve had a supper club already where I invited a small group of people and had a personal chance to talk to them one to one and give them a deeper understanding of the project. Supper clubs, exhibitions, a book and a documentary.
When is the book coming out?
It’s at least a year away. All the chapters that are mentioned are in progress but they’ll take a lot of time and energy to finish.
And, the documentary?
I’ll do a pilot next year – starting with a documentary about one person.
Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming exhibition?
The Tottenham Chieftains launch is on 29 July in The Cove on Markfield Road and I’ll be displaying six images from the start of the chapter. It’s open all day with a private view starting from 6pm. You can talk to me and ask me questions and in the evening I’ll say a few words.
All images taken by Agenda Brown as part of the New Chieftains original project. (Bayode Oduwole appears in the feature image)