ESCAPE - THE GARDEN
Best known for my work in B&W, my colour work is known mainly to those who have attended workshops with me. This was in part a deliberate policy. I wanted to make work free from the pressures of exhibiting.
I want to use this blog to explore one strand of my colour work which began in the early 1960s. It began, as much of my work does, by accident. In the early 1960s my main personal practice was B&W documentary, I was also running a portrait studio, Taylor Brothers in Hillfields, Coventry, the area where my documentary work was made.
Sitting one day in a local wood, looking through my camera playing with the focus, using the camera almost like a kaleidoscope. I was amazed by the worlds revealed to me. Worlds only visible through the optical system of the camera. I loved the effects of out of focus colour, the blending and melting of colours, of tones. I began three long series of work, trees, raindrops and ferns. The practice became an escape from the studio, and from the tensions of my documentary work, a play, a game of constant delight. I didn’t think of the work as ‘landscape’, I was exploring colour. When I did, to my surprise, begin to work in the landscape I worked solely in B&W.
From the early 1960s. Ektalure film, 135mm & 300mm lenses.
Working with colour in this way has continued, a play with the medium and with light. Which since 2005 has become my major pre-occupation. Working with a hand held 35mm camera, finding my desired image through focus, by using the widest aperture, photographing through twigs or leaves close to the camera, finding ways to disrupt the presence of a precisely described subject. Work pursued in the photography of a number of gardens, and of late, in my own garden.
Let me introduce you to my garden.
Beginning, the garden in 2007 and the garden now April 2020.
I moved to my present house in March 2005, a small, terrace in a non-descript urban area (I have never been good at houses). I wanted a garden, a retreat, an oasis, an escape from the some times oppressive area in which I lived.
The house had a garden, a pleasant enough space, but not the garden I wanted. I left it for a year to see what grew, but then decided to clear it and begin anew. I didn’t realise I was also making a studio! I had little idea of the garden I wanted, ferns and acers I thought, but planted other things to fill the space, many have now been replaced, all gardens are palimpsests! The garden is now somewhat overgrown, ‘not so much a garden as a glade” as a friend remarked. But there is beauty in the idea and the actuality of a glade.
My B&W still life work had ended, I began to work solely in colour, 35mm negative, processed by a high street lab, en prints to assess and sequence. My input confined to a moment of seeing, to the pleasure of sequencing and book making. My late colour work has been inseparable from the making of books. The earliest work confined to photographing the space of my house, and later, as the space matured, my garden. Fundamental to this practice has been the idea of making images in which the presence of the referent is minimized, where the images become about light, about the ways in which the camera makes light manifest. I have explored this idea for the last forty years, in colour and in B&W It is perhaps impossible. As Roland Barthes said of the photograph ‘the referent adheres’ but the attempt has a certain fascination. Some of my garden images are I think the closest I have come to achieving my goal.
Viewers have often found the work problematic, ‘this isn’t how photographs should look’. I did finally exhibit colour and have heard gallery goers say ‘I have a waste basket full of things like that’. Perhaps they have, but I still enjoy both the images and the process of their making. Decide for yourself. Anyway, what should a photograph look like? The work has also often been described as ‘painterly’, which superficially it is, but it is in essence purely photographic, a product of the optical system of the camera.
Enjoy, take care, stay safe!