Tag Archives: UEL Photography Discourse

Something and nothing

In her book, “The Photograph As Contemporary Art”, Charlotte Cotton describes how we often keep ordinary objects “at the periphery of our vision, (and) we may not automatically give them credence as visual subjects within art’s lexicon”. She cites the work of  Uta Barth as being illustrative  of deceptively simple photographs which call into question the traditional function of pictures and what our expectations of them are. “By photographing in ordinary anonymous places-in simple rooms, city streets, airports and fields-Barth uses what is natural and unstudied to shift attention away from the subject matter, and redirect focus to a consciousness of the process of perception and the visceral and intellectual pleasures of seeing”.

Untitled (NW17) from "nowhere near" series(1999): (c) Uta Barth

Untitled (NW17) from "nowhere near" series(1999): (c) Uta Barth

Untitled (aot 2):(2000):(c) Uta Barth

Untitled (aot 2):(2000):(c) Uta Barth

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Stairs (c) Nigel Shafran (2002)

The use of ‘ordinary space’ in her images led me to the work of Nigel Shafran. He too records the detail of everyday living and brings new light to the mundanity of domestic spaces. His photographs of stairs provided a catalyst for  a series of photographs taken at the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, where the inner stairwell became representative/symbolic of the leading away from, or to something or somebody.

In truth the idea had formed slowly after a number of trips to an architectural landmark close to where I live. The Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth dominates the local landscape. Like it or not, (and I do), it is a significant tourist attraction for the city. It is without doubt a “photogenic” piece of architecture, but maybe that’s the problem. The “postcard” effect strips meaning away. There is no real “connection” made by the visitor beyond that of “consuming” yet another tourist attraction. My initial plan had been to try and take a very “detached” view of the tower, either by emphasising its monumental scale, or by highlighting the finer detail within the structure. The observation tower affords an exceptionally good panoramic view of Portsmouth and the surrounding area.
The attempt to photograph the Spinnaker Tower from different perspectives produced some satisfactory images, but in truth I found them  a little too ‘obvious’, and maybe not too far from the ‘tourist as consumer’

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth. (c) John Callaway (2009)

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth. (c) John Callaway (2009)

Perhaps taking a cue from semiotics, I began to consider whether there was an ‘image from within’ that might convey some meaning. The process of arriving at the observation platform is much as you would expect. Visitors arrive at the ground floor and are taken by an internal lift to the first of three platforms. Connecting the three floors is a triangular stairwell which, (aside from a disabled lift) is the only way to reach the other levels. Spending the best part of a morning peering down the stairwell, I was struck by the fact that this was perhaps the ‘hidden’ connection. The inner stairwell: functional, necessary and the one thing that binds together all visitors, whether or not they know it…
I became interested in the idea of the stair rail as a conduit, touched by the hidden hand. The vestigial marks of countless visitors left on the rail…..

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Spinnaker:Untitled I. (c)John Callaway 2009

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Spinnaker: Untitled II. (c) John Callaway 2009

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Spinnaker: Untitled III. (c) John Callaway 2009

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Spinnaker: Untitled IV: (c) John Callaway 2009

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