Skip to main content

18th July 2023

Review: Benji Reid’s – Find Your Eyes

Benji Reid combines photography and choreography in a thrilling, chilling and unique piece of artistic theatre at Manchester’s International Festival 2023
Review: Benji Reid’s – Find Your Eyes
Slate Hemedi and Benji Reid. Photo: (c) Oluwatosin Daniju

Manchester International Festival is an eclectic, innovative arts festival which commissions a wide array of art. Their commissions include art that intersects different genres, including visual art and sport (‘The Trequartista’) and dance and clubbing (R.O.S.E). Whilst these generally involve two people from different disciplines coming together, Benji Reid is a one-man collaboration. A pioneer of hip-hop theatre turned award-winning photographer, his photography focuses on conflict, thus his photography can be seen as a physical embodiment of hip-hop, a genre built on conflict and fighting injustice. Benji refers to himself as a “choreo-photolist” – an artist that combines photography, choreography, and theatre.

Find Your Eyes sees Reid creates images, in real-time, in front of his audience. He sits at the centre of the stage, his ‘studio’, with three dancers (Slate Hemedi, Salomé Pressac and Yvonne Smink) posing for the camera. Stills are extracted from the scenes taking place in front of us: as Reid snaps shots of his models, their photos appear on two huge screens at either side of the stage.

The piece begins more simply, with Reid capturing bodies and headshots, sometimes instructing his models to pose a certain way. The models wear no make-up, allowing us to see blemishes, pores and wrinkles. As Reid tells us in a voiceover, he does not want to photograph what somebody looks like but what they have been through. He quotes Yohji Yamamoto: “Perfection is ugly.”

One of the most memorable early scenes sees Hemedi and Pressac portray a couple whose playful, loving embrace gradually transforms into a blurred battle for control.

As the performance goes on, the photoshoots become more and more elaborate, with the models swinging around poles and even flying from above. Perhaps the highlight is Smik’s pole performance, ‘Girl as Kite’, in which a wind machine is pointed at her yellow plastic cape. Her movement is incredibly impressive. I sat there wondering how on earth she holds on to the pole like that. The captured photos were breathtaking.

Woven into the narration are episodes of Reid’s own life. He talks about his experiences as a Black British man, his struggles with mental health, and even his mother’s paralysis. The latter is brought to life in a piece of choreography, in which Pressac lies in bed whilst Hemedi flies over her on a machine, perhaps embodying a nightmare. It’s a beautifully terrifying visual feast.

Narratives are woven together seamlessly and powerfully, as Reid captures groundbreaking photographs in real-time. But whilst photos are taken before us, this piece of theatre was clearly planned meticulously; a lot has gone into it – blood, sweat and tears.

Keisha Thompson, Contact’s first female and Black Artistic Director and CEO, who we interviewed last year, worked on the piece as a dramaturg.

Find Your Eyes is one of the most unique pieces of artistic theatre that I have ever seen. In fact, I’ve never seen anything like it. A pioneer of hip-hop theatre, Reid could now be pioneering a new art form: photo-realism.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

More Coverage

Review: Manchester Revue’s Lonely Hearts Sketch Club (Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

Manchester Revue’s Lonely Hearts Sketch Club is a hilarious and spirited sketch comedy show performed by an exceptionally talented cast that will leave you in fits of laughter

Review: R.O.S.E – Sharon Eyal, Gai Behar and Young with Ben UFO

A collaboration between Israeli creatives and British musicians, R.O.S.E is a unique immersive experience that celebrates club culture

“Most of all, I’m an observer” – The career of Richard Kelly in his own words

The Mancunion interviews Richard Kelly about his time as the Arctic Monkeys’ personal photographer, his career over the years and the purpose of his latest exhibition.

Ableism in galleries: The Lowry offers a solution

The Mancunion speaks to The Lowry about their solution to galleries being inaccessible to people with additional access requirements.