David George – Shadows of Doubt

Posted on April 3, 2014

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At the Uncertain States exhibition back in November  (see here) I learned about another exhibition of photographs of London’s East End, Archive Imagined East End, which was due to take place at Hoxton Hall in November. The exhibition featured photographs by Don McCullin, Ian Farrant, Spencer Rowell, David George, Mick Williamson, Tom Hunter and Stephen Gill. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition with its diverse mix of photography all centred on my own subject of London’s East End. I was particularly interested however in David George’s photographs which were made as part of a joint project with Spencer Rowell entitled Shadows of DoubtI subsequently contacted David and he kindly agreed to let me reproduce his photographs in this blog post.

Shadows of Doubt ©David George

Shadows of Doubt ©David George

Shadows of Doubt was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s childhood. Hitchcock apparently spent time as a child in the East End of London (Wapping, Wanstead Flats, Whipps Cross, Limehouse and Leyton). The idea of the work was to try to recapture Hitchcock’s early childhood photographically and refers to Freud’s concept that our behaviour and feelings as adults (and psychological problems) are rooted in our childhood experiences.Hitchcock once declared his mission in life was ‘to scare the hell out of people’ (Haeffner, 2013). George’s photographs were made in the places Hitchcock would have roamed as a child. They were taken at night and are rendered so as to invoke a sense of unease and fear in the viewer. One gets the sense that danger is lurking in the fog and shadows.

Shadows of Doubt ©David George

Shadows of Doubt ©David George

What I find particularly interesting is how I am driven to project meaning into these photographs. But if I did not know that the places depicted were where Hitchcock spent his childhood, or if I were not aware of  Hitchcock’s work would I view these photographs differently?

My sense is that I would still regard the places depicted as somehow threatening. The chiaroscuro ‘film noir’ aesthetic is well entrenched in popular culture, through crime thrillers which have described such scenes and the movies which pictured them. In the East End of London the fascination with Jack the Ripper has become part of this mythology and continues to invoke a sense of fear in people walking dark streets (Interestingly several people have asked me whether I have been fearful about my personal security when out taking my East End photographs at night and in the pre-dawn morning).

However, knowing that there is a link to Hitchcock adds to my imaginative arsenal. My memories of his films are projected onto these scenes as are my memories of being both frightened and excited when I watched them.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) Alfred Hitchcock

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) Alfred Hitchcock

So put simply we project what we know into photographs, and where we don’t have specific knowledge we rely upon culturally established norms, e.g. Fog + Darkness + East London = Jack the Ripper. What we know can be influenced in photography by the context within which the photographs are presented. In the case of George’s work, we are told that it is about Hitchcock’s childhood which immediately invokes a sense of fear, heightening our unease with the already expressive dark foggy images before us.

So what have I taken from George’s work. Firstly, I feel that it reaffirms my decision to photograph at night and early mornings for my East End project. Photographs taken in this light stimulate a psychological response from the viewer. In my case I am hoping to invoke a sense that the shadows represent people long passed. Second it has demonstrated to me that it takes very little contextual nudging to point the viewer’s interpretation of a photograph in a particular direction. In the case of George’s work he simply states that the photographs are of places where Hitchcock spent his childhood. Our imaginations do the rest. I need to be conscious of this when I am constructing the textual framework within which my photographs are shown. I must avoid being overly prescriptive and didactic. I wonder if I have achieved this in the image/text panels I have made so far, such as the one below? In this example the text invites the viewer to consider their feelings about racially motivated crime and our society’s response to it. But does it also stimulate the viewer’s imagination to project onto the photograph an image of a crime taking place at that location? Does the viewer need to know that it was the location of the murder of Altab Ali in 1978? Or will their imaginations lead them to conclude that a racially motivated murder too place there, and that’s all they need to know? These are the types of questions I need to think carefully about.

Adler Street Whitechapel adjacent to Altab Ali Park, January 2014

Adler Street Whitechapel adjacent to Altab Ali Park, January 2014

I really enjoyed David George’ work and have revisited his photographs on several occasions since I went to the exhibition. My thanks to him for allowing me to reproduce some of them here.

References

George D. (2011) Shadows of Doubt Available from: http://www.davidgeorge.eu/Statements/Hitchcock.html [Accessed on 3rd April 2014]

Haeffner N.(2013) Hitchcock, Fear and the Built Environment in activate: the archive  London: London Metropolitan University, pp 4

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