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Thursday, 2 June 2011

Random Conversations #7 - Exotic England

K: Sure I like it, but I want to know why you like it.

Me: Because the pictures don't look like other people's pictures of England. They don't even look like other pictures from the early eighties which was when they were taken. They don't really look like poor people pictures either. They look different.

K: Is looking different enough though?

Me: No, not really. It's more than that. The backstory of how Killip came to do the project is brilliant for a start - a kind of case study in documentary photography chickens coming home to roost in a good way. He went down to the beach where all these people were collecting coal from the sea - hence the title of the book, Seacoal - and and was just blown away by how medieval it all was. But when the coal collectors saw him, they told him to fuck off. They thought he was from the DHSS and was spying on them. So he fucked off and thought I'm not going there again.

Then a couple of years later he thought, what the heck, let's give it another go. And they told him to fuck off again - and charged him with the horse and carts they used to carry the coal. So he decided to go to where they drank and ask them again. So he went to the pub where they drank, walked through the door and the pub fell silent. Everyone stared at him. Then he told them what he wanted to do. Then they told him to fuck off. so he was just about to fuck off again, when a man walked in and said, hold on, do you remember me. Killip didn't remember him but the man, who was called Brian, remembered Killip taking his picture at a horse fair a few years before. And that's how the Seacoal pictures started. Killip stayed in a caravan on the beach for 14 months on and off and made his Seacoal photographs. .

K: Great back story but what about the pictures.

Me: They just look so bleak and raw, bleak in a way that no other pictures look bleak. And nobody is even noticing Killip half the time so everything is quiet and natural but with this harsh edge. Even when people are noticing him and posing, there is something very human about the faces. Not downtrodden even though the life looks tough. And not noble either. And the faces are kind of hard and soft at the same time, but always, always set against this beach where the pebbles are coal and you can almost see the wind and the cold, you can almost smell the salt blowing in from the east.

K: Sounds kind of exotic to me.

Me: No it's not.

K: But it doesn't exist anymore, this landscape and this community.

Me: No. Perhaps that's part of what makes it so good.

K: That it's rare, that it can't be photographed again.

Me: Yes. It's more than that but that's a part of it.

K: Sounds exotic to me.

Me: Well it's not.

K: But it's rare.

Me: Yes.

K: Does something have to be rare to be good?

Me: Uh?

K: I mean in photography, if something common and anybody can photograph it, then it can't really be anything special, can it? It becomes generic then.

Me: The way you're putting it, yes..

K: So something good has to have a rarity value. Like those giant pinhole pictures or the ones made with the massive camera.

Me: Up to a point yes,

K: Or Chris Killip's Seacoal because nobody else photographed it and it doesn't exist anymore?

Me: Maybe?

K: Which is rare. And so exotic.

Me: No, I don't think so. They're different.

K: Alright then. I suppose everybody loves Killip, don't they.

Me: Pretty much, yes.

K: You sure it's not a case of you liking him because everybody likes him.

Me: Absolutely not. He's properly good. And Seacoal is properly good.

K: I'll believe you. Let's watch some telly. What's on?

Me: Ooh, second part of the new Adam Curtis thing is on at 9. Excellent!


simon anstey said...

integrity is the word the work brings to mind

Deborah Parkin Photography said...

I love the work of Killip .. like you say, raw and honest. I am familiar with this landscape and it hasn't changed that dramatically. People still go onto the beach with their cars, early morning.. it is a beach that feels so different to other parts of the Northumberland coast. One of my favourite images is of the lad in Jarrow .. that is where I was born & my maternal family are from .. I can connect with this, although my life is very different now to what it was then.

Microcord said...

Random thoughts from an anonymous coward:

Copies of In Flagrante are wildly expensive. This may be because it's very good. It's certainly not because of rarity: copies are very numerous (and no, I'm not confusing it with the Errata Editions version). (Similarly, there are also plenty of copies of even the first edition of Fukase's Karasu / Ravens.)

I don't think that Killip was alone in photographing the collection of seacoal. In 2003 Amber/Side published Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen's The Coal Coast, which I think is on the same subject -- but I don't know. It's an elusive book, and I've never seen a copy. (Worldcat says not only "Genre/Form: Pictorial" but also, strangely, "Material Type: Biography".)

Killip's properly good. Or most of what I've seen by him is. But his book Here Comes Everybody leaves me cold. Still, even inside that large book, there's material for a good small book.

Everybody loves Killip -- yet retailers and perhaps wholesalers still have stocks of the "Phaidon 55" book on him that was published all of 10 years ago. (The design of the books in this series is gimmicky, but this volume is well worth its low price.) So perhaps he's not widely loved after all.

colin pantall said...

Thanks SA, Deborah and Microcord.

Yes, integrity is the word. You're from Jarrow, Deborah - the funny thing is with Killip, it's grim up north but at the same time it's not.

Thanks for your comments, MC. It's not really clear, but in the conversation I mean rare in the exotic sense, MC, not the book sense although I would love a copy of In Flagrante - but I think Seacoal is purer in many ways.

Thank you for your comments everybody - they are much appreciated.

Christian Hamilton Fowler said...

I love random conversations such as this. For me, it really makes me think about photography, a photographer or a collection of work more so than a 2 hour lecture would. For me, I walk away thinking more deeply about it and continue to think about it for days after. Thank you for posting


colin pantall said...

Thanks Chris - avoid 2 hour lectures, they're far too long. But one hour lectures, I love them.

Thanks for the nice comments and have a lovely summer. Which year are you in?

Christian Hamilton Fowler said...

Thanks Colin. I'm just coming to the end of my 1st Year. You too, have a relaxed and chilled summer.


colin pantall said...

Thanks Chris. AKA Chris Fowler is it? How come two names?

Christian Hamilton Fowler said...

Haha Yes its Chris Fowler. Hamilton is my middle name and thought I'd use that instead. Think it sounds a bit better than Fowler haha