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David Copleland
CREDIT: David Copleland

Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Reflections on small-town life

In recognition of the graduates emerging from UK universities and colleges during a time of great uncertainty, we highlight the work of one particular image-maker.

David Copeland, based in Northern Ireland, completed an MFA in photography with distinction from Ulster University in 2020, three years after achieving a first-class honours degree in photography.

His work explores physical, circumstantial and psychological boundaries. He splits his time between commissioned and personal projects, gaining recognition for portraits such as that of Patrick Adams, published on the cover of the Guardian Weekend magazine.

Here he introduces his series A Place to Sleep.

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A Place to Sleep might suggest no more than a frugal use of place; somewhere that satisfies our basic need for rest. Sleep might also suggest comfort and security that most of us come to associate with home. It might at the same time be morbid, reminding us of the inevitability of life and its end. 

“Held by circumstance, and held by the need to sleep, I photograph the place I have come to call home. A small, imperfect dormitory town situated astride the ever-flowing River Lagan and the constantly droning traffic of a dual carriageway.

“Bypassed by these roads, the people and the river, I find myself questioning my environment. Home provides us not only with a sense of security, a point to return to at the end of a long day. But is home also an invisible boundary, one that can hold us complacently ‘in place’?

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“As we leave childhood behind, our experience and position in the landscape changes. A place can become overshadowed by life beyond its borders.

“Although photographing in daylight, the darkness of those shadows may feel as black as any night.

“But, at the same time, the light that casts those shadows shines on the physical boundaries of home – the walls, fences and hedges that in turn cast shadows of their own, that define not only the end of our personal property but the start of someone else’s private property.

“The darkness informs a psychological boundary that keeps me here and, by default, you there.

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“Having moved away a couple of times, each time I found myself being drawn back by circumstances beyond my control. The need for a place to sleep somehow has me back in these all-too-familiar surroundings.

“I identify with the agenda and demands of place. Each day I would circle its outer edge, each day knowing that the end of today’s walk is the beginning of tomorrow’s. I never truly moved forward. I began to realise this small town and many others like it has become the setting for an existence destined to repeat.”

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All work from the series A Place to Sleep by David Copeland