Growing up in London during the 1940s and 50s, I witnessed the last decade of magazines like Picture Post. Photography then seemed to be the medium of the moment, second only to cinema, able to reveal, isolate and communicate what mattered about the human condition in new and direct but still individual ways. It was a period when humane attitudes were still more central to public life. Working for magazines and publishers during the 1960s and 70s, I amassed many tens of thousands of images, mostly taken around England, while teaching later allowed me both the time and independence to work on personal projects as well as on editing this work into groups of images arranged to emphasise their relative significance. I put together a collection of photographs of the Aldermaston Marches, taken between 1959 and 64, that were printed onto document paper with a limited tonal range but which was much thinner than conventional photographic paper, making it suitable for mounting and binding into a book. Unfortunately the negatives of this work have been lost and so only an edited facsimile of the original book can be included here.

 

 

 

 

Later, in 1971, over 200 photographs taken during the 1960s were published by Allen Lane The Penguin Press in a book entitled “How We Are”. I was then commissioned to work with writer Dennis Marsden on a book about unemployment entitled “Workless” and published by Penguin in 1975.

Moving to Lincolnshire in 1979 to take up a lecturing post I spent the next few years photographing the village into which I had settled and where I also continued to edit my early work into new sequences - unpublished little books that were later donated to the library at the University of Sussex, where they form part of an archive containing the core of all my work. After taking early retirement from teaching in 1990, I worked on new projects, eventually in colour. In one, entitled ‘nub’, images of water in nature were used metaphorically in a sequence alongside documentary photographs, some of politicians taken during the two general elections held in 1974 and others of families with young children from the same decade.

More recently I spent much of 2010 & 11 photographing a farm near Boston at the invitation of its owner, Andrew Dennis. Woodlands was a 1700 acre mixed organic and biodynamic farm. It formed part of a farming enterprise that had been in the Dennis family for four generations and became organic in the late 1990s when a market garden was set up to sell produce in local Farmer’s Markets as well as offering a vegetable box scheme. Local breeds of Lincoln Red cattle and Lincoln Longwool sheep, Lincolnshire Buff and Black Rock chickens, various breeds of turkey and Curly Coat pigs were also introduced alongside an ambitious programme of hedge and tree planting. The farm ran educational and cultural events, frequent open days and offered residencies for artists.

A collection of this work, alongside some of my earlier village pictures, was made into a film of stills entitled ‘in Lincolnshire’, for which Ralph Shilcock, a young musician and neighbour, provided a guitar accompaniment. Another film, this time of re-edited material from my book and entitled ‘How We Are - revisited’, also included some of the ‘Workless’ pictures as a coda and was again accompanied by Ralph’s guitar. Finally a short film of the ‘nub’ material was also put together to complete this account of my work.

 

 

How We Are - revisited

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Nub

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in Lincolnshire

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After retiring I also started to write a private diary of my thoughts, often reduced to aphorisms in a process that continued to evolve over 20 years or so into something akin to stream of consciousness, from which I could distill my thinking. Despite a lack of common ground with conventional practice, the work produced was poetic in form and, like photographs, most effective when grouped into sequences. At around this time I was approached by an artist, Pam Day, who had been drawing and painting from my photographs unbeknown to me since the 1970s. We established an affinity that also embraced my writing, to which she responded with perceptive yet critical encouragement. I had been working on a piece entitled ‘bubble’, written around 2013 and this then developed into the set of eleven poems included here and introduced by Pam’s drawing of a crying child made after a photograph in ‘How We Are’.

 

 

 

 

In his “Preamble” introducing Walker Evans’ photographs of rural families affected by the US dust bowl farming crisis in 1936, published as “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”, James Agee wrote “I spoke of this piece of work we were doing as “curious.” I had better amplify this. It seems to me curious, not to say obscene and thoroughly terrifying, that it could occur to an association of human beings drawn together through need or chance and for profit into a company, an organ of journalism, to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of those lives before another group of human beings, in the name of science, of “honest journalism” (whatever that paradox may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness, for money, and for a reputation of crusading and for unbias which, when skillfully enough qualified, is exchangeable at any bank for money (and in politics, for votes, job patronage, abelincolnism, etc); and that these people could be capable of meditating this prospect without the slightest doubt of their qualification to do an “honest” piece of work, and with a conscience better than clear, and in the virtual certitude of almost unanimous public approval.....All of this, I repeat, seems to me to be curious, obscene, terrifying, and unfathomably mysterious”.

Only a few of the people I’ve photographed ever knew why I was taking pictures and even I couldn’t know how these would ultimately be used, which had to remain a matter of trust. Consequently, I had an obligation to act in good faith - not to ridicule nor misrepresent them and was pleased when the critic John Berger wrote in his introduction to ‘How We Are’ that - “There is not a person in this book whose presence has not been respected, who has been caricatured, whose view of himself has been violated.” I accept that using people in this way is morally questionable and can only justify the intrusion into their lives by restricting use of their images to a context that I can control. They are my photographs and I must justify any crossing of ethical lines by presenting them in as appropriate a context as I can, and this does not include encouraging them to be seen as ‘art’.

Again to quote Agee - “Above all else: in God’s name don’t think of it as Art. Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been thus castrated. Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.”

June 2018

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