Lessons for a Shaman: On Barenness, Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18×24 cm negative.
Medals for the Gladiator, (i), Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18x24cm inch negative.
This is the first (left-hand) part of a diptych. I’ll post the right-hand part tomorrow.
These, along with the recently posted and early ‘Campsite for the Non-Citizen’ photographs, anticipated a later group of works by that same name. And all of these arose from a troubling (to me) sense of a kind of civil order that began to bud with the Reagan/Thatcher era. The West’s reaction to 9-11, the rise of fundamentalist and populist/nationalist undertows, and this latest madness with the Trump administration, along with neoliberal interludes merrily danced to by centrist, so-called lefties leaves me feeling more in sync with images like the one above than ever before.
There was a time when I really thought this work was fanciful and mannered. Now, I am left scratching my head and wondering how could I have ever done this, and where did it come from. It speaks the kind of truth that only oracles are privileged with, and only occasionally singes the rest of us. I’m burning.
Campsite for the non-citizen, Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18x24cm negative.
Continuing on this rather dystopic drone, here’s one of the strangest photographs I have made. It borders on ugly. But it came from near-brushes with being stateless and a refugee. Trying to rise above the tug of my personal experiences, I tried, and keep trying to understand, what pulls us to behave xenophobically. There is a Darwinian argument for this, but I am also interested in other ways of thinking about the matter. Xenophobia, hate, territory (terror), nationalism lean into the edges of our humanity. Either a one or a zero. These are states of mind and experience that are approach-paths to what we consider absolute values, but driven by a denial of the absolute.
A bit like Zeno’s turtle, where there never is an end-point, the consideration of any absolute value may in itself be an exercise in abstraction. But I think not. Before the end, there is a midway to the end, and before that point there is another midway, and so on. This is a constant, never ceasing pre-absolute. Approaching the ‘pre-absolute’ is welded to the poignancy of the human condition – I move towards the absolute but never get there. In this sense, we may be more fearful of darkness that is barely taking form, than we are of absolute darkness.
So, that is why so much of my work is shaped by the platinum-palladium print and large format negatives. These materials give a highly nuanced voice to the pre-absolute. Almost black, almost white. And this image is one of the most terrifying I have ever made. It is in between a lot of end points. How is that possible? Ask any refugee. Or immigrant.
Platinum and palladium are noble metals. Robust in its immutability. Paper is made of cellulose fibers. Fragile in its transparency.
Imitation Krakatoa: for the armchair button-pusher, Orkney, 1982, Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18×24 cm negative.
This still life was made at a time when Ronald Reagan was still perceived by many of us in Europe as the person who would bring us into a nuclear confrontation with the USSR. I’ll never forget how a party with my friends in Scotland, which began as a celebration of Carter’s re-election, turned into a sombre wake as the results began to roll in on BBC. We could not understand how the most powerful nation could elect, what!, a Hollywood 2-bit actor?
Well, things changed, disaster, at least as we understood it, did not strike. Something more subtle was afoot. Then things got better, and we arrived on the doorstep of the Dream fulfilled. But now, this! Once more, we seem to be dealing with a fingernail on the chalkboard of democracy, politics and peace. And that stub is also resting on the button.
Krakatoa was big, but a bad Little Boy can do a lot of damage too.
Meg’s Eggplants, Berkeley, CA, 1988. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Fabirano 5) from original 8×10 negative.
Growth, 1989. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Fabriano 5) from original 8×10 negative.
From John Berger’s piece, Francis Bacon (1909-92) first published in New Statesman (5 January 1952) and recently in Portraits: John Berger on Artists, Verso, London:
“Bacon’s work is centered on the human body. The body is unusually distorted, whereas what clothes or surrounds it is relatively undistorted…The nervous system for him is independent of the brain.”
and Berger later goes on to say
“We see character as an empty cast of a consciousness that is absent.”
Banyan Tree. Temple. India. 1995
Platinum-palladium print on vellum from 8×10 inch negative
Thanks to frequent prods and nudges from my dear friend Chris Bucklow, I am thinking about the relevance of William Blake’s work on photography. This comes also from a synchronistic sequence of events. Last night, I heard an excellent talk by Sylvie Fortin about the globalization of art, and curatorial practice. She began her presentation with (my understanding of her talk:) the rise of criticism during the mid 1700’s, which, for me, not only defined the push-back a few decades later by William Blake, but also established the ‘logic’ for the quagmire of art practice that we now find ourselves in. Another nudge came from Robin Gillander’s reference to a piece by Paul Graham, entitled ‘Photography is Easy‘. And yet another from a letter by a dear penpal friend (yes, that still happens in this age of easy travel and Skype) that arrived yesterday:
Photography is difficult in its content, but not so in its craft; photography is difficult because its secret hides mainly in a reflection, in an emotional and intellectual response to the world, and much less in a talented labor and execution. – letter from Urs Bernhard
And the quote from my last post (from the book by Kathleen Raine which arrived as a precious gift from Chris Bucklow a few weeks ago):
‘I would no more question my eye than I would question a window concerning sight. I look through it, not with it.’ – William Blake (from Kathleen Raine’s excellent “Golgonooza: City of Imagination – Last studies in William Blake”