I visited Spain twice this year. Twice without a digital camera.
So twice this year I enjoyed that old inevitable process of sitting on rolls of forgotten film like a mother hen, waiting for a blue moon to wander to the printers for them to hatch. And I now have a clutch of chicklings- a vibrant yellow testimony of Spain, parched with the tedium of every day scenes. And like a mother hen, they are mine and I could write an entire post on each individual image, so laden with crisp, meticulous normality that they are.
Instead I have to do the impossible, and edit them into a series for this one post, or we’ll be looking at grainy, muted pictures of Spain until 2014. Still, impossible. I love these pictures. They are more autobiographical of my personality in photography than any commentary on Spain. The process of shooting film is still a refined pleasure for me. It could not be a further separate process from my digital workflow despite the almost identical formulas. Film for me rewards the most banal and ordinary things with a rich verisimilitude, and I have come to detect an entirely separate and very raw style that leaps from my photos like a miracle remedy to my safe, digital work.
But in-between my darting eye, and the steady turmoil of Spanish streets, an outline materialises of the heady, tumultuous, dusty living in Spain that appeals to me so much. Looking back months later, my memory isn’t concise enough to expand the images into a fitting text. Instead, approaching the heart of a dark winter, the one word that does my experience of Spain any justice is yellow.
Warm and sun slicked, slow moving, where pleasure and health come before accomplishment. Yellow in the roadsigns, in the traffic lights, in the stone, in the flora, yellow in the flag. Yellow in the beer, and in the crushed lemons left over from a meal. Yellow in the evening sun, melting rows of alabaster rooftops into a hazy collage. Yellow in the cacophony of scooters under midnight streetlamps. Yellow in the glittering sands that frame the span of an opal sea as the sun blooms for another day.
Before I even begin, this is more an appeal to myself than anyone. I just don’t realise it yet.
Everyone wonders at some stage where they all go? All the thousands of images that get taken by photographers on and off the clock. No exaggeration, I shoot loads. I don’t use a digital chip and a fast shutter by accident, I exploit every advantage it gives me in my work. But with photography, as many other things, when there is a give there is also a take. Technology always feels inverse. What we gain in facility and convenience, we compromise in love. I have been no different.
I am not about to go prosaic on shooting film. I’m not even really lamenting. I am saying that I take an awful lot of images. They wind their way into the cryptic bowels of a hard driveand the odds of ever encountering them again stretch the longer I take more photos. But when the planets align, and I’m down for a trawl, it does literally feel like a blue moon. I find some of the most wonderful things. Things I am certain have just manifested through digital stagnation, like pixel metamorphosis. Images I can hardly remember taking let alone claim authorship of. Images to and from shoots. Waiting on trains. Testing my equipment. Getting my bag in order. Literally from just sitting on my lap, accidentally or otherwise, the motive long forgotten. Images that stand alone, that just amaze me in their perennial obscurity.
The confrontation at the end of all this is the realisation that I have neglected my camera and compromised the love. Stills of The-Every-Day. Tracing the line back, I started as any other photographer, by using their instincts and raw materials by taking pictures of what was around them. Slowly what was once my full outlet of photography got overgrown with commercial schedules and briefs. No complaints there, but to my right hand side there sits a bag with a camera in it. A device that can make crisp sense of shapes and colours gestures that bypass our eyes. It is these images that keep me alive. I can gradually close the bag as I drift into more a commercial approach. But if I do, I miss all of this…
Come back with me. Come back to the summer. To London.
An alien metropolis, heavy with feet. Sawdust, perfume, cooking, suncream, something citrus, the incense of youth is on the air. The breeze is humming with it. Like mitosis, a slow frenzy multiplies out from corners of unremarkable groves and lanes. Concrete trembles with the heat and deep sutures open into the grey belly of the city as its metamorphosis unfolds. Beneath flat steel and and geometric structure, colour is starting to show. For all its year long busy sins, a vibe is in the breeze, pulsating like a bass. The hot glow of the sun spreads a message as thick as treacle over towers and glass roofs: Summer.
London in full effect. The mouths of traders, slouchers, punters, tourists. A din of every sound you could never imagine mixed into a dizzying blend of colour. Mismatching socks, 2 day stubble, high-vis vests, sleeveless shirts, bronzing skin, hula-hoops, cracked skate decks, barefoot, old denim, a small dog, gossamer dresses, cups of cold juices. Limbs arranging and rearranging into infinite patterns of people. All the dull lines are warped in the heat, uniforms away. Top buttons are wide, neck ties forgotten. Cleaners stripped to the waist. Now a decorated push bike, now a grown man on a foot scooter, everyone making friends with everyone else’s dog. Great backdrops of mellow Embankment and a cacophonous Shoreditch. Infinite visual tricks, nothing sits still, not one ordinary thing is untouched by the glow.
And I can’t get enough. My eyes are trying to burn it all to memory on a sheet of colour negative film. And Behold! How foreign does it seem from our winter hive, like a land forgotten? A time machine from the photolab this week. How much I love my film, I cannot even begin. For the disorderly chaos of these images, they simply hold all the answers for me. Thinking of summer, with chin in and collar up I can only anticipate what lies in store in another 6 months.