Sunday, 27 December 2009

Who Knowes Raymond Moore?

Raes Knowes, 1980

When I was an art foundation student at Trent Polytechnic I lodged in the house of an art teacher working at a nearby school. Ivan shared my interest in photography, and one evening he invited me to watch a television programme about the work of a British photographer called Raymond Moore. As with many of the artists I saw at this time, I tried to emulate Moore’s work as a method of understanding his approach and ideas and as a way to develop my own.

Untitled, 1987

The following year Raymond Moore visited the course (which I had subsequently joined) as a visiting lecturer. There were a total of 18 students on the course at the time and Ray was only employed for a single day, so I was lucky to have a tutorial with him. I can remember very little of what he said about the work I showed him. I had been making a lot of colour landscape images with a Diana camera at the time. I imagine he was rather unimpressed with the distortion and vignetting caused by the camera and I’m sure he felt that this was an unnecessary distraction.

Maryport, 1980

At this time Ray and Mary Moore Cooper used to run occasional photography workshops at their home in the Scottish borders, which were attended by serious amateurs and students. Quite soon after the events described above, my course was offered a free place on one of these workshops and it came down to the toss of a coin between myself and a rival student. Luckily for me I won the toss, but my good fortune was short-lived since, for reasons which I fail to remember, the workshop was called off. As compensation, I was offered a free place for the following year but before the year was out, Ray had died at the age of 67 from a heart attack.

Forrest Town, 1978

A year later, and in a completely different phase of my work, influenced, for the most part, by long discussions about Marxist aesthetics and the emancipation of the proletariat, I was asked by an exchange student what I thought of the work of Ray Moore. I replied cynically "Genteel nonsense!" or something to that effect. I remember the response very well, which was far more than my ungenerous reply deserved. The exchange student asked me whether I thought that such work might become meaningful to me later in life. I don't remember my response but since my tendency at the time was always to replace lack of opinion with dismissive cynicism I assume that it must have been in the negative.

Galloway, 1977

Three years later, while still studying (and my Marxist tendencies having been subtly mollified) I was offered the opportunity of work assisting Mary Moore Cooper with the Raymond Moore Archive in Dumfries. I spent several weeks camping in a nearby campsite and cycling into Gracefield Arts Centre to make contact prints of several thousand rolls of film which Ray had never contact-printed, believing as he did, that 35mm contact sheets were next-to-useless in determining the most successful image to be printed. Once I had served this initiation in the dim confines of a darkroom and the similarly cramped gloom of a tent, I was allowed to assist Mary more closely with the preparation of the archive. The following year I was invited back to Dumfriesshire to assist Mary with her own work. Throughout these times I was uniquely privileged with an opportunity to experience first-hand the images, paraphernalia and library which Ray and Mary had amassed and to hear many fascinating accounts of their life together from Mary and friends and visitors to the archive.
Maryport, 1982

The extraordinary thing about these priceless experiences was that I was actually being paid - I couldn't have afforded to do otherwise. The impact was therefore twofold - I was able to save money to enable my final studies and I was being exposed to the work and rich remnants of one of the most gifted British photographers of the 20th Century. You may feel that such a claim is overstating the point - for instance, how come Raymond Moore isn't a household name? Or why, at least, don't photography students know his work? Unfortunately the answer to this question is the most lamentable aspect of the whole Raymond Moore story and one which continues to shroud a body of work which represents such a profoundly important part of the legacy of British photographic history.

Dumfriesshire, 1985

Galloway, 1981

Ray was fascinated by the commonplace, by the quotidian and by the landscape of border towns and domesticated borderlands. Nobody has taught me more about the variety, depth and nuances of boundaries and boundedness than Raymond Moore. Whether through fields or walls; fences or frames; windows or verges or darkness and light, Moore was a visionary of the boundary.

Allonby, 1981

Unfortunately, too few people are interested in such subtleties in the UK, even though (and perhaps in spite of the fact that) Moore’s vision is archetypically British: its modesty, its reserve and its gentility – yes, I still believe it’s genteel, but it speaks with such a charm and quiet wit and such a sophisticated precision of form that, understated as it is, it vehemently questions why so many people, who should know better, are seduced by the mind-numbing superficiality of a Crewdson or La Chappelle.

Galloway, 1980

I have a Raymond Moore print on my wall at home (which Mary kindly gave me as a gift) and every time I look at it I'm filled with both admiration at it's achievement and sadness at the intractability and lack of vision of people more intent upon their own sense of something’s monetary value rather than its more ineffable and therefore difficult to quantify value as a product of human ingenuity and love – for certainly Ray loved what he did and wished to share this love through his work and his teaching. I can’t help thinking that the history of British photography is so much the worse off for the neglect of the deeply significant contribution of Raymond Moore. And I don’t mean history in the sense of something dead and gone but rather in the sense of something which still has the potential to change people’s lives - that is an experience which no pricetag can ever put a value on. It's depressing to know that this potential continues to be withheld at a time when the work's ability to resonate with people can still be felt in its immediate effect.

Or, as John Berger has written:

“ is not timeless and eternal. Great works survive their period, but that is not to say that they do not die. After that period they live again by virtue of a sort of resurrection. This after-life, however, is never the same intense, committed thing as their original life... If this is true, one can better understand the horrific absurdity of artists consciously working for the future - ‘ I shall only be properly appreciated in 100 years’ time.’... We must recognise that there is such a thing as the natural death of a work of art. Nor is it morbidity that makes me say this is a recognition we should celebrate. Only if we recognise the mortality of art shall we cease to stand in such superstitious awe of it – only then shall we consider art expendable and so have the courage to risk using it for our own immediate, urgent, only important purposes.

For more infomation about Raymond Moore visit here

Friday, 18 December 2009

Cardinal Points

Just after I took these images a man walked over and brushed the snow aside with his forearm, saying "There you go - now you can see it much more clearly!"

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Moving with the Times

On the subject of HD and artist friends - last week a friend and part-time colleague, Anne Bjerge Hansen, gave a presentation about her work to students and staff of the Fine Art the Photography department.

For more than a decade Anne's primary medium has been video - from Hi8, VHS and SVHS to digital. Throughout these changes Anne has been quietly capturing a diverse and extensive world of objects in motion: the materials, dynamics and consequences of movement. This movement comes in myriad scales and forms, from human and animal locomotion, to mechanical and fluid dynamics; from clockwork mechanisms to a brief puff of mist momentarily refracting a spectrum of sunlight.

On the occasions where energy is not directly propelling or transforming something, the image presented is invariably of an object which strongly suggests motion: which is in some way designed or intended to transport its physical form from one location to another. Cars, bicycles, planes, boats, trains, animals and toys therefore figure prominently. Humans on the other hand, whilst ever present, are only ever partially glimpsed participants – anonymous instigators in this panoply of motion.

The work is born of a photographer’s vision and the remnants of this approach persist through careful framing and the almost unvarying use of a fixed viewpoint. This lends a quality to the work which is strongly reminiscent of the early Lumiere brothers’ films. Like the Lumiere’s, Anne’s camera also transports a fine band of electromagnetically sensitive polymer through a carefully engineered clockwork mechanism in order to capture the fugitive images we call movies, and like the Lumiere’s, Anna’s camera records the world in the squat rectangle we more commonly associate with conventional TV images.

High-definition TV (HDTV) has come to replace the conventional 4:3 aspect ratio and with it have come a range of technologies which are casting digital magnetic tape to the editors bin of history along with the analogue tapes and celluloid films which preceded it. I asked Anne about this shift to HD and what this means for the future of her work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was quick to point out that she’s not really interested in technology. I understood what she meant, but surely in another sense, one very important sense, all of Anne’s work is actually about technology: it’s about the many ways we exploit, harness, utilise and invent objects and processes to articulate and motivate our position in the world – our dynamic being and moving through physical space and therefore time.

Movement, of course, is inherently time-bound and the movie camera is our time-machine par excellence. But the newer this time-machine and the more unfamiliar its mechanisms, the more indistinct its history and the more vague its character. To know something is to have spent time with it, to recognize its quirks and to become familiar with its unique presence in the world. This is why people often refer to tools as old friends. The notion of choice is also important here. In a recent interview for DCA, artist Thomas Hirschhorn described his attitude to materials which he works with thus:
    “I think as an artist it’s important to love the material you are working with. But to love does not mean to be in love with one’s material or to lose oneself in it. Rather, to love one’s material means to place it above everything else, to work with it in an awareness, and it means to be insistent with it. I love the material because I decided in favour of it – therefore I do not want to replace it. Since I decided in favour of it – and love it – I cannot and do not want to change it.”
I’m certain this is why Anna is attached to the tools and processes she employs: she has chosen them, and this choice has acquired significance through use and familiarity.

Objects and processes also gain value when their existence is rare or threatened - this is why many people cling to faithful old tools, materials and techniques and it is also why many people continually seek the new and expensive; such rarity confers value and offers the promise of advantage over previous versions and iterations. These are the choices that artists face – most particularly artists who work with processes which are constantly evolving: whether to “move with the times” or stand by their faithful and familiar friends. In truth we need both. We need the pioneers who seek the new and unfamiliar, who tinker and tamper with technology and uncover it’s foibles and deeper characteristics and we need the stalwarts, like Anne, who understand their tools intimately and have the perseverance and vision to create poetry from the motion and interaction of moving experiences.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

John Clark

I was just idly browsing today and happened upon a site on the subject of High Definition aesthetics. I noticed a name which struck me as familiar, clicked on it and was pleasantly surprised to see a good friend who, due to geographic distance, I see far too little of.