A possible new beginning…

Posted on May 4, 2014

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As I indicated in the last post I have been having some serious reservations about the originality of my approach to my East End project. I outlined two alternative directions in which I could take the work. The second of these was to base my series on Charles Booth’s 1889 survey of East London. The idea would be to select locations from places Booth and his colleagues refer to in the book and associated notebooks. I have established that the work is  out of copyright and so I have no problems in using these texts. Also Toynbee Hall supported much of the Booth’s work and so they might prove to be  a useful ally in taking the work forward.

The thrust of the work does however need to change. My previous aim was to demonstrate the transient nature of the influence of immigration on the area. As I said in my previous post I feel that the references I have found for this work are simply too cliche. My thoughts on the direction the work might now take are set out in a first cut (very first cut) artists statement below. The working title for this redefined project is Lifting the Curtain. The rationale for this is explained in the statement.

Lifting the Curtain – Artist’s Statement 

I am interested in the relationship between place, memory and the passage of time and how photography can mediate within this space. What can a picture of a place tell us about what happened there? Can we know the truth of what lies beneath the surface of a photograph or are we only able to read it as a cultural construction? 

In his 1889 socio-cultural survey, Charles Booth echoed this concern about cultural conditioning, when he expressed the view that East London lay ‘hidden from view behind a curtain on which were painted terrible pictures’. He saw his survey work as an attempt to lift this curtain ‘to see the world it hid’. 

Lifting the Curtain revisits Booth’s East London through a series of photographs of modern day urban landscapes. The locations are places Booth and his associates visited and commented on either in the published work ‘Life and Labour of the People in London’, or in their working papers. Texts extracted from the book and notebooks are presented alongside the photographs. 

The landscapes were made at dawn, dusk and at nighttime when no one was around. This was a deliberate strategy. If there were people in the pictures, they would draw attention away from the subjects I am interested in, the places themselves. 

The absence of people and the dramatic lighting give the photographs the feel of an empty theatrical stage, onto which the viewer is invited to project their own narratives. The texts open up additional meanings and raise questions about what a photograph of a place can in itself tell us about its past. 

The juxtaposition of photographs of modern day scenes with historic texts draws attention to the passage of time and the transience of human existence, with the absence of people and the deep shadows in the images serving as metaphors for mortality.

London School of Economics maintain an online record of much of Booth’s workbooks and they have been very helpful in directing me on the best way to identify suitable locations (and associated texts). So far I have identified 9 texts which will work well with my existing photographs (some I was already planning to use). I have found 7 other texts/locations which have real promise – I have yet to visit these new locations however. This means that I will need to find another half dozen or so locations….this seems eminently feasible.

Here are the ten photographs I have so far completed. I am thinking that I will use the text as a caption for any art prints, but may well decide to use the text as an integral part of any poster presentation. I have yet to consider the presentational aspects properly, but this naturally flows from the concept behind the work.

©Keith Greenough 2014

©Keith Greenough 2014

Lifting the Curtain-8

©Keith Greenough 2014

Lifting the Curtain-6

©Keith Greenough 2014

©Keith Greenough 2014

©Keith Greenough 2014

Lifting the Curtain-4

©Keith Greenough 2014

Lifting the Curtain-3

©Keith Greenough 2014

Lifting the Curtain-2

©Keith Greenough 2014

Lifting the Curtain-1

©Keith Greenough 2014

©Keith Greenough 2014

©Keith Greenough 2014

©Keith Greenough 2014

©Keith Greenough 2014

 

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