"You can only photograph what's there." Coalville Photographed video via YouTube
In January 2014 I was commissioned by Snibston Discovery Museum (Leicestershire) to continue my long-term work photographing a period of post-industrial transition which has coincidentally aligned with my own lifetime. I would spend six-months photographing and initiating conversations with local people in the town of Coalville, as we passed each other by. The aim? Was reasonably simple. To piece together the current nature of the town, and it’s surroundings, and understand how it has altered over the course of its recent history.
I was keen to use individual perspectives as smaller narratives within the overall body of work. It was in thinking about this that I first came into contact with Graham Ellis. It was late one evening and I was scrolling through local websites, looking for anything that caught my imagination, when I landed on a Facebook page called ‘Coalville Photographed’.
Crammed full of photographs of the town and it’s surroundings, neatly archived into geographic albums. I was intrigued. I got in touch with the creator of the page and following a long exchange, which trailed well into the night, we arranged to meet up in town to discuss potentially working together on my new project.
Luckily, for reasons which will later become apparent, Graham’s wife had an appointment at the hairdressers that morning, which allowed us to meet. The meet went well, we got along and Graham agreed to let me accompany him on his shoots. Thursday morning, 10am - 12pm, every two weeks.
My idea was to use Graham as a guide through the town. Making a photograph of him in each area we visited, and combining each photograph with some text, written by Graham, about each specific location.
Ultimately, the idea didn’t work out and it didn’t make the final edit. But over several shoots we did develop a friendship. And I was becoming increasingly inspired and in awe of Graham’s photographic approach. So I continued to shadow him as he made his work. But aware that it wasn’t working photographically, and as I was growing tired and frustrated with photography in general, I switched still images for moving ones, and introduced sound.
Every now then, at the end of a shoot, Graham would introduce me to one of his favourite songs:
“… Do you mind if I make a suggestion?
Don't dig there, dig it elsewhere,
Your digging it round and it ought to be square,
The shape of it's wrong, it's much too long,
And you can't put hole where a hole don't belong….”
“…I just couldn't bear, to dig it elsewhere,
I'm digging it round co's I don't want it square,
And if you disagree it doesn't bother me,
That's the place where the holes gonna be…”
- ‘Hole In The Ground’, Bernard Cribbins
At the time that I started to work with Graham I was becoming consumed by both the dream of a “career” as a photographer, and a pursuit of “the art world”. Theoretical influences, concepts, artists statements, proposals, competitions, networking, open calls, group exhibitions, etc, etc. As a student I remember the countless visiting lecturers that would tell us that as a professional photographer, you won’t get as much time actually photographing as you might expect. Which I always found hard to believe. And yet here I was chasing that dream, realising it’s reality, and feeling frustrated, isolated, and confused.
There are more questions than answers,
Pictures in my mind that will not show,
There are more questions than answers,
And the more I find out the less I know…”
“…I’ve asked the question time and time again,
Why is there so little of a moment,
Oh, what is life, how do we live,
What should we take and how much should we give?”
‘There Are More Questions Than Answers’, Johnny Nash
I was attracted to Graham’s pure and simple approach to photography. An approach born out of a lifelong passion which later turned into a means of temporary escape. It reminded me of something Garry Winogrand famously said “I take photographs to see what something will look like photographed”. The approach that led me to fall in love with photography in the first place. If truth be told, I might have fallen more for the approach than the photographs themselves.
I spent 15 months shadowing Graham. The result of which will gradually appear on YouTube over the coming months. But eventually I stopped filming, and started photographing again. Not him, but with him. In his style, my old style. With innocence and enthusiasm, “to see what something will look like photographed”. A style which I’m beginning to believe in again. A style which might have taught me more than I dared believe when I was chasing those white walls, glossy pages and shiny floors. I’m hoping to share those photographs, alongside Graham’s, in print later this year once our YouTube channel is complete.
“…Can you imagine us,
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange,
To be seventy…”
Memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fear…”
“…Preserve your memories,
They’re all that’s left you.”
- ‘Old Friends / Bookends’, Simon & Garfunkel