leo photophile

Through a glass darkly

First post

My mother, when a student at St Andrews University in the 1920s, wrote an article for the college magazine. It had a two-word title, the second one being Bibliophile. The first word I have forgotten, but it wasn’t biblical and certainly not bibulous. She had a love of words, my mother, which she passed on to me, because I love words too and sometimes give them a meaning of my own. My neologisms, however, along with my visual sense, came from elsewhere. So I am Photophile and this is my college magazine!  

I love black and white photography. I can’t remember when this started. Probably when I was around eighteen, no earlier than that, but by my late teens, I owned a secondhand Zeiss Ikon camera and took pictures of anonymous things with it. Well, not anonymous exactly; my word for it was innominate. That word meant to me something that no one would notice, or rather might notice, but because it had no name, would devalue. I took pictures along country roads, for instance, because I felt something ineffable about being there – some brooding presence – in a place that no one had marked, only passed by on the way to somewhere else. But, of course, it had to look that way! And the pictures were unremarkable, though I preferred to think of them as eliptical. They are all lost.

The other word I had for things like this was interstices. It meant that in between recognizable things lurks the unrecognized. Another word that pointed in the same direction for me was chinks. Chinks came after interstices. Whereas interstices referred to the unseen, something visible showed through the chinks, which opened momentarily like a tear in a skein or the space between two buildings as the train rushes past. It may well be there’s something quirky about my way of seeing. And that’s fine.

One writer who comes close to this apperception is Andrei Platonov, especially in his The Foundation Pit, like when Voschev addresses a dead leaf that had fallen to the ground: “You never had any meaning in life. Stay lying here – and I’ll find out what it was you lived and died for.” 

Andrei Platonov Andrei Platonov, died 1951

Olga Bobrova says about Platonov’s writing: “His prose seems to push the reader out into an open, unfriendly world. It makes one feel lonely, suffer together with its characters and struggle in the search for truth and the meaning of existence.”

At the moment my favourite photographer is Josef Koudelka.

But here is a photograph I took in the late 1960s as part of a series on Gorbals people. These two had really relaxed into being themselves by the time I got the shot. This used car dump was their stamping ground. I was influenced by a remark of Ken Heyman’s about engaging with his subject.

 Gorbals ladies Gorbals ladies

Shortly after this, the old Gorbals disappeared. Its rundown but impressive wide streets of tenements were torn down and replaced with high rise. Here is how one Gorbals website puts it:

After the Second World War, attempts were made to rehouse those in sub-standard tenement blocks by moving them to new estates on the edge of the city – though the sprawling local council estates of Castlemilk, Easterhouse, Pollok and Drumchapel created just as many social problems. In the Gorbals, the old buildings were demolished and new high-rise flats arose in their place – as filing cabinets for people. The old community spirit of the area was thus largely destroyed.

But it easy to romanticise in hindsight:

Step bairn Step bairn, Gorbals 1975

I have only just rediscovered this negative. This young girl was exceptional, quite unlike the sort of slum dweller I had encountered. I don’t remember what she said, but I do remember it was a flight of fantasy she was conducting when I clicked the shutter. By then I had graduated to a Nikon F. The picture is called Gorbals spirit.

Gorbals Spirit Click to view


July 30, 2006 Posted by | Andrei Platonov, black and white photography, Gorbals, interstices, Josef Koudelka, Ken Heyman | 1 Comment