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Restart Radio Republished: Mark Phillips photographs ‘essential’ repair

Photo from Mark Phillips 'Repair is essential' exhibition

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We revisit an episode from 2018 with photographer and friend of Restart, Mark Phillips. Phillips has an exciting exhibition, ‘Repair is Essential’, co-produced with Alex Horn of West Central London Fixers, currently showing at The Tabernacle in London. You can check it out through Sunday 17th October!

Phillips’ portfolio is expansive and immersive. In this interview, he tells us about his work photographing repair culture – from Cuba to our very own Restart Parties. In the last few years, his work has only developed more as he has spent time travelling around Europe photographing repair in Scandinavia, Germany, and professional repairers in the UK. 

We have a solution to new unrepairable phones

Before we get into the interview though, we have an important announcement about Repair Day. On 16th October it is he fifth annual International Repair Day. This year the theme is “Repair lowers carbon emissions,’ in response to this year’s IPCC report and the upcoming COP26 summit. ​​There is no better time for us to concentrate on how our work as a repair community is vital in the ongoing fight against climate change. And it is also a time to celebrate repair! Whether online or in-person we hope you get to repair together this year.

We also have a big announcement from Right to Repair EU with the launch of the 10-year smartphone campaign. We explain what the 10-year smartphone is, why it needs to be the new standard, and why you might not be able to buy one just this second. These reasons are further supported by some recent news about the new iPhone 13 and Apple’s increasingly frustrating crusade against third party repair. 

Photographing ‘essential’ repair

Phillips explains to us the origins of his interest in photographing repair culture. On a trip to Cuba for an academic conference, he could not help but note the way that the people there put painstaking effort into repairing the smallest things. Phillips decided to capture this unique culture of repair and took photos of lighter refurbishers on the street and a wrench held in the door of a car – you never know when a repair will be needed. This is when he began documenting ‘the never-ending life of Cuban things’. Since then, Phillips has embarked across the globe to photograph repairers of all kinds – including much of our local repair community here in London.

The drive to repair exists for many different reasons. In Cuba and Ghana, for example, this drive is often born out of necessity. While recognising the unfortunate circumstances, we can learn from those who are constantly being forced to innovate and reuse what they already have. By documenting this repair culture, Phillips encourages us to think of the opportunities that we have and expand our understanding of why repairing is so essential – as is the focus of Phillips’ exhibition. 

Repair is Essential - image copyright Mark Phillips

Documenting repair at home

While Phillips has spent a lot of time photographing repair culture abroad, he also is very involved in photographing our London community. From repair businesses to Restart Parties, if you love an image we have shared it was likely taken by him. We know that photographing in these spaces can be challenging and Phillips tells us more about why. This is only part of the reason that we are so thankful for his work with us over the years. 

Finally, we share our views on the future of repair culture. Mark tells us about some sustainable design projects that have inspired him and given him hope. However, we also note the lack of these projects. Since this discussion, we have fortunately seen more of these examples pop up. Nonetheless, there is always room for innovation and this work becomes more urgent and essential every day. 


[Images by Mark A Phillips, licensed under CC BY 4.0.]

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