Photographs by Stephen Gill
Words by Karl Ove Knausgård
Signed by Stephen Gill
At Photo London 2017 Stephen Gill took the unusual step of giving a talk about the making of his book “Night Procession” before the book had even been printed. Stephen spoke about his vision for the book, about his thought process for capturing his images and the techniques he used to make the final images within. I was fortunate to have been there and found his talk fascinating, although as is usual when I get advance information on one of Stephen’s projects, I was a little frustrated that I would have to wait before I could get my hands on the finished book. In 2014 Stephen relocated his family from East London to rural south Sweden and soon realised on his many walks in this open, flat and apparently bleak landscape was teaming with nocturnal activity. The tell-tale signs of animal footprints and gnawed foliage, clusters of feathers and egg shells got Stephens imagination racing. He began to imagine the animals and their nocturnal forages for food, and encounters with one another, driven on by their senses, in the thick of the night. Using the clues left by the animals, Stephen placed cameras equipped with motion sensors and invisible infrared flash to record the nightly activity of the wildlife. The motion sensors in effect allowing the animals to photograph themselves, whilst we were sleeping and has recorded beautiful dream like glimpses into their nocturnal world.
Before relocating to Sweden, Stephen had begun researching the use of plants and berries to make dyes and stains which he could use in a future project. When he went to collect his cameras from their overnight locations Stephen also collected samples of plant matter, leaves, grasses, berries from which he made his own dyes. His prints were then soaked in his hand made dyes to stain and introduce colour and a piece of the locality into these black and white images, these master prints then had to be dried and pressed to remove and distortions to the paper caused by the soaking in the dye before being re-photographed to produce the final images.
Stephen has often incorporated elements from the environment in which he takes his photographs into his finished images, with “Hackney Wick” the images were taken on a cheap camera purchased at a Hackney Wick boot sale, then he combined images with pressed flowers and seeds for “Hackney Flowers” and by burying prints in the ground, to let the earth and minerals react with the image, for the book “Buried” of which the finished books were also buried in the ground. For “Talking with Ants” Stephen placed dust, seeds and objects found, inside the camera chamber to create images that were a juxtaposition of imagery and scale, part photograph, part in camera photogram; with “Best Before End” Gill soaked part processed colour films in locally sourced energy drinks in “an attempt to reflect and respond to the intensity of inner city life by focusing on the phenomenal rise of energy drinks “(Gill 2014). The film reacted with the drinks to create colour shifts and softened the emulsion to allow it to be manually stretched and distorted.
Stephen Gill is one of Britain’s best contemporary photographers, and although contemporary photography is not to everyone’s taste, I would strongly recommend this to those of you who do enjoy this genre of photography.
Night Procession has been presented with the 2017 HARIBAN AWARD.
The photographs in this book have a ceremonial quality about them, as if the animals and the birds present themselves to us one by one – the fox, the hare, the wild boar, the deer, the mouse, the snail, the bird of prey, the fledglings, the owl – as well as something rather solemn, in that we see them the way they are in themselves, in their own world, normally so out of reach from our own. The world we see in these images is a secret world, though no less so when light re- turns to the land, the animals retreat into hiding and the forest again becomes recognisable to us; on the contrary, the mystery seems only to thicken. - Karl Ove Knausgård
from the photographer,
In March 2014, my family and I moved from east London to rural south Sweden where my partner Lena is from. I understood that these new surroundings would inform my work in very different ways and that nature would play a key role. I was looking forward to making work that did not feel restricted and suffocated by modern photographic technology nor would make an inaccurate projected impression of the natural landscape we had become part of. On my many walks, I soon came to realise that this new, apparently bleak, flat and open landscape was in fact teeming with intense life. Small clues appeared during daylight hours that helped me understand the extent of activity during the night. Clusters of feathers, animal footprints of all sizes showing regular overlapping routes, gnawed branches, eggshells, ant hills, nibbled mushrooms and busy snails and slugs working through the feast provided from the previous nightI started to imagine the creatures in absolute darkness on the forest floor driven by instincts and their will to survive. I imagined them encountering each other. I thought of their eyes – near redundant in the thick of the night – and their sense of smell and hearing finely tuned and heightened. Envisaging where this activity might unfold, coupled with a hopeful foresight, I placed cameras equipped with motion sensors, to trees, mostly at a low level, so that any movement triggered the camera shutter and an infra-red flash (which was outside the animals’ visual spectrum). The first results filled me with fascination and joy as they presented what felt like stepping off into another parallel and unearthly world. The silent photographs also seemed to invent sounds. This frame of mind and way of working took me back to my first ever photo project at the age of 13, sitting in the bathroom window of my parents’ house in Bristol with a 10-metre cable release, attached to the camera, attempting to photograph garden birds.As time went on I started to think, if I were a deer where would I drink from, or if an owl where would I prefer to perch, and positioned cameras in such places. I was already composing the rectangular view in my mind’s eye – even though the nocturnal animals were absent – imagining they were there. Nature itself helped to decide the palette and the feel of the images as plant pigments were incorporated from the surrounding areas to make the final master prints.I had grappled for many years with this idea of stepping back as the author of images to give space for chance and to encourage the subject to step forward. I had attempted this in various ways; for example, in 2005, by burying colour prints close to where they were made, as a collaboration, to entice the place itself to leave its physical mark on the images once they had been unearthed. Or, between 2009 - 2013, in the series Talking to Ants, I placed objects such as plant life, insects, seeds and dust from the place I was photographing inside the film chamber to create in-camera photograms creating a confusion of scale. Or, in 2012, in Best Before End, as a photographic response to the rise of high-energy drinks, I used the drinks themselves to part-process the film as they ate into the emulsion. These approaches added an element of uncertainty, without knowing exactly where the images would land, and relied on a point where intentions met chance with the hope that the subject itself could play a part, lead the way or become embedded in the finished images.This time, though, it felt as if I was stepping out altogether, so that the subjects would orchestrate and perform and take on the role of author while at that moment I was likely to be sleeping. This was nature’s time to speak and let itself be felt and known. Stephen Gill
Cloth bound hardback, 216 mm x 270 mm
86 colour plates, 160 Pages
Book contains inserted 16 page saddle stitched booklet with essay.
170 mm x 240 mm
Published by Nobody