18 August 2015

Megalopolis

I think about cities a lot. Substandard architecture and planning annoy me, especially when it's in my city and I have to live with it. I particularly like medium sized European cities like Antwerp, Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona and Lisbon that can be walked and have great public transport. I'd say Liverpool and Manchester are almost on a par with these places now after several decades of populations returning, some thoughtful remodeling and an explosion in urban life. Both cities feel like building sites again and are obviously still expanding. A watery artery - the Manchester Ship Canal already connects us but it would be great to see cooperation and the development of some kind of megalopolis with high-speed public transport between the two. If we had the zippy trains that other countries have you could do the journey in 15 minutes. Until that happens I shall be making my regular pilgrimage down the M62. Some pictures from one of those journeys:


16 August 2015

Numbers Are Neutral


I've been looking at Jackson Pollocks today. That's not rhyming slang, I accompanied a friend to Tate Liverpool to see Blind Spots, an exhibition of his work. It really made an impression on me, the show was the opposite of a 'greatest hits' and apart from a few familiar pieces concentrated on neglected work. We got there early and I felt a bit drowsy which was a good way to be, I was receptive, accepting the rhythm and fury of his work. It made me want to make marks, to scratch, pour, drip, scribble. My tool is a camera and I couldn't think how to respond, so I just let him stay with me all day. 

I like how he talked about his work, especially this line:

"I'm very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time."


He stopped giving titles to his work in the later years preferring numbers instead, because as his wife said "numbers are neutral. They make people look at a picture for what it is - pure painting."


12 August 2015

Municipal Magnificence





I visited Harrogate this weekend. The sun was out as were the bedding plants. Strangely it felt like I'd landed in a parallel northern universe of the town I grew up in, Cheltenham. They are both spa towns with similar cultural influences, architecture and place names. Everyone kept telling us it's the happiest place in Britain and the population certainly extended warmth and hospitality during our short stay. 

06 August 2015

Torn






I was struggling with words this morning so I went for a walk. Whilst out I realised that for most of us, most of the time the world is quite ordinary. Photography is however able to provide a tear in reality, revealing other readings of our surroundings and briefly exposing us to new layers of our world. Photography can do this as it apparently records 'reality' as opposed to a medium like painting which we know is an interpretation. So for me photographs are most interesting when they ask a question of the viewer, provoke confusion or manage to render the mundane afresh. 

05 August 2015

Vincent

One of the surprise consequences of spending time in Arles with Mike, my travelling companion, was that I was forced to think more about how I interpret the world visually. He is what's commonly referred to as colour blind and so sees things differently to most people. Being British we happily walked around in the scorching midday sun when colours are rich and saturated, Mike would sometimes ask me to describe how I saw a colour. In return he would explain what he saw. I think I'm observant but these conversations challenged me to look with fresh eyes and find new words to articulate shades or meeting points between hues.

It is impossible to walk far in Arles without seeing reference to Vincent Van Gogh who spent a couple of years in the city at the pinnacle of his creativity. Colour is obviously central to his painting and interestingly there have been studies in recent years that suggest Van Gogh had colour blindness or Colour Vision Deficiency. So he was potentially painting merely what he saw rather than experimenting with technique. 
It seems ironic that we describe difference as 'blindness' or 'deficient' when the works he made are so significant and valued.










03 August 2015

Dreaming of Camilla

A couple of nights ago I was chatting with Camilla Parker Bowles in a dream. She seems really nice and looks much younger than she does on the telly. The next night I dreamt I was pulling live insects out of a crack in my skin, that wasn't so pleasant. I mention this as I've been pondering the human experience and the way our realities are multi-layered, we are able to think about the past, the present and the future and generally not get confused. We move seamlessly between fact and fiction whilst enjoying books, films and games, we experience art and music on both a sensual and an intellectual level. 

The American photographer Rebecca Norris Web says "My Images are much wiser than I am. It often takes me months and sometimes years to understand what they are trying to say to me."

When things go well for me taking pictures becomes almost meditative, completely instinctive and intuitive with barely no conscious decisions. It is only later when I look back at the photographs as a set that I start to see patterns and feelings emerging from them. This is loose and undefined but I feel that the pictures are revealing something subconscious that could only be expressed visually.








02 August 2015

Wake up, Live







This blog has suffered over the last 12 months from life events getting in the way of my creativity. However I feel I might be back on track after an inspirational jolt in the form of a trip to Arles, France. It might sound like something of a busman's holiday (I love that phrase, puts me in mind of 1960's Ealing films for some reason) as it was all about looking at photography exhibitions, taking pictures and talking about photography with my good friend and travelling companion Mike. It was a holiday but on reflection it was also pretty intense in that we saw all of the exhibitions in Les Rencontres d'Arles except one, and went off taking photographs between shows. We were looking, thinking, digesting the work of others, then going off exploring the city and making our own pictures. I like that your brain becomes a melting pot in this situation, stirring together a range of influences. There is the general hum in our own heads, the things that we think about all the time that make us who we are. This collides with what we see in front of us, the freshness of a new place and all that that provides, different light, smells, sounds, tastes, language, architecture, etc. I think even things like tap water that leaves your skin and hair feeling different and the itch of a mosquito bite can change your thinking. On top of this we were constantly viewing other photographer's ways of reflecting on what it is to be human and how photography, art and storytelling are part of that. Hopefully some of these intersections were at play as we made our pictures, I'll let you be the judge of that, but I certainly feel alive again.

07 July 2015

7/7

Listening to Radio 4 this morning has left me both dismayed at the horror humans can inflict on other humans and heartened by stories of selfless acts and heroic actions. All these things happened ten years ago during the London bombings that have come to be known as 7/7. 

Ten years ago, in 2005 I was visiting London regularly to make photographs and videos as part of a project called In-between. The work was all made on the London Underground and part of my ongoing exploration of how we interact with the physical world we inhabit, how the space around us informs the space inside us. This particular set of photographs was intended to extend my work on temporary and transient spaces. The pictures were made on a compact digital camera, with me standing on Underground train platforms, taking pictures of passengers moving in and out of the stations, hence the blurring. I started in the January of 2005, but July of that year saw the terrorist bombing on public transport targets in London. I was of course shocked and horrified, like everyone. However I continued making pictures through until September and so experienced a marked change in atmosphere as well as a huge drop in people using the Underground.  When I exhibited the finished work in Antwerp in the December of that year, most people read the pictures as being about the bombings, especially as I had chosen to shoot low quality images that were blown up quite large, so they ended up having a CCTV aesthetic. Originally I had intended the work to be a video piece and this was really something carried over from my moving image tests.


The reaction that surprised me was that people at the opening tended to assume that the subjects of the pictures were either victims or perpetrators of the attacks. When presented with blurred or abstracted images, it would seem our brains search for clues and try to fill in the gaps. So for me this work ended up being more about how we interpret the world through photography and how we use slithers of visual information (gender, clothing, race, posture, etc.) to help us 'read' the world and make decisions based on this.

I've no idea who any of the people are in my pictures as our lives crossed just the once, but today I'll be thinking of all those people who's lives where taken away and those whose lives where changed forever on the 7th July, 2005.