Monday, October 30, 2023

Like flashbacks that I can feel in my body..

Interview with Errr Magazine.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in photography. What inspired you to start taking photos? 

I discovered photography at age 15 when I was given a Polaroid SX-70 camera for my birthday and then acquired a batch of stolen film from a school friend. I had about 200 exposures and I experimented wildly with it. I loved the instant creative feedback of Polaroid. It was like a sketchbook. I was playing games with my own perception and every picture was a new idea. I loved Polaroid’s beautiful, but unpredictable colour too and the way the inks could be manipulated under the pressure of a spoon during development. It was very exciting. When I showed the resulting photos to my art teacher Mr Felton, he edited them down into an arrangement of 50 and put them into a frame and displayed them outside the school library. When all the film was gone I never used Poloroid again, but my passion for photography had been well and truly ignited.

Everyone has a unique style. Can you describe how you would define your style and what visual or conceptual elements characterize it? 

I shoot in a documentary or “street” style for the most part, but my approach is always a personal one, like keeping a diary. I think it's best not to be too self conscious of one's own visual style, It’s really something for others to talk about.

Photography has the power to tell stories and convey emotions. Can you share an experience in which one of your photos had a significant impact on people or on yourself? 

After spending 7 years driving around and photographing America with no fixed place of residence, it has been good to spend the last couple of years in one place editing what I’ve done and getting some of it out into the world. While working with these photographs I have been struck on occasion by just how much of a key they can be into my own private history. They are like portals, not so much to a place of passive memory, but more like flashbacks that I can feel in my body. Time and space seem to open up around the photographs themselves, like a world I can actually inhabit. It is these photographs that are the keepers.

What has been your most challenging photographic project to date and why? 

A few years ago I got a job as a security guard at a meat processing plant in Noel, Missouri (USA). I wanted to photograph my day to day life there, but photography was strictly prohibited, so I shot for a year using my iPod camera. That time, that place and the people I met and got to know challenged me daily and I was very much in over my head. Many of them have now passed away and I recently heard the plant has closed and I fear economic blight might be coming in its place. I am editing this work at the moment and it continues to be challenging for me because I know that I need to return to the area and finish it. Some key landscapes are missing. I call it “The Missouri Book of the Dead.” 

Technology and photo editing tools are constantly evolving. Can you tell us about the techniques or equipment that you consider essential for your work? 

I keep things simple. I like to have a flash with me. Spare battery, lens cloth, and a plastic bag to keep the rain off my camera.

There are many genres in photography, from portraits to nature photography. Do you have a favorite genre in which you feel most comfortable or enjoy shooting the most? Why? 

Maybe it's because my father was a musician (he was the guitarist in the rock band Free) but I have always really enjoyed photographing bands and I would love the opportunity to shoot more of them. At one time my dream assignment was to follow a band out on tour and document it from the inside, like what Annie Leibovitz did with the Rolling Stones. A few years ago one of my photos was used for the cover for the New Sincerity Works album Nowadays and I consider it an honor to have been asked. If any band out there is reading this and looking for an album cover, I have that photo in my archive, so please get in touch. 


Can you share an interesting or unusual anecdote you've experienced while taking photos? 

When I was at university in Brighton (UK) my partner was a photographer whose personal assignments often explored gender and identity roles. Once upon a time we left town to visit her family in Oslo and were gone for about a week and we did not tell anyone we were leaving. Before we left I helped her take out her trash which contained some recent colour work prints she had made which depicted her floating naked in a bathtub full of blood with needles sticking out of her body in all directions. These self portraits of hers would have been considered alarming to the casual viewer so she made sure she ripped them into small pieces before tying them up securely in a black plastic bag and leaving them outside her flat for the trash collectors to pick up the following day. 

That night, while we were traveling to Norway, a dog got into her trash and opened the bag containing her ripped up work prints and had left the pieces scattered around outside her flat in the busy North Laine of Brighton. A  passerby had then picked these pieces up and after reassembling them in a local cafe, called the police in horror. An investigation was then launched but as my partner and I could not be located, there was concern that something terrible had happened to her and I was somehow involved but had skipped town. This all took place in 1997 BC (Before Cell phones).

When we returned from our Scandinavian getaway my roommates told me a police officer and a detective had visited the house and asked them a lot of questions about the whereabouts of me and my partner and left a message for me to make contact with them the moment I showed back up. My roommate then handed me the detective's business card and no other details than that were given. When I dropped my travel bag off in my room I could tell people had been in it and my dreaded drug drawer was open and full of my dreaded drug paraphernalia. It was then I got scared and wondered if I might actually be in some sort of trouble after all.

When I got to the police station my partner was already there and the whole mix up had been sorted out and everything was ok and we all got to carry on with our lives. Then 2 years later not long before graduation my partner and I had to be excused from our classes to talk to the police again. This time they told us they had come into possession of 2 photographs and wanted confirmation that they had nothing to do with us. One of the policemen then opened a folder and took out a ziplock bag with 2 Polaroids in it. Both Polaroids were of a young woman with blonde hair laying face up near a river and a bridge at night. She was dead. The policeman's thumb covered the woman's body. The pictures were virtually the same. 1 was taken 2 steps closer than the other. They were without any poetry whatsoever. Like the kind of photo a UPS driver would later take of a package on a doorstep as proof of its delivery.



Many photographers find inspiration in other visual artists or everyday life. What are some of your sources of inspiration? 

During this phase of editing and production I have found myself returning to the work of my teachers by way of tracing the echoes of those whose work continues to inspire my own. Of these teachers the work of Paul Reas and Mark Power stand out most for me. When I was a student their influence was ambient and it has only been in recent years that I have really been able to see and acknowledge that this is where I come from photographically. Even though much time has passed and I have found my own way, how I approach working on a project remains just how they taught me. I have much appreciation. 

Photography is a visual medium, but it often has a conceptual background. Have you worked on photographic projects that address specific themes or concepts? Can you share information about one of those projects? 

I’ve been fascinated by Tarot cards my whole life and I’ve never been without owning a deck for long. Now I want to make my own. From playing with my mothers tarot cards as a child to having my own deck and giving readings for people at county fairs, to then attempting to make my own photographic deck as my final project at university, Tarot cards have continued to hold my interest and attention. These days my focus is not so much in using them for divination (fortune telling) but instead as objects of contemplation. I see Tarot cards as a map of consciousness and each card being a different facet of it.

What inspires you when creating new images? Do you have a ritual or creative process you follow to find inspiration?

Often when I decide to start a new photo project I will realize, in that moment, that I have already begun working on it elsewhere. I will have already begun researching a subject of interest, but in a way that I previously thought was unconnected. Whether it is in the books I am reading, the music I am listening to or from those things in the world that are making their presence known to me, it is important for me to keep my eyes open, with an awareness that all these disparate things are in fact connected.

Editing and post-processing are essential parts of photography. Do you have a particular focus on post-production of your images? 

I don’t use presets. They have their place though. I try to deal with each image individually. I have found that each image wants to be edited in a certain way. The atmosphere or mood of a picture will already be present in the original image file (captured at the time of exposure) and editing is about holding onto these feelings somehow, it’s not about clicking them in from the sidebar.

For aspiring photographers who may be reading this interview, what is the most valuable piece of advice you've received in your career, or what advice would you like to share with them? 

If you want to work on a personal project, take your time with it. Strong bodies of work take time to come together. Personal projects also need time to see what they want to become. Be patient and don't ever feel like you should be in a hurry, but shoot like your time is running out. After a year make prints of the 12 best photos and look at them together, away from the others. These 12 photos will tell you everything you need to know about the project so far and will tell you what you need to do going forward. They will also tell you about your own approach and the choices you have made. The story will also be in there and you'll know how much of it is really true. 12 good photos in a year is a strong start to a personal project. That’s 60 photographs in 5 years and that’s a book!

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Metered by our own beating hearts..

Resident Alien. Part 18.

Psychogeography. Part 5.

“On Saturday evenings I have had the custom, after taking my opium, of wandering quite far, without worrying about the route or the distance in search of an occult Northwest Passage, allowing one to cross London unhampered”. — Thomas de Quincey, Confessions Of An English Opium-Eater, 1822.

In this world where everything seems like it must have a purpose from the onset, to truly be able to drift through a city on foot, without notion or direction, is actually a very difficult endeavor to undertake. Psychogeography, as a practice, has been my own personal revolt against such purpose and Guy Debord’s dérive has been the technique I have used to achieve it. 

Whether a purpose be self imposed or from an outside agent, the dérive offers the photographer an opportunity to side-step the ex-clusive thinking of purpose and to instead indulge every distraction from it. By surrendering one’s own personal guidance systems (or algorithms) in favor of chance encounters and unexpected events is to invite the possibility of also making new and authentic work and to discover alternative approaches to connecting with our own environment.

It's true that to dérive is actually not just difficult to accomplish psychologically, but it is also difficult (and sometimes just not possible) to navigate an urban environment on foot these days. In many modern cities the pedestrian has taken second place to the automobile and walking in such areas can not only be considered dangerous, but also, on occasion, illegal too. 

As a result the urban walker has been marginalized by the city planners into using officially designated public footpaths which offer the full spectrum hamster-wheel circuit tours of all The Spectacles highlights. The wild and well trodden wasteland game trails made by the local humans have been intersected by chain-link fences with no trespassing signs attached to them. These inter-zones are now being reclaimed by their native scrub of dock leaf, stingy nettle and graffiti and the wait for future developments can be measured in the height of their growth. 

As a photographer I have discovered by engaging in this practice of the dérive is a purpose will inevitably surface from the very act of the dérive itself. I believe, by walking through a space with a camera, by simply following light or letting one photograph inform the next, new ideas and alignments between our experiences and encounters along the way will start to form their own connections. 

As these seemingly disparate elements begin to develop relationships, first between one another and then with ourselves, I have found that the impulse to make a photograph is actually my own emotional response to it, like a dialogue. It is this consciously observed emotional awareness that is key to psychogeography as a practice and also to myself as a photographer.

The dérive engages the photographer in a stream of consciousness narrative where memory (and photography) become informed by the passing of time through a space. It is really a picaresque journey where our photographs are metered by the rhythm of walking and by our own beating hearts. In this way the dérive could also be considered a meditation by way of it keeping us present and aware of our surroundings. 

If we happen to venture out on a dérive with our camera but return without making an interesting photo, this time is not to be thought of as lost because we have spent that time engaged in the rigorous practice of active observation, not just of our environment, but also how our perception has interacted with it. Any successful photographs made during a dérive are, in this way, to be regarded as psychic breakthroughs. They are like grounding charges that have built up over a period of continued conscious attention and then earthed by the tripping of the shutter. 

The drifting psychogeographer will also discover that some places seem to accumulate a sort of gravity around them and are points of concentrated psychic energy. These are what photographer Joel Meyerowitz calls “The Zen Bell” - that which alerts the self to our own awareness and results in the lifting of our camera. These places can take the form of repeated symbols within the environment, cultural or historical markers, the locations of past-life events, or even present day poltergeist activityThe attuned landscape photographer will feel this energy most strongly and you will likely hear the sound of their tripod legs being extended as phantom civil war musket fire begins to crackle inside their heads.

Some places are in continuous transition as they clatter down through the decades, supported by scaffolding with its population in a state of perpetual anxiety. Other places have remained stable across time and have become rooted in tradition as their gargoyles are slowly choked by ivy. Other spaces have maintained their identity for a long time (either culturally or as a utility) but have since undergone some form of swift and radical new development, leaving its locals out in the cold. 

This disembodied sense of loss can be felt as we walk through these spaces and it can be seen in the faces of those that pass us on the street and it will also show up in the photographs that we make there. This public grief for a place that is gone but still yet to become, is a hard one for a community (and us) to shake and these ghosts will follow us home, trailing behind us at the end of the day, jumping from shadow to shadow, until finally taking their leave, later, through our dreams. 

The dérive offers a chance for us to approach these environments with our uncertainty intact and with a purpose that is yet to be determined. By inviting the creative free association of photography with us on a dérive, we are also granted a rare opportunity to gain an insight into the secret arcane logic of our own image making. Whether it be for the first time or in the re-discovery of a place that is already familiar, by leaving a trail of photographs behind us we will begin to map these spaces properly, from the ground up and from the inside out..

Psychogeography has been central to my photography for over a decade. It forms the backbone of my Resident Alien project (which all these photographs here are part of) and it sits at the heart of the work I am presently engaged in. With an enthusiasm for chance and for what could be argued as a foolhardy desire for getting (purpose-fully) lost, I have found myself traveling roads I would have otherwise avoided, lived a life I could never have predicted and seen an America that I could not have imagined. It is in this way the dérive maintains its original position as a form of personal protest, holding firm its demonstration against the established order of The Spectacle with a radical insurrection of the self.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Hocus-Pocus F16 at infinity focus..

Resident Alien. Part 17

Psychogeography. Part 4

In the shadow of The Spectacle.

Illustrated by Gavin Bragdon.

In 2011, in the early days of my interest in psychogeography I planned a trip to Florida with the intention of exploring how The Great Swamp Spectacle of Orlando was contained. I had this idea about going there, but not entering through the main gate, but to instead spend my time walking around and photographing it from the outside. I had no idea what I expected to find there or what this perimeter actually looked like or even if it had one at all. I did little or no research before I left, preferring to dérive (drift) wherever my camera decided to take me and I would respond to that rather than a pre-planned schedule of activities. I had my flight booked, a hotel room, a rental car waiting and a day ticket to The Spectacle itself and the rest I was going to play by ear once I got there.

Like all photo expeditions I have taken in the past, I spent the weeks leading up to it trying to anticipate and carefully pre-visualize the sorts of photographs I might find myself making once I arrived. What was I expecting to see? What ideas about the place would I be bringing with me and where had I got these ideas from in the first place? It has taken a long time for me to learn to pay attention to these questions and to let go of everything else. I understand that nothing can truly prepare me for the actual reality of spending time in a place I have never before visited with my camera because context is always subject to unforeseen juxtapositions which will materialize in the moment they are created (ie, life). Any expectations I might have are really nothing more than wishful thinking anyway, a leaning personal bias filled with an unhealthy dose of anxiety. Truth is always stranger than fiction after all and any successful photographs that I ever returned home with were all previously inconceivable to me while sitting on the couch driving myself crazy thinking about it all beforehand.

During these times I can generally feel my creative influences (whatever they may be at the time) rise to the surface and let their presence be known, especially if the photo expedition is based around a location, rather than a person or event. Locations can be extremely evocative for me, with visions bathed in William Eggleston light, Mark Power views and with the bright wit of Martin Parr everywhere. This heady mix of photographic masters can be a struggle to get to grips with at these times as they push and shove for possession of my psyche. They represent my most aligned visions and personal aspirations for my own work and hold both my sweetest hopes and most secret fears for it too. 

The relationship we have with our influences runs deep in all of us and they can be private and complicated relationships too and for these reasons I do my very best to keep them all at home (chained up in the basement) before I leave. If anything at all can have a bearing on what photographs I will end up making, it is of course, myself, and the attitude I decide to take with me will be my strongest influence in any given moment and will be forever present in the photographs I make. On one hand I wholeheartedly trust in the falling photographic tarot cards of destiny and the fates, and on the other hand, I can be an emotional spinning top who needs to take a moment and breathe before lifting the camera. 

And so the serenity prayer ignites again in a cold blue flame and burns down to a dirty black ash on the tin foil then blows away as I begin to weigh up my past-life karmic-debts against any future photographic mojo conjurings of hocus-pocus F-16 at infinity focus.. 

Magical thinking is what all this really is and photography for me, is filled with it.

So, was The Great Spectacle of Orlando going to be surrounded by tall unscalable walls topped with leaning razor wire? Were there intermittent guard towers along these walls, manned by our favorite cartoon characters in Kalashnikov silhouette? Was the Spectacle a castle island perhaps, surrounded by a swampy Everglade moat and stocked with starving Alligators? Or maybe the moat was an asphalt one where The Spectacle leans up against the sky like a great jagged quartz stalagmite, rising up through the centre of a massive parking lot, packed to the hilt with the steel, glass and rubber of vehicles and boiling with tar beneath it, while the thick Florida sun beats down relentlessly on everything and from which there is no shade or shelter? Maybe..

Acknowledging expectations (photographic or otherwise) from the on-set has been an integral part of my practice as a psychogeographer because these expectations will be the platform from which my first encounter with The Spectacle will take place. They must be made conscious and regarded as they are, because they can help sharpen the intuition later. 

My interaction with The Spectacle will also refer back to these expectations and it is in this space, in the dialogue between both, where some of my most personally meaningful photographs have been made. My own crude and initial psychological mappings of these phantom territories, not yet visited or photographed, exist only as dream-scapes, inside of me, and often stand in stark and ridiculous contrast to actually being present before The Spectacle itself. 

Just like The Spectacle’s image of itself, my ideas about The Spectacle are like that of a child’s. They are left handed crayon drawings scribbled on the walls of my psyche, full of prejudice and preconceptions based on hearsay, reputation and its ancient myths and legends, while the images self-generated by The Spectacle of The Spectacle short circuits my imagination with a scientific glamour that is not designed to fade.


A detailed and fearless inventory of these expectations and ideas about a place must be made before departure and jotted into a notebook, so they can be seen outside of one’s own head and committed to a time in space. They represent the original points of orientation within the drift-zone, from which all further coordinate points will be measured and plotted against and psycho-geographically speaking, will inform you that, You - Are - Here”.

The drive across The Specacle’s undeveloped land is through lucious tropical vegetation on a perfectly paved parkway with frequent signposts and on every signpost there are cameras mounted. It is impossible to get lost on the property of The Spectacle because you are always being followed and the cartoon character in a security guard uniform sitting in a small dark room can point to where you are, at any given moment, as you pass from one monitor screen to the next as the live feed shows you taking a piss behind a bush. A tiny camera mounted on the back of the friendly Cricket sitting on a blade of grass records the whole thing in 4K HD for your own personal protection. 

The Spectacle sits in the middle of 43 square miles of a property containing 3 other satellite Spectacles which, I imagine, from above, forms the constellation of Orion. The ways in and out are carefully curated to avoid any unscheduled, out of the car, photographic driftings to take pictures of things The Spectacle would rather not let us see -

- such as the cloud-busting atmospheric conditioners, the size of apartment buildings. The valley of the meat pods. The vast cooling lakes of boiling mercury. The roaring industrial furnaces stocked 24 hours a day with all manner of legal documents pertaining to itself. The ancient sky chimneys, shielded by tall evergreens, that bellow thick noxious smoke under-cover of darkness and out across the face of a full piss moon. The smell of sulfur at the end of every breath is ever present in these spectral Interzones and lest ye be met out there, off path and in the dead of night, by one of the snarling youths that are always waiting behind every tree with Walkie Talkie and immaculate Kaki’s and “here to help”, for—-ever. 

“It's 4pm!” a toothless drone rasps, “turn on the rain and set the timer for 20 minutes”.

The Spectacle may well be the image-symbol personification of capitalist consumerism dedicated solely to the preservation of the continued and sustained illusion of its own image, but I am not really interested in all of that. The Spectacle can keep all its secrets as far as I am concerned. I am interested in what writer, Will Self, calls the “free association of place and space”. To be drawn with my camera by whatever inclination and chance encounter that might arise and to explore and interact with the “latent or repressed psychological content of the spaces themselves”. I am interested in spinning parallaxes where history splices with the memories of images recalled from dreams on drugs. I believe that it is in the connective tissue of these liminal spaces, in the shadow of The Spectacle, where I can begin to form my own relationship to it and then, by making spectacle of what is not, attempt, with my camera, to understand what is really there and what is really going on.

I left my car at a floating off world satellite parking lot where I boarded the monorail and was shuttled to the entrance of The Spectacle. I remember a great glass cathedral hotel with a tropical air-conditioned panoramic mezzanine with vistas that looked out across prehistoric floodplains in what was for me a genuine moment of pure science fiction wonderment..

I write these words 10 years after my visit to the Great Swamp Spectacle of Orlanda and I am in no doubt that my battered memory has flickered and glitched in its prompting today. But, in this brave new world without context, where facts, history, science and biography are all up for re-interpretation, without fear of reality getting in the way, this shouldn’t be a problem for us. 

What I can absolutely be certain of is every single one of my psychogeographical plans for photographing the perimeter of The Spectacle had been thwarted from the moment I arrived on its property. My visit having already been foreseen a long time ago in uncle Walt’s late night magic mushroom mind and then baked right into The Spectacle’s blueprints the very next day, and thus committing the deterrent of the psychogeographer to The Spectacles ultimate vision of itself at inception.


And so, I would return home with only one photograph worth anything but with which made the whole trip worthwhile. 1/250th of a second for a weekend costing, what was for me then, a small fortune and, just like that, is exactly how I resolve my life of photography. Photography having forced me out into the world to engage with it directly with what has felt like, at times, a visceral purpose. Whether there was a photograph to be conjured along the way or not, I’ve followed the possibility that there might be one out there anyway. Perhaps, if I had never owned a camera, I would never leave my house at all and my life would simply continue inside of it, until I’m found, later, in a room gone dark, playing the guitar badly, tangled up in agoraphobia and incoherently muttering elaborate excuses for postponing all my life experiences to an undesignated future time which I have carefully planned to never arrive soon. And, as my restraints are tightened on the gurney, Adult Protective Services wheel me out of the house and into the sunlight, while in the background “Alright Now” by Free, plays softly on a distant radio, again..

All illustrations by Gavin Bragdon with Midjourney.

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