Before my 2007 solo show at The Whitecross Gallery in London, my notebooks had never been exhibited nor, in fact, shown to anyone. These snapshots, drawings and notes taped to the pages of old stamp albums were just private dialogues within myself; a sort of self-analysis with no purpose beyond being sketches and trial versions of my larger, ‘finished’ photographs.
I worry about photographs being pretentious; the sort of images that have no meaning beyond a superficial gleam or perhaps an accepted ‘darkness’ we’ve learned somehow to expect and appreciate — not because it touches us. Only because we recognise it as ‘art’. I’ve made those weak but popular pictures before. They creep in. One way I justify what I’m doing is to collate my snapshots and ideas in these notebooks before printing. Like the boy with the stutter rehearsing a phone call before he dials. Just my way of working out what I am saying and how to say it. I need this middle ground between camera and finished print to ‘feel’ if there is anything truthful or meaningful there.
One of my interests is the film theory notion of ‘suture’. (My first solo show, incidentally, was titled ‘The Camera Suture’ — a misreading of ‘karma sutra’) Suture is the way film-makers ‘stitch’ an audience into the actions and emotions of their actors and is central to the substance of these notebooks and, I suppose, to my work in general. I see the camera as less a recording device and more a mirror, a machine that reintroduces us to ourselves. Every portrait is a self-portrait. The identity of that boy wearing the water-wings is unimportant. What is important is why the photographer chose to take that picture and why we respond to it. The scratchy, pencilled notations and drawings of these notebooks is my way of unravelling these motives and calling to the viewer. Allusions to drowning, silence, loneliness, shame, vulnerability all surface in various guises but for reasons quite unknown to me. They are just pictures ‘completed’ by other little pictures and words, fragments of a wider story, hoping to be understood.
When we look at art, we put ourselves in the unsure custody of a flawed guide. That is to say that we may never see nor understand what we are looking at and the artist may fail to tell their story. What matters, though, is that both artist and viewer trust each other for a moment and it is in that spirit that I hope people will approach these notebooks.