Lately I’ve written quite a bit about copyright and curation in relation to photography, partly because these issues underpin much of my practice (from appropriating archive images of war wounds to reworking and republishing other people’s limited edition books), but also because they run to the very core of a current project. Like most of mine it is one which has primarily been undertaken for my own benefit, in response to a lingering question or problem. The copyrighted status of the material I’ve used will probably limit the work’s potential for publication or display. Beyond this though I’m also not even sure it’s a body of work I ever want to show in it’s entirety. Sometimes it’s good to keep something back for oneself.
This project is meant to try and encapsulate two of the major feelings I’ve had about photography. First, the wonderment at this strange media, invented as much by accident as by intent and which has evolved in similarly nebulous ways, which seems at every moment to twist and defy our attempts at ever really defining or understanding it. Second my frustration at it’s ever expanding, ever changing nature, the impossibility of trying to find order or meaning in it, to understand it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses in anything but a very superficial way. There are few landmarks from which to orientate oneself, there is no center to photography.
The project then; when I was perhaps one or two my artist mother made me a small picture book, intended I suppose to help me learn the alphabet. Each page represented a letter and contained two or three photographs or drawings of familiar things (A is for Angel, Acorn, etc.) photographs taken I imagine from the already extensive collection of printed material that she had gathered to use to make her collages and paintings. Printed material cut from papers, magazines, books. The source material of a pre-internet age.
Rediscovering this small volume more than two decades later, I found it quite affecting. A physical embodiment of motherly affection and sacrifice, albeit of a rather minor sort, and, I wistfully imagined, perhaps a primer for my later relationship with images and words. These two things that occupy me consistently, in isolation but also increasingly in relation to one another, a relationship far more complex than the sum of its parts, where there always exists a hierarchy, a discourse between word and image, or image and word.
Musing on these thoughts I decided to rework the original book, to expand it to reflect the many changes in my life since it was made. The burgeoning of knowledge that occurs as one grows, and the corresponding loss of innocence as the world is expanded beyond the protective cloister of childhood. This eye opening is perhaps more sudden and brutal than ever now, with the ready availability of the internet – something my generation was the first to be really exposed to – with its limitless collection of visual nastiness at any moment only a click, or a miss-click away, and an ever growing debate about the affect of these sights on young and still forming minds.
And so using an old dictionary that my father had at school with him in the nineteen-sixties, I read through for words that pricked my interest. that triggered some response in me. Then I image searched these words, again hunting through the results for images that in some way caught my attention or interested me, thematically, visually, perhaps just in counterpoint to another image I had seen moments before while searching for a different word. In some cases even because the image in question appeared so utterly unremarkable and banal.
These photographs I am printing, cutting and pasting on to new pages, expanding the picture book. The original page for each letter remains, with it’s childish images, but following each are eight new pages, with new images. Eight initially, but I envisage that in future as I discover new images they will be gradually added, leading the book to grow organically and indefinitely. It will be, I hope, a visual testament (it is strange I have always thought that dictionaries resemble bibles in shape and form) a pictorial alphabeta of the incoherent babblings of a demented visual culture.
You can see more of this project on my website.