Prized

Just another landscape… seen from an unusual angle. One of the images on the first roll of slide film I took after deciding to buy my first camera. I didn’t know what I was doing then, but I knew what I wanted to show the world.

Even with that first roll of film the intimate surrealisms of isolated bits of the body — all surfaces and colour, textures and curves — obsessed me and drove me (or rather formed themselves in the image in ways I could never put into words). The image itself? It only works as an abstract for most people, just a colourplay or lightfall, with — for some — a mild erotic tinge. Just about everyone thinks it’s been manipulated. And it’s not technically a good image, and probably not aesthetically interesting to most people, either. But it’s almost purely iconic for me, standing in for something (and someone) that inhabited my life and kept me going during some of the cold grey years of London. 

After I learned to print Cibachromes, I printed this up as a 10x8 and entered it into a beginner’s print competition at The Camera Club (just off Leicester Square in those days; I was a member until the early 1990’s, I think). The old guy doing the judging got around to my print, picked it up, tried holding it in a bunch of different ways, then finally held it upside down (it was supposed to be an anonymous competition, so I just sat there poker-faced). “I don’t know what he did to this print to make a woman look like this”, he puffed. “I don’t know what motivates young men to do such awful things to beautiful bodies. You can’t even see her face. There’s nothing recognisable here. I’m not even sure it’s a woman, actually.” (or some such guff). But the beauty was right there — staring him in the face — and recognisable, to me at least, in those unfamiliar surroundings, or the evocation of those surroundings. I hadn’t done anything to the body or the image — I wouldn’t have had the wit or the ability at that time — and I slunk away afterwards, thinking I’d failed because “everyone” wanted to see past the strangeness to the familiar, when it was the strangeness that was familiar. Or they wanted there to be some sort of key to it all, when there wasn’t any underlying mystery there at all — it’s all surface. 
 
Well, maybe it was just him. But I never did another competition (at least not in London), even though I ended up doing a hell of a lot more shots like this over years (but technically more competent as I learned my trade).

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