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


hugh said...

I think i've heard fragments of this story before, but never seen the images or heard of Raymond Moore. (I'm sure there's lots of photographers i've not heard about though !)Sounds like his lack of status needs to be challenged .... What about an exhibition of Raymond Moore ? You're in an ideal position to do it. I'd support it/you. Doesn't need to be the mega-retrospective - perhaps a personal selection or .... wdyt ?

suburbanslice said...

This is a beautiful elegy for a photographer I have only recently discovered. Thank you.

Roy Hammans said...

Thank you for linking through to my pages on Moore. If I may, I would like to place a link to your excellent article from there.

It is indeed a tragedy that his archive remains 'in bondage' and that of course is largely why so few people are aware of his work today.

Although considered by some 'a photographer's photographer' in his day, it seems that with the passage of time he has become revealed as the true visionary and creative genius that those who encountered his work back then knew all along.

Jim Hamlyn said...

Hi Roy,

By all means link to this post - the more links and references to Ray out there the better as far as I'm concerned.


Colin Buttimer said...

I've just discovered Raymond Moore via Murmurs At Every Turn. I work for Central Saint Martins developing their websites and browse the library at Southampton Row every few weeks to learn about new photographers. I'm a huge fan of Atget and find Moore to share some of the Frenchman's contemplative humility. I'm absolutely bowled over by Moore's work, its stillness and oblique humour.

It is indeed a tragedy for his work to be so little known and difficult to access. I read an interview in The Guardian with Nicholas Serrota the other day in which he recognised that Tate Modern was lacking in its coverage of photography. Surely Moore's legacy deserves the Tate's patronage.

I look forward to getting to know Raymond Moore's work better, but see that his books, long out of print, are trememdously expensive. May I ask where you sourced the images in your post? It's good to see ones additional to the book.

Jim Hamlyn said...

Hi Colin,

Thanks for the comment - your point about Ray's oblique humor (Ray's Knowes!) couldn't be more true.

When I was a student, I picked up Murmurs at Every Turn from Kettles Yard in Cambridge. Mary Cooper gave me a signed copy of Every So Often when I stopped working on the archive. FFotogallery in Cardiff also published a small foldout with some of Ray's last (and arguably best) images around 1991 which I also have in my modest Ray Moore collection.



Anonymous said...

Two of his prints are coming up for auction very soon...
Have a look at this link:

Anonymous said...

It is a great shame that Raymond Moore's work has slipped from the public eye. I was introduced to his work when I was doing a photography A-level and have always aspired to the quite simplicity of his images. Excellent post!

Anonymous said...

I have had a copy of Murmurs at every turn for many years. Familiarity does not dull the pictures,they even seem to become more beguiling.Thank you for your background information and insights into Moores work.An exhibition is a must.There is an excellent gallery here in Hastings( Hastings Arts Forum,see website),and a world class printer,Robin Bell.

Darryl Corner said...

Like everyone else I'd like thank you for adding a few more pieces to the jigsaw.

I "discovered" Ray's work as a schoolboy through Creative Camera etc. and was lucky enough to see his "Murmurs" touring show as a student at Cardiff College of Art back in the eighties. I meet a lot of young photographers in the South Wales area and I'm always staggered just how many of them have never heard of Ray.

As a columnist for the Western Mail newspaper I have sneaked Ray's name into reviews of other shows - as a comparison hoping someone will bite - but alas nothing.

Is there any kind of organised campaign to get Ray's images out of limbo? Surely if it's about money then I couldn't think of a better target for a National Lottery Heritage Grant. But I'm guessing it's more complicated than that.

Jim Hamlyn said...

Hi Darryl,

Thanks for your comments.

From what I know, it is indeed complicated, not simply case of money. I wouldn't like to say more about it than that though or point any fingers because I'd be speculating about something which I know too little about - sorry to be so vague. It's great to see so many folk are keen to see more of Ray's work though and are still plugging away.

Ed Alexander said...

Hi Jim, a moving article - I have linked to you on the post I've just done on Ray Moore at fromztoa.

Jim Hamlyn said...

For anyone that's interested the BBC2 Portrait of raymond Moore from 1983 is now on YouTube. You can find it here in 3 parts:

Anonymous said...

It is good to have found your site. I was a student of Creative Photography at Trent from 1974 - 1978 and I remember Ray well alongside Tom Cooper (aka Thomas Joshua Cooper). I also knew Mary.
I am writing a blog myself and these two men taught me so much they must be included.
I'll pass by again.

Paul Denby

Jim Hamlyn said...

Hi Paul, Ah yes the TJC connection. It was through Thomas that my connection with Ray started, and also, I guess, because I did my Foundation at Trent Poly in the dim afterglow of Paul Hill, Ray and Thomas. What's the address of your blog?

Anonymous said...

Hello. I most probably met you when you were archiving Ray's work. My small son Tomas spent a great deal of time with David, they were best friends, and I stayed with Mary the night that Ray died. (we drank far too much home brewed wine that night, and just reminisced.) I seem to remember you wearing white gloves when dealing with the I right?
Ray was lovely, as well as being a brilliant artist, and we are lucky enough to possess one of his prints of Allonby, he was also a fabulous Dad, and person generally. I reckon I must have driven him mad as I used to land regularly with my four children, which must have been quite a trial for him as he was a fair bit older. I liked him a lot. I do not have any connection with Mary any more. She just disappeared off the face Do you have any knowledge of her. I would like to contact her if possible.
Best wishes. Its great to see Rays profile coming up on the internet. It does have its uses after all!!!

Jim Hamlyn said...

Hi Mary,

Yes I remember you and Thomas well. Mary often spoke of you too and yes cotton gloves were an essential item when handling anything from the archive. I believe we stayed with you once too? - your partner was in the midst of renovating the house and I remember being very impressed with his plastering skills.

I have a very strong sense that Mary felt a need to distance herself from the pressures and expectations of being Ray's 'widow' and considering the huge amount of work and money she invested in the hope of finding a decent home for the archive it's hardly surprising if the unsatisfactory outcome left her both disillusioned and penniless.

Like you I'm not in contact with Mary but David did email me not so long ago. He's quite an accomplished artist in his own right:

Anonymous said...

Hello Jim

I stumbled upon your site by chance.. I had a sudden urge to look for anything on Ray or Mary. I was Mary's brother in law for many years and knew Ray; a truly lovely man and a great loss to the world.
I found your article moving and hope that more people find it and Ray's Photography is given greater exposure, (no pun intended).

With regards to Mary's whereabouts, I do not wish to compromise her privacy and will only say she is now living in Southern Ireland.


Anonymous said...

have only just picked up the last two comments., from brother in law, and J. Hamlyn. Had not checked in for a while. I really don't like unfinished business. I would like to have contact with Mary if there is any way. we were good friends, and we went back a long way. Maybe she could be given the option brother in law, if you have that contact. Let me know. I would like to know one way or the other. If you have contact say we will be in Connemara middle of July for two weeks and I peronally would love to meet up.!!!!
Mary T.

jill said...

Does anyone have any contact for Raymond Moores estate/ family please.
We are trying to get clearance to use an image at The Guardian newspaper and we keep hitting a brick wall. Any advise would be so gratefully received please. Thanks
Jill Mead

Unknown said...

Stumbled upon this post through an article on Romanticism on Tate's website.
I was actually online looking at Keith Arnatt's work and Ray's name popped up. I'm glad I decided to search Raymond Moore because his work to me is inspiring. I'm a second year photography student at Brighton University and the beginning of this year has been a period of self-discovering, even though it has only been one month since the beginning of the semester. Having had a chance to talk to some practicing photographers while volunteering I have all of a sudden gotten a clearer image of what kind of work I want to be doing and Keith Arnatt's series of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and recently Raymond Moore's work is really pushing me to do it.
Hopefully there'll be a chance to see Moore's work in an exhibition format sometime somewhere.
Thank you for this personal insight!

tony fisher said...

I was fortunate to be taught by Raymond Moore on the same course at Trent and has been a inspiration ever since.

Cairn said...

Have you noticed that 90% of Raymond Moore's images have straight lines in?

Jim Hamlyn said...

That sounds about right, yes. As I mentioned in my musings about Moore's work above, he was clearly fascinated with what happened at the boundaries between one place/space/material and another. I wouldn't be surprised either if this had a basis in his background in drawing and painting.

I read or heard or said somewhere that lines tend to be quite rare in the world. More often we see sudden changes in tone or colour that can be represented by the use of a line, yet no actual line physically exists. Perhaps this was part of Moore's interest too - I wouldn't be surprised.

scottishviewpoint said...

I've had a long interest in Ray Moore's work. Have a print on my wall given to me on my 21st birthday (46 now!) and two books, Murmurs at Every Turn and Every So Often. Also quite a lot of research from doing my degree dissertation on his work. If anyone would be interested in doing "something", perhaps an exhibition of his work please get in touch. Adam Elder 0793 256 5591

Unknown said...

A whole generation has turned around since Ray passed on, and in that time much awareness of the photographic syntax has been diluted and lost. So very important that Ray's work can be brought out, shown & discussed again.

I attended one of his Photographers Place workshops in 1981, and later after his death gave Mary Moore the archival sleeves & boxes for preparing the archive. So at least wherever it resides now, I'm sure it should be in good condition.

However I was never really aware of the legal tangle that has locked his work away. I would be interested in helping in any way that would assist in resolving it - presumably a reprint of the Travelling Light 'Murmurs at Every Turn' is at present impossible? If there any contact details for Mary, as I lost touch, I'd be grateful.
Mobile 07973 798581

Martin Reed

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