During a talk by Mishka Henner at the end of last year, the seed for 93 Balfour Street was planted. Mishka asked his audience what the point of taking photographs was in the 21st century, at a time when the world is overloaded with photographic imagery. Shouldn't we work with and understand those photographs first before adding to the overloaded image bank. I was reminded of that today whilst at the Hijack III exhibition at Quad Gallery, Derby which amongst a huge number of exhibitors included 3 wonderful large scale Simon Roberts photographs. As great as they were, I couldn't help thinking that they were doing nothing that Stephen Shore hadn't done first 40 years ago. Technology may have advanced, but ultimately, photography will never change. It will always be a machine driven technological way of transferring light onto a light sensitive receiver. The subject of a portrait may change, but really isn't it just another face at a different time?
Simon Roberts - Blackpool Promenade
These concerns led me to consider why I was choosing this medium to explore notions of space and place in the post-industrial city. The image of 93 Balfour Street is a hackneyed one. My home city of Stoke-on-Trent provides ample opportunity to take hundreds of such images, and amateur and professional image makers snap up the opportunity with impugnity. Websites like 28 Days Later revel in the fleeting evocation of the degenerated house, or factory - glorying in the ugly beauty that these scenes present. It's like degeneration pornography - providing an instant gratification before immediately waning in the memory as the next down-at-heel image is thrust before us.
another broken bottle kiln photograph
This is where photography fails for me. Is it merely a means of representation? A frozen moment which presents the viewer with how a thing looks. It can't delve much deeper than that. It's really a dilution of our senses. No smells, no movement, no feel, no sound.
So my focus for the last two pieces of work Re-living Room and 93 Balfour Street, was to look to largely remove the photographic information - the degeneration money shot and find highlight the deficiency of the photographic process. Some sessions spent on the site of Balfour Street generated some real-life testimonial texts from people who lived and still live in the area. They talked in terms of hoplessness, politically created wastelands, neglect, rose-tinted memories which were rooted in the idea of house as home. These themes, you struggle to get from a photograph. Re-living room was an attempt to re-inhabit the scene presented in such images and talk about the fact that these derelict houses and areas were once a home, to a person, a family and a community.
As Henner has done in his work Less Americains, and Rauschenburg before him when erasing a work by Willem De Kooning, the removal or erasure of an iconic subject or elements within the work of an icon, brings into sharp focus the deficiency of the subject matter. Henner has talked of wanting to express a dissatisfaction with the scope of and ubiquity of documentary images. What sharper way, than to choose the most iconic documentary work of all time, and remove large chunks of it and create something new? Rauschenburg chose the pre-eminent artist and artform of his day and removed a great chunk of it to express a dissatisfaction with the status quo.
My dissatisfaction with photography as a medium and with the lazy treatment of the degeneration of the post-industrial city by some of its practitioners is the driving this work. My plan now - to search out the hackneyed and erase it.
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