A spontaneous Photo Hastings exhibition at the Hastings Observer building for two weeks in November 2015. After a busy year – personally, but not photographically! – this represented a chance to show some of my work-in-progress and get some creativity flowing again.
The five photographs entered into the exhibition were all products of my continuing experiments with shooting multiple exposures on a Coronet 6×6, first begun in preparation for the Octet exhibition a year previously.
Three of these photos – in the black frames – were slightly older and represented an approach I was no longer taking; I was glad to exhibit them, however, as I think they’re evocative in a way that the more recent work (deliberately) isn’t. The two other photos – in the white frames – were much more recent and reflected a desire to push towards abstraction.
I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to give a short talk on the work during the exhibition. Here’s what I had to say:
These are two different series mixed together: the black frames are a bit older than the white ones, and the white ones reflect the way that I’m going with this work. More abstract, more colourful, essentially. They’re multiple exposures onto slide film.
They come out of two changes in my approach to photography. Firstly, a purely practical one: we had a baby boy two years ago, which means that opportunities to get out and about are much more limited than they once were. I’ve had to work with what’s nearby, which has been the allotments at the back of our house.
Secondly, a creative change. I think I’ve found a path to take at last. Until now, my photography hasn’t really let go of the idea that it should mean something substantial, either in terms of documentary or commentary on the human condition in some way. As a result, I’ve shot my share of Tri-X and learnt my way around composition, but to little purpose or end effect. It’s never felt like completely my own work.
But these do feel like they’re mine. I’ve come to realise that I don’t want to try to express my own anxiety or depression in my work; I don’t want it to be a vehicle for that side of me. Instead, I want it to be colourful, positive and natural. In simple terms, I want it to be happy. One of my favourite painters is Howard Hodgkin, someone who isn’t afraid of expressing joy or even plain old everyday contentment if that’s where a painting is coming from.
I’m very aware of the danger that they could be bland or too vague; perhaps they are bland and too vague! Perhaps they have too little to say…or nothing much at all. But I like to think I’m engaged in my own little quiet act of rebellion: I like the way they sit among other photography, all quiet and a bit reserved. I like watching people walk by them, rarely stopping; I like the sense that there’s nothing really there. And I love the way that they use colours which you don’t really see in a photography show otherwise: pink, yellow, bright white, all a bit blousey! I definitely feel as if I need to move towards them being more compelling in some way, something to stop you in your tracks. But I feel like I’ve found a path.
In terms of process, I’ve found that I only start to think creatively when technical decisions get taken out of my hands and, especially, when I don’t have a viewfinder to tell me what it’s going to look like. As a result, my favourite camera at the moment is this one: no controls, rubbish viewfinder, just a shutter button and a winder. It’s such a lovely camera to use for multiple exposures. Unlike a Holga, its lens is just good enough to pick up colours and shapes even when it’s an inch or two away from a subject. As with pinhole photography, just because you don’t have a viewfinder doesn’t mean you can’t compose your shot: you never quite know how it’s going to work out, but you hone your instincts by experimenting and by making mistakes. That, for me, is where the fun is.