||Signed and Numbered by the Photographer
Forty-two photographs taken during 37 walks between the sites of Newgate prison and the Tyburn Tree, between 23 August 2009 and 3 February 2011.
In late 2009, a TV documentary about Stanley Kubrick caught my attention. The programme explained how Kubrick frequently shot more than 30 takes of one scene in order to ?wear down? the actors - to force them to work through the obvious approaches and find something new. I began to wonder if I could employ the basis of this process in my own work.
Looking at the 4ft wide map of London on my studio wall, I decided to choose two points (A and B), one east and one west, and take photographs as I walked repeatedly from one to the other. I would record each journey with GPS, and the line between the points (representing my directional choices) would be transcribed onto a map for each day ? an apposite metaphor for my drifting thought process, perhaps.
Initially, I had planned to choose the points A and B arbitrarily by sticking a pin into the map. However, I had for some time been aware of the Tyburn Tablet, a memorial to the site of London?s ancient gallows near Marble Arch. The tablet, circular and set into the ground, resembles a full stop. And indeed it was a full stop for the thousands of condemned prisoners who were transported three miles from Newgate Prison in the east, to their demise on this site - a process that ended in 1783. Although I had no intention of producing a literal body of images concerning this historical event, I decided to reemploy these macabre points of arrival and departure, hoping their significance might add a subtle layer of influence to the images I produced.
In keeping with all of my projects, I photographed for two months, then ordered the images chronologically, and took an overview. Immediately, the progressive influence of two photographs I had made for an earlier project (City: Book Two) was clearly evident (cross-pollination between projects is something I relish). Perhaps these two images, Bloom and Nix, represented ?unfinished business?, or what Charlotte Cotton calls ?itchy scratchy? photographs (the transitional pieces, the precursors of a new phase or project).
The ?itchiness? of these earlier photographs had arisen, I think, from the fact that they represented two embryonic strands of a new investigation.
Firstly, they were attempts at exploring the resonance of an image that looks from darkness into light. This is something I had been aware of in Eugene Smith?s photograph, A Walk to Paradise Garden (1946), and that was reinforced when I attended Anthony McCall?s Solid Lightworks at the Serpentine Gallery in 2008. Bloom and Nix were the first photographs where I decided to use light to silhouette an object rather than as a means of illuminating it (in this respect, I feel they are related to photograms: the image is formed by light that passes through an object to reach a light-sensitive medium, and everything else falls away to black).
Secondly, Bloom and Nix are abstract images. Abstraction had become intriguing because it addressed a question that had been on my mind: what makes a photograph a photograph? Specifically, if the information in an image is reduced to the point where the object-matter is unrecognisable, when is a photograph no longer a window to look through but an object in itself?
Why, however, did these two seams of inquiry, which had been lying undeveloped in a previous body of work, resurface in the making A to B? Certainly the journey I retraced ? from life towards death ? echoed with these earlier abstract images of darkness and light, and so offered a framework for exploration. As Wolfgang Tillmans said in his lecture at the Royal Academy this year: ?If something taps on your consciousness three times, it is usually worth pursuing.?
John MacLean March 2011.
John MacLean. A to B.
First edition 2011.
Hunter & James
16.3 x 24cm, 88 pp,
4-colour, perfect bound, limited edition