It has been a surprising journey putting together a photobook in the style of Ed Ruscha. Looking at his book TwentySix Gasoline Stations for the first time my impression accorded perfectly with its reputation for being boring and banal. I had a similar reaction to his books on swimming pools, car parks and every building on sunset strip. I was intrigued that the idea of gasoline stations arose because of Ed Ruscha’s love of the word gasoline and a regular 1000 mile trip he was taking at the time. Then I had a go at the task of producing a book in his style and things changed for me.
I was on a photography trip in Cyprus a couple of weeks ago. The obvious thing to do was to photograph Gasoline Stations in Cyprus. So I started to do this. The friend I was with was at first bemused by this task and I think worried where these MA tasks were taking me. But as we stopped and took pictures we both remarked on how much more you notice when you point your camera, look and then see. We started asking questions about evidence of Cyprus on the forecourts. We got in to long conversations with staff at the forecourts if we asked if we could photograph. Their reaction was suspicion about why we would want to do such a thing.
Then something else happened. We were photographing the abandoned village of Souskiou. This village of almost 400 people was evacuated in 1974 during the troubles and has remained empty ever since. The buildings there are currently abandoned and are in various stages of falling down. I was deeply moved by the experience of walking around this village. My mothers ancestors were pushed out of Croatia up in to Hungary, then subsumed in to Austria and then my mother came to England. This place seemed to strike a chord within me about migration and identity.
Then I fell in love with the windows in the village. Pictures of abandonment but also of a conquest of nature taking place as weeds and plants take up residence in every nook and cranny you see. So now my project became 26 windows in Souskiou.
Having the material I now worked on producing a photobook. I read Understanding Photobooks by Jorg Colberg. A whole new world opened up as I saw there was a sophisticated process to produce a photobook. The importance of form, content, story and sequencing. In addition the haptic pleasures of touching photographs and paper soon became apparent. I have always loved real paper books and the experience of holding certain paper and type gives me a real thrill. I am sensing the same excitement growing for myself as I handle prints and look at and touch photobooks. Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi is just a wonderful experience.
So I laid out some prints on the dining table. My wife Karen was encouraged to participate. Which ones to go together, what is the story, what is the sequence and which ones don’t fit? Anybody who came in the house was invited to play. Touch, move, group and tell me what you think. I was amazed how much people enjoyed doing this and with such simple pictures what a range of opinions and comments.
After finally agreeing on a book order we then had a conversation about words or no words. The consensus was no words. Let the pictures form their own story in the minds of the viewer.
So we have a book, or a dummy, as I now know the term to be. It sits here asking to be printed.
But wait. This involved much too much thinking. It has now become a project and is likely to become an exhibition for Landings this year. Surely the point of Ed Ruscha was that he liked the word gasoline and photographed 26 of them and put them in a book. Similarly in 45 minutes he flew over LA and photographed a bunch of parking lots. So yesterday I thought let’s do Ed Ruscha properly.
In 25 minutes I photographed 24 planks of Pego boardwalk. I went forward one plank at a time and that was my sequence. Even in such a short period of time and with such a ‘boring’ and ‘banal’ subject it is once again interesting to see how much more you see when you look.
This has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The Souskiou images are likely to progress in to an exhibition and possibly a photobook. I have also progressed a long way in the short journey so far on the MA feeling almost as comfortable with banal and boring being interested as I remain in love with the beautiful and the sublime.