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Friday, 22 May 2015

Craig Easton: "You want me to send you a picture so you can rip it to shreds on your blog?"

Sometime last year I wrote a couple of posts about the vast numbers of pictures we see and instantly forget.I called this visual detritus photographic musak and how few pictures we remember. I was focussing on the commercial dreck you see, but  it should be made clear there is a photobook version of it too, and a gallery version - you know, the stuff you try hard to like and are supposed to be interested in, but which just gets you nodding off whenever you look at it. Sometimes when something looks boring it is because it is boring. It doesn't became less boring because it is a serious photograph, in fact that might make it more boring. Please  if you see something boring, say it how it is. It's boring.

And similarly if something seems trite, it is probably because it is trite. It doesn't matter how pretty and well-lit and beautifully printed it is, it is trite. Please, if you see something trite, say it how it is. It's trite.

And every so often you get pictures like the one above that somehow stick in your craw like a splinter of a bone from a Morrison's Basics pack of chicken legs and thighs. It leaves you spluttering into your morning tea, chucking up your cornflakes and puffing out your cheeks like an unreconstructed Colonel Blimp.

That's what this Heathrow ad did to me. I saw it in the Independent and was outraged (this was one of those times when I was in the mood to be easily outraged. It comes and goes). The picture is of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. It's my favourite bridge in the world. I used to live very close to it, I used to walk over it and drop stones into the river below and, in the days before they put a fence up to stop people throwing themselves in (not always successfully - here's a tragic tale from earlier this week), watch make tiny splashes as they hit the mud below. I never tired of that.

I walked over that bridge and got the best city view in Britain, in one of the most stunning natural settings. And I'd go down Nightingale Valley and walk under it and marvel at the spectacle of forest, cliff, forest and the mud of the River Avon.

And whenever anyone came to visit, I'd inflict the bridge on them and tell them all about how it was built,  the competition to design it, the ridiculous designs that didn't get built, Brunel's winning design, the delays in its construction and the gory technicalities of how you die when you jump from the bridge.

I still go there on a regular basis when I visit Bristol. In the summers, I'll take in the views from the terrace of the Avon Gorge Hotel (where Cary Grant used to stay when he visited his mum in Bristol), and if anyone from out of town comes, That's one of the classic tourist views and it's gorgeous. You see the bridge at its level with the trees of Leigh Woods in the background.

Another classic tourist view of the bridge is from the lookout point at the end of the harbour. Here you are at ground level and  you get the bridge in the middle with Leigh Woods on the left and the Georgian/Regency architecture of clifton Village rising on the right. You can almost see Martin Parr's house in this view.

And there's another phenomenal  tourist view just above the bridge. It's the one where you look down and get South Bristol (home of Photobook Bristol) sinking into the background,

That's pretty much the spot where this picture is supposed to look like it was taken from, but it's not quite right. That's why I coughed, choked and spluttered and got into all of a tizzy when I first saw it. Where's the fence, where are the bushes, why have different pictures been spliced together, what's with the lighting, why is there an oversized paper plane, and who the fuck is Paul Brown and what do I care.

. I was befuddled by some notion of visual accuracy mixing with my infantile romanticised vision of the bridge. There was a clash that could not be resolved. In a similar infantile manner, I wanted my photography to be true and here was this advertisement that was a lie. All of a sudden what was real mattered.

And that's why I remembered the picture. It struck a chord. And that's what it was supposed to do (though maybe not quite in that way).

I wanted to blog on it but couldn't find the cutting, probably because I didn't make a cutting. I thought I'd find it on the internet. But I didn't. So I didn't write about it.

Then last week, I went to Liverpool and I met Craig Easton. Craig used to work for the Indepenedent when the Independent was the top UK newspaper for photography. He still does documentary work, but he makes his money from commercial work. So I was chatting to him and the conversation went something like this.

Craig: Yes, I do commercial work mostly.

Me: Great stuff. Who do you work for?

Craig: Oh, Landrover, Barclays. I've just finished a campaign for Heathrow.

Me: Heathrow?

Craig: Yes, we shot landmarks all around the country.

Me: You didn't do that picture of the guy with the paper plane at the Clifton Suspension Bridge did you!

Craig: Yeah, that's one of mine. 

Me: I fucking hate that picture. 

Craig: Oh, that wasn't the reaction that I was really hoping for.

Me; But it's a good thing. At least I remembered it. Can you send me a copy so I can write about it on my blog?

Craig: You want me to send you a picture so you can rip it to shreds on your blog?

Me: Yeah, that's about it. 

Craig: Ok, sure, why not?

Which I think is fantastic!

More images from the campaign here.

Craig Easton's review of Liverpool Look/15

Craig Easton's main site including his ongoing project on Fish Wives

There will be a short rest on the blog as I attend to other matters.

1 comment:

jayjay said...

I agree, this is the worst kind of advertising photo, its over nostalgic with a ridiculous oversized paper plane (why so big, its patronising, like they think the audience won't get subtlety), maybe it succeeds because we hate it, but to find out its not real, the view doesn't exist, that takes away all credibility, as presumably Paul Brown does exist. Not the fault of the photographer but the advertising / PR agency that commissioned it, enjoyed reading the article and how you met the photographer. Loved Craig's response, and his fishwives series is his best, full of humanity and fish, real.