Archive: Apr 2010
I’ve been a bit quiet over here on the blog the last couple of weeks, big apologies to those of you who have been waiting with gritted teeth for a new installment. We’ve been buried up to our necks in Project Archive, trawling around in the deep and dark depths of my past. It has been a self illuminating experience, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that, Liam, one of the smashing interns helping out on the project, was about 4 when my career began, so, for him, I get the feeling that some of this stuff is, like, ancient history?
The one area of my work that I had wanted to concentrate on initially was all the personal work that was undertaken while I was living in New York, beginning with the “9/11 Patriotic Road Trip” that I embarked on with my then girlfriend. About a week after the destruction of the Twin Towers we set off on a drive from New York that took us down the east coast to Jacksonville, Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, up from Galveston, Texas to Alberquerque, New Mexico and on through to San Francisco, California. It took us a month and it was a strange and intense trip. In Alabama, I remember, a man in a pick up pointed his gun at me when I tried to take his picture.
However, my plan to start scanning all that stuff was interrupted by an incredibly exciting offer from some people in Moscow that we received 2 weeks ago. It required that I pull out lots of portraits from the archive for a big show there. I can’t say much more than that about it until we have signed contracts in the can, so my plan to show y’all a slice of post 9/11 Americana is going to have to wait on for now.
In the meanie, here’s something we have dug up instead. This is from a 1994 shoot with Milla Jovovich at her apartment in New York City. I don’t think I’ve looked at the film since I shot it. Seeing it for the first time in 16 years has been a bit of a shock. The thing that immediately came back was the memory of being mugged by a gun and knife wielding duo on the Lower East Side the night before the shoot. My camera was taken from me and I very nearly didn’t get to see the sun come up the next morning when I called the assailants a “bunch of f****** c****” as they walked away from me. It was a calculated decision, based on the belief that they were far enough from me to not be bothered about coming back as I uttered the words at them. I was exactly 100% wrong in my calculation. They took it so personally that they decided to try and kill me and the friend I was with by chasing us all the way up Ludlow Street until, at the junction of East Houston we ran into 2 of the NYPD’s coffee slurping, doughnut gobbling finest, hanging out on the bonnet of their blue and white. Saved. The muggers scarpered back the way they came and the Po-Leece were so not arsed about trying to catch them.
The next morning, though, all I had was my other camera – a Contax T2 point & shoot, which you can see Milla holding in some of these pictures. I was so naïve in those days that I don’t think it occurred to me to even try and get hold of a replacement camera from one of New York’s rental houses but, then again, I had no credit card and thus, no means of securing anything I might have wanted. However, David, my fellow muggee from the night before had an old Pentax K1000 and he very kindly let me borrow it.
Looking at the film now, what strikes me is how cavalier I seemed to have been in my methods back then. My choice of film is all over the place. I photographed her on 4 different films: 400 Tri-X, 3200 T-Max, Agfa 1000 E6, Fuji 400 C41. Some of the Agfa I processed as straight E6 and some of it I cross processed in C41, which was all the rage back then. When I look at it now it’s disgusting.
What is absolutely clear, though, is that I was totally experimenting. I had not yet found myself because, at that age, 25, I didn’t know who I was. Nowadays I absolutely know who I am and I’ll shoot in a consistent way throughout so that a portrait session will, in my head, have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end period, because I have learned some craft to go with my art, or if you want to put it this way, I now have some head to balance out my heart. Back then I regarded it all as a bit of a laugh and it’s hard to see why I shouldn’t have. I was photographing people who were the same age as me. We were equals and peers, it felt personal and free, which is just the way it should be.
It was 20 years ago last month that I slipped out from the parental safety net and made the 17 mile journey up the A3 from Surrey to Putney in south west London to begin my career in photography. I was 21. I moved into a house with 4 other people and sat in my new bedroom absolutely bricking it. It was also the day of the Poll Tax riots. It was half a lifetime ago. I will remember it forever.
Today, with the invaluable assistance of 2 interns – Liam Ricketts & Harpreet Khara – as well as one of my regular assistants, the awesome and awe inspiring Miss Sarah Brimley, I began the Everestian task of digitising my 20 year archive. We have spent the last 2 weeks sorting, filing, organising, alphabetising, looking at, getting sidetracked and distracted by hundreds of thousands of negatives, contact sheets and prints.
We’ve got the scanner. We’ve got a special dedicated computer to go with it. We’ve got an awful lot of cans of Kenair to blow the dust off and, as hard as it is being surrounded by all those negatives, we’re totally focusing on the positives.
Ahead is a long old road of editing and lupe eye. Sometime later I’m aiming to produce a book of my first 20 years. In the meantime, this here picture is the first scan we did today. It’s one of my favourites from my time living in New York. It’s Sarah from Maryland, on the outskirts of her hometown about a week after the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001. I love the texture of the light, the girl’s green t-shirt next to the red, white & blue of the flag, the density of the foliage all around her – literally America itself, the directness of what the community has to say about itself and most of all, I like the way the wind is blowing her hair across her face. There is stoicism, confidence, reflection & optimism all in one frame. In the end, to me, it says ‘Keep on keeping on’ and that is a mantra by which to get through the dark times. And if you don’t believe me then go and listen to Curtis Mayfield’s song of the same name.