“And then all of my nos, crystallised into a single yes.” So said the American photographer Richard Avedon before embarking on his portrait series which came to be known as The American West. Avedon was talking about all the aspects of his photography which he wished to leave behind, and, in shedding these styles and tricks, he was left with what he did want to do. The white background. The light source which seems to come from within the subject. Working with a field camera.
My statements of intent are less grand than Avedon’s, and I don’t know if I have fully hit my yes, but I do know my nos. So it’s a big no for the time being to…
going out into the world and taking pictures. Basically, anyone can do it through a little study and application. And if they can’t, then running the picture through any number of software will make lots of people go ahhhh. I listened to Werner Herzog speak on this point recently. I think I would like to go to his film school. Herzog doesn’t teach film, he explained, he teaches how to pick a lock, or how to falsify a visa in a hurry. Herzog states that the basics of filmmaking can be learnt in a matter of months and are not to be dwelt on. I like what he is saying.
it’s also a big no to being overly worried about how my images are presented. I’d like to my images to be seen, but if that involves going to great length and cost, then I’m not interested. And neither should any art student be, art not being something which should be entered to win prizes or please galleries. Not at a student level, anyway.
What there is a yes to is to hacking out narratives from a variety of sources to create pieces which I believe fit our times. I aim my camera at my screen and photograph politicians at lecterns giving speeches about bring peace through war. I photograph news reporters giving respectable weight to these ideas through their own words, or through those of carefully selected studio guests. I photograph these things at slow shutter speeds, so as enough detail is left to recognise the scene, but taking away the face, or capturing more than one face. I photograph real life figures, and their movie counterparts and then lay them side by side, suggesting that it is hard to tell one from the other.I soundtrack these images not with music (music is another big no) but with sounds and interview which suggest confusion and duplicity. Some sounds are taken from the physical world around me, others from sources I have recorded. They jumble together until it is impossible to tell one from the other.
The whole is a jarring, confusing mess which is unlikely to win many fans, but….fuck it. These pieces look and feel like the times we are in.We are in unfamiliar territory, so much so that many would deny this to be true. We are in times when there is a complete blurring between war and peace, fact and fiction, entertainment and war. Valery Gerasimov tells us this is so. Gerasimov is Russia’s Chief of General Staff, so probably knows a thing or two. in 2013, Gerasimov stated, “In the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template.” Cyber hacks are intentions of war. Clashes between football fans of rival nations are intentions of war, although whether the fighting between English fans and the Russians in June was an attempt to boost or undermine Russia is unresolved. These events take place everywhere and nowhere.
So here are some of my children. I’ve spat on a hanky and rubbed it over their faces, yet they still looked dirty and resentful. But I love them all the same.