I'm not entirely sure exactly where the idea came from. Possibly it was my job where I travel to the estates and cul-de-sacs of St. Austell, the town where I live. But, I begun to have a fascination for some of the run-down places I saw. Not empty, not derelict but slightly past their best. The swinging gate, the weedy drive or the car in need of a spruce up. So the idea was born and of course it had to realised in an analog way. But how? Somehow Large Format with all it's attendant preparations didn't seem to fit the bill. Nor even Medium Format although my Zeiss Ikon Nettar has many of the qualities required, such as stealth and simplicity of use. No it had to be 35mm, but which camera? Decisions, decisions. In reality, the answer formed itself as the camera that I most often turned to when needing decent picture quality was my Nikon FE teamed with it's 50mm 1.8 Series E lens. On 35mm, the 50 mm lens resembles Human vision most closely, so composition is less of a task, focusing is for me instinctive and when partnered with the right emulsion gives characterful results. But which emulsion? Colour or Mono. Fast, Slow or medium. So like all undecided people, I impulsively made probably the worst choice, yes ECN2 and a starter developer kit. And that's where this first set of images kicks in. This shot, I'm calling, simply No27 examplifies my intent of capturing places that are outwardly of no special merit, that nevertheless have a point of interest.
Named after the rusting numbers on the gate, this was one of the earliest images in this project. So what was it that attracted me? Apart from the obvious patina of rust and peeling paint to the gates and building behind, there is a sense of ennui and of gentle disrepair. But is this scene one of terminal decay, or just casual neglect? So it asks a question which is the core of this project. Places that have something to conceal, or where a tantalising glimpse is revealed of the secrets within. In this case, although weeds are sprouting and the garden is untidy, it could be in use. The notice on the gate being relatively new, might be an indication by the owner of exasperation at the Postman leaving the gate ajar. Of course all this might just be unwarranted speculation by me, but the fact that it prompted those thoughts in me indicates that there IS a story to tell.
The image on the right asks a different question, which is Why were these signs and Traffic Cone placed here? The wall behind gives little clue. The arrangement, somewhat haphazard, teases us. Certainly the bright, primary colours are attractive in themselves, so it may be that someone arranged them like this was to brighten up the grey wall behind. If I reveal that the location is at the side of a Social Club, the kind that offers cheap beer and Sky Sports on the big screen, other explanations become available. Perhaps they were put there by Drunken revellers after a night on said cheap booze? Or could they have been used in the car park to direct traffic flow and have been subsequently discarded until next needed?
My next image adds the final element, which is people. But does that corrupt the intent of the image, making into something different perhaps? Well no, and the reasons for that are that in this shot at least, the people are part of the scene. They don't dominate proceedings and are almost incidental to the composition which is one of a modern road junction, complete with cyclepath and a pedestrian crossing. There are signs to a visitor attraction and a Supermarket in addition to Street furniture of all kinds. In the meantime, the gesture of the woman, her two Collies pressed round her as she touches the enormous dog, is one of curiosity. I imagine she is saying ...and what breed is she? or other similar ice-breakers that Dog owners use to start conversations.
Last, we vary the recipe in a different way by switching from Colour to Mono. This wooden door has the same ingredients however. It has patina and it is slightly open, asking us to envision what is inside. Despite the evident decay however, this door is in use. I know that, because I have been inside, but how would the viewer know? Well, if you look at the image, you will notice that the hasp of the upper lock appears to be brand new. That's a pretty conclusive piece of evidence. It indicates that though the door may be decrepit, the contents of the building behind have sufficient value to warrant the cost of a new lock to seal it from prying eyes. I know that the contents belong to an impoverished Arts organisation who would struggle if they were taken from them. Does this image belong with the colour ones though? That is a question I am struggling to resolve myself. Black and White is cheaper and more accessible than colour, but it does look very different. I think it will be helpful at this stage to think about the final form of this project. I have had it mind for a long time now to put out a Zine with carefully matched images. I still don't know how long and if there should be explanatory text of any sort. That is why I am writing this Blog in the hope it will trigger a response, or at least let me step back a pace or two, so I can reach a balanced view and proceed from there
analog color photography in run-down places