I very rarely buy books by photographers, although I think that the book is the natural format for showing a body of work I can rarely justify the cost of these beautiful, but often costly items. The ones I do own are purchases that I have thought about over and over before actually taking the item to the till. Recently I bought a book that I never thought I would own, but thankfully earlier this year it was reissued and is available online for a very reasonable price. Robert Adams’ The New West was originally published in 1974 and documents the changes in the landscape that Adams could see as the American West was slowly covered in tract housing and shopping malls.
Outdoor Theatre Colorado Spring 1968 by Robert Adams
I remember being introduced to the photographs of Robert Adams at University and I was attracted by his sparse and subtle images that seemed a refreshing change to the dramatic American landscapes like the ones made by his namesake Ansel Adams. These photographs of building sites, drive-ins, new houses and scrub-land showed a place in unavoidable flux, brought on by the the nations continued prosperity and wealth.
Now that we seem to finally taking more notice of our effect on the environment the photographs in The New West seem even more poignant than when they were originally published.
Colorado Springs by Robert Adams
As you can see from Alex’s recent post of our recorded conversation the revealing nature of this blog does not stop at showing some early images and writing down a few thoughts. In the last few days I have had to listen to myself talk about my work quite a lot, what with Alex’s podcast, and then yesterday being interviewed for a magazine article on the residency.
The problem with your words being recorded (either in type or on tape) is that you have the chance to go over what you have said, and possibly realise the the paucity of your words in describing what you try to do with images. This is very different to giving a lecture, after a lecture you may recall parts of what you have said but eventually it drifts into the muddy, fog of memory.
Last week I spent an enjoyable day working with Kate Cheyne of Architects in Residence and a group of Interior Architecture students from Brighton University. I was asked to talk about the work I am doing for the Tower Residency and give the students some advice on photographing the more intangible aspects of the built environment as part of a project they are doing in the New Venture Theatre in Brighton.
Yesterday, after a lot of talking (and hearing myself talk) about photography it was nice to pick up my camera and get back to exploring the Tower.
Old Plaster from interior of 4 & 5 Tower Green
Earlier this week I slipped on a step in the rain and damaged my right foot and am now under Doctor’s orders to rest up until I stop walking like a neanderthal. But it’s not all bad news, while I am laid up I have finally had the time to edit a podcast Chris and I recorded a few weeks ago, and post it here for your listening pleasure.
There’ll be more like this to follow, and we’ll try to make them available for download via those kindly iTunes folks so you’re not chained to your computer while you listen, but in the meantime just click on the link below to hear our dulcit tones talking about the project so far. You may want to get a drink mind, it is 25 minutes long, but we do out best to cover some fascinating subjects.
Christopher King in conversation, 25th September 2008
I found this passage while reading an article by Adrian Searle for Frieze Magazine and I thought it fitted with how it feels to walk around a place like the Tower of London.
‘And when, on the street or at some famously photogenic site, you find yourself about to step into someone else’s frame, to pass between the lens and what it points at, there is a conscious moment when you decide whether or not to enter the camera’s cone of vision. Whether to duck, go round the back or wait. It is embarrassing to wait., but we do it anyhow. And if the camera is pointing at someone, rather than a monument or a scenic view, when the subject notices your presence and your discomfort they change their expression and that’s what the camera records. Like it or not, you’re in the picture. And when you look at photographic images they end up in you, so perhaps the situation is reciprocal. It seems like a fair deal, and we all end up significant strangers in other people’s lives. And this is where some stories, and most relationships begin.’
I finally have all my contacts and negatives back from the lab. I’m glad to have the negatives as I can now check their sharpness and exposure quality. What I have also discovered is how much digital contact sheets crop from the actually negative frame, this is a relief as I was beginning to question my composition and framing on a few of the pictures.
I also have a set of negatives from the images I took of some of the visitors to the Tower. I think I can see something that I want to follow up on, hopefully with some better results. It brings to mind the Robert Capa quote: ‘ If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough’. I often think that this quote isn’t about physical distance as much as emotional distance. Anyway, here are a couple of the pictures (click on image to enlarge).
Interior 4 & 5 Tower Green
Over the last few weeks I have been visiting various sites around the Tower of London and making pictures at quite a steady pace. I have had a few hold-ups with the processing of the work at the lab due to them fitting new equipment and a few other things but now (hopefully) the work is finally making it on to my desk.
I can now look through the contact sheets and start to work out where the work is going and what I need to do next. As I’m thinking of the finished work as a collection of photographs that will be viewed as an exhibition or maybe even a book I’m now beginning to think of how the the images will work as a whole. This means I’m starting to think of the feel of the pictures I already have and considering ways to make the work more rounded.
Previously I have written about how I found it difficult to photograph the busier, public areas of the Tower, I also wrote about watching the Towers visitors experience the place through the screen of their digital camera or video. While my position at the Tower may seem very different to the normal, daily visitor, really I am no more than a tourist taking in the surroundings through my camera. The only real difference is the length of my visit and the access I am granted.
It is a hierarchy that is similar to that of the day tripper as compared to the seasoned ‘traveller’. Many travellers look down at the day tripper for visiting obvious places while they in-turn look within their copy of Lonely Planet to find some unknown corner that hundreds of other Lonely planet readers have also visited.
With this in mind I reassessed my avoidance of the crowds of tourists and took my camera with me to join in and explore the visitor experience a bit more (saying this, I also understand that simply by using my camera I am withdrawing into the safety of being the observer).
I have a couple of rolls of film to collect next week with these images and I hope they will prove an interesting aside to the work I have been doing so far, I must admit I really enjoyed taking the pictures.
While I was flicking through my copy of Phaidon’s ‘The Photo Book‘ I saw this image by David Hurn and thought it captured the kind of thing I was seeing while photographing the crowds of visitors at the Tower.
What a great picture, the kid on the cannon pretty much sums up my childhood view of historic sites.
One of the habits I have while working on a body of work is carrying a selection of images around with me. I cut images that interest me out of the contact sheets and bundle them up with an elastic band, as the contact images are only 6cm x 6cm they fit easily in a jacket pocket. Every so often I take the pictures out and shuffle through them, look at them and sometimes lay them out in sequences, seeing which pictures work well together. I like to give pictures time, live with them, some pictures grow on me some may loose my interest; this is all part of the process of creating the final collection of images.
I was lucky enough to see an episode of the BBC programme Monitor with Philip Larkin and John Betjeman from 1964 that was recently repeated for the BBC’s The Art of Art TV series. I’m a big fan of Philip Larkin and the programme was beautifully filmed in Black and White with some great readings of Larkin’s work and some really lovely conversation between him and Betjeman.
John Betjamin was obviously a lover of Larkin’s poetry and there was a funny conversation about how Betjamin envied Larkin’s ‘other job’ as a librarian – ‘it must be so nice to have something to fall back on’.
They talk about criticism and Philip Larkin says he often gets adverse criticism that derides his work as ‘sub-poetry’ or that he writes about things that are unworthy of poetic words. Larkin then lights a cigarette and says something that I thought captured how I have been feeling about my picture making recently:
‘I wonder if it ever occurs to the writer of criticism like that, that really one agrees with them. What one writes is based so much on the kind of person one is, the kind of environment one has had and has now. One doesn’t really choose the poetry one writes, one writes the kind of poetry one has to write, or one can write.’
Fire place in the Upper Salt Tower
An image I recently posted seems to have caught the attention of the readers of this blog, so I thought I’d write a little bit more about it. The image is this one of the rubber bat in the Upper Salt Tower.
This image appears near the end of the last roll of film I exposed in the Salt Tower on this particular visit. As I moved the camera on its tripod to set up and frame a new picture I saw the bat from the corner of my eye and for a moment thought it was a real, dead bat. Closer inspection revealed nothing so dramatic, it was as we can see just a rubber Halloween bat, that had in the past possibly hung from the ceiling above but has since fallen to its present position, as seen in the photograph.
Its not a prop, I don’t carry toy bats around to add ‘a certain something’ to my pictures, in fact I dont believe in altering the space I photograph at all apart from the position of the camera. I do know that school groups have been shown around in previous years so maybe this was a little bit of fun to add to the stories of the Towers ghosts.
Looking at the contact sheet of this film there is another picture of the same bat from a different angle, it’s sometimes peculiar how, when working in an area I get drawn into a possible image that when I see it on the contact sheet I wonder why I was so fascinated. You never know maybe I will work it out, or maybe this will be the last we see of the rubber bat of the Upper Salt Tower.
(click on images to enlarge)