Mr Ben Murphy

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Personal profile

PhD title: 

Constructing A Countercultural Self: A Photographic Exploration of Countercultural Identity Through Place and Space


This practice based interdisciplinary research combines photography with cultural geography to explore how contemporary international neo-nomadic countercultural identity is manifested, reinforced and maintained through customised vehicles used as homes, and other forms of makeshift self-made dwellings situated in a remote mountainous region of south-east Spain. Large format analogue photographs made in the field act as the primary source of reference and conduit through which the construction of countercultural identities are examined and explained. Theories concerning place, space, material culture and home provide a framework to approach, deconstruct and interpret the photographs to offer alternative perceptions of countercultural identity. In deliberately excluding people from the colour photographs, using diffused lighting conditions and a system that enables seeing fine details, the intention is to encourage critical evaluation without the distraction of a physical human presence. Photographs are discussed to demonstrate how place, space, and materiality contribute to the construction of a countercultural self, and provide ways in which people can indicate otherness. Analysing dwellings and habitats I draw out differences in countercultural identities. The thesis also considers how neo-nomadic countercultures can hold on to historic identities, or adapt and evolve when transposed to a foreign country. Reflecting on certain objects and materials that connect the counterculture to the industrialised world, I consider some possible contradictions and inherent paradoxes of attempting to escape the dominant society, while being entangled in it and dependent on it for survival.  The purpose of this research is to contribute to the questioning and understanding of current neo-nomadic countercultural identity, through intersecting aesthetically and conceptually considered photographic practice with cultural geography and arguing for their capacity to enrich each other as a means of producing alternative understandings and progressing geographic and photographic knowledge.


Personal profile

I trained as a graphic designer at Northumbria University school of art and design and subsequently worked as assistant art director on the Face magazine, and assistant to Neville Brody before becoming a film and television actor for 10 years. My photographic career began in 1994 with portrait commissions for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. I live in London.

My work is in the permanent collections of the V&A museum, London, the National Portrait Gallery, London,and the Architectural Association, London, The Archive of Modern Conflict, London and Toronto.

My work uses photography as a conduit to contemplate, express and understand the phenomenologies of place and space in relation to identity. 

My book, titled The U.N. Building, was published by Thames and Hudson, 2005.

The Riverbed series first featured in Portfolio photography journal with an accompanying essay by the philosopher Nigel Warburton. Early work from this series was nominated for the European Sovereign Art Prize by Brett Rogers curator of the Photographers’ Gallery, and then shortlisted. This work has now been featured and discussed in over 20 magazines, newspapers and journals internationally and exhibited in Antwerp, London and South Korea. My commissioned work appears regularly in the Telegraph magazine, Wallpaper magazine,Nowness.   

In 2010 I won an award from the Graham Foundation in Chicago, to produce a new series concerning the temporary makeshift dwellings of the homeless in America. The work, titled “Homes of the American Dispossessed” was exhibited at the Architectural Association Gallery, London, January -March 2012. As well as my personal work, I am also working on a series about Britain’s soon to be demolished Gas holders for a national archive to be held by the Sceince Museum, London. I wa recently commissioned to photograph the works of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei for publication as a book of the artists exhibition at Blenheim Palace. Having successfully completed my PhD, I am now working on a new series of photographic works. 

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