I think it’s about time that I laid bare my plans for personal photography in 2013. For my own pleasure and passion, I have spent the last year constructing a darkroom (which, ironically, may soon be relocating) and reacquainting myself with many different analogue photographic techniques.
Moreover, I’ve become increasingly interested in Victorian image-making technology. It prompted me to attend this excellent wet plate collodion workshop in 2011. Early photography was put to good use recording the massive changes taking place thanks to industrialisation. For example, Eugène Atget recorded soon-to-be-demolished buildings in Paris, as Baron Haussmann’s programme of civic improvements swept the city.
Our cities have undergone no less enormous changes over recent years, written about so provocatively by the likes of Owen Hatherley, Jonathan Meades and Jones the Planner. This has given me the motivation to get out into the (almost) fresh air and start recording these transformations. I like the strange juxtapositions, weird layering and jolting clashes between rich and poor that make British cities so distinctive, exasperating and usually loveable.
I’m also interested in the sublime, another 18th and 19th century fixation. This sense of epic grandeur coupled with terror and ugliness seems to me to be a perfect way of describing our conurbations.
During the last couple of months I’ve been proving the concept, and will soon start to make the first images in this series. I’m not sure where the journey will take me, but I’m looking forward to exploring some amazing places along the way. I’ve been tracking down Victorian-era film emulsions (which are surprisingly among the sharpest and most detailed ways you can capture a scene) as well as vintage chemicals and papers. I’ve been contact printing from large 5×7″ negatives, producing miniature prints filled with a wealth of detail. However, the desire to print large is ever-present!
I’m aware that shooting film in 2013 is a provocation in itself. Slow and laborious, it’s easy to condemn the traditional large format process as obsolete. Yet it is capable of producing exquisitely detailed results, still beyond what is possible with a digital sensor (although digital is fast catching up). I think there’s a similar debate in our cities, between old and new, progress versus conservation.
I’ll keep updating on my progress, but in the meantime here’s a test shot taken under the M4 flyover at Boston Manor, West London. It’s a stone’s throw from the eternally weird and fascinating Great West Road (the stretch known as the Golden Mile, which was originally lined with Jazz Age Art Deco factories). I love the clash between the old, new and awe-inspiring civil engineering. The scene is simultaneously banal and dramatic.