Wednesday 25 March 2020

Vivian Maier's Garage

Grandfather and Granddaughter, 2012 © Richard Ansett 2020
I regret that I have discarded thousands of what I thought then were embarrassing original transparencies from my early career as a commercial photographer. My wonton destruction of what might now be a valuable resource was before the rise of the 'found photography' movement that evolved from the post-modern insecurities that 'photography was dead'. If only I had at least scattered these images anonymously to the winds to be discovered or better still, had not thrown them away at all.

Digital allows me to explore the same concept but beyond the nostalgia for analogue and I can investigate themes just by entering references into the search bar, new threads appear across multiple hard drives that respond to my current state of mind as I disappear down the rabbit hole. As a consequence of such a large body of work, many images that relate to the same file number can appear in a sort of Jungian synchronistic curation, which has become part of the 'Film is Dead' process. Its a form of basic algorithm stripping away human influence and leaving the universe to evaluate content. This can be applied beyond the personal archive into the swirling mass of imagery on the web by entering the # and the 4 digit file number of your original work. I.e. the file number of this attached work (see below). Try it on Instagram.

Recycling and re-evaluating my surviving digitised and growing contemporary archive is an important part of my practice as a discussion of photography existentially now. A distance is required from the source of creation and much of my work feels more valuable having existed 'in a draw' often for years to separate it from its original purpose. But further, the more significant the work feels the greater my instinct is not share it, like precious jewels.

My ego (only equal to my insecurity) puts an onus on legacy. I can reassure myself that any failure of my work to make an impression on this zeitgeist might stand a better chance in another. (A bit like Vivian Maier's garage). Images that have felt valueless or weak, can take on significant meaning in another reality; some new knowledge, a fundamental change in society (cough) or a new artistic voice free of introjection and all of sudden previously irrelevant images are liberated through that new lens.

My re-evaluation of the archive is often relative to my own personal progress but the influence of Coronavirus is so powerful that it forces all of us to re-examine our relationship to everything created BV. This monumental perhaps temporary rift has forced a response in the 'way of seeing' and judging work created in a world that feels so different to our current present. Images of hugging and touching, footage of club nights, thousands of sweaty naked bodies writhing, all feel like the curation of some post-virus (PV) exhibition.

A friend has asked me to work with him to find an image from my archive for his new track ’Selbstisolation’. As I scour the hard drives in an attempt to find the agreed file, I have come across this image I have always loved but it feels more valuable now ‘Granddaughter and Grandfather, 2012 (File #7250).’

All limited edition enquiries DM me. Thanks and Stay Safe.

Monday 2 March 2020

Friend of Derek

Richard Ansett with Otto Dix at Prospect Cottage, 2015. Photo: Paul Robinson Webster

Saving Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage might be more of an esoteric campaign than many of us might wish but we who recognise this little humble building as representative of British art, culture and LGBTQ history also recognise how easily it could disappear rather than be preserved as a treasure for the nation.

Attending the private view of Friends of Derek at Lucy Bell Gallery was a pilgrimage for me to reconnect to my own relationship to Jarman whose kind, handsome persona and passions defined an important part of homosexual cultural identity at a time when prejudice protected by law drove many of us into ghettos of fear and low self-esteem. Jarman's art represented by this house and landscape is a beautiful reminder of the power of art and creativity to change the world if we ever start to doubt it.

The gallery walls are covered with photographic documentation of Jarman and his crew filming in the Dungerness landscape, most powerfully represented by color digital scans of the few surviving prints by the production designer of Jarman's The Garden, Derek Brown (the negatives are lost). These prints have a second generational feel and the details are blurred now like our memories, the fragility of their existence in parallel to the risk to the nation’s cultural history if we allow the cottage to slip away.

I recognise the transformative nature of time to the meaning of a photograph and Brown's documentations are salvaged like the rusting beach ephemera in Jarman's extraordinary and celebrated garden. Everything has become so much more than its original intended purpose. 

I shock a fellow guest by daring to imply that if it wasn't for the threat of loosing Prospect Cottage we would not have been stirred from our pragmatic and self-satisfied slumber to the reality that we must be vigilant in the protection of hard won rights. This fight for Prospect Cottage feels like a defining moment recognising a 'handing over' of the baton to a new form of post-modern activism ‘Wokeness’. For all its new empowerment of the young it has a radical Talibanistic relationship to the totems of the past and the new generation might easily forget that a lot of ground work on the path to change has been prepared by their brave exciting predecessors represented by this otherwise insignificant shack.

Jarman's relationship to his sexuality identity and openness about his illness was courageous in the face of shameful laws that undermined the humanity of all of us and Jarman contributed to my own courage in accepting myself. It's hard to imagine it perhaps if you haven't had the privilege of living through it and surviving it. Perhaps my generation still suffers from a collective PTSD. 

So this little house sits unchanged as the world changes around it and once again is at the centre of things; a line in the pebbles to remind us of art on the frontline but further, to the power of the eccentric British creative spirit.

In the existential poem by John Donne on the side of the cottage Dunne lays with his lover, free of the worries of the world, they are in that moment at the very centre of things too. A simple act of pleasure taken for granted by many is the more precious to those who have not been afforded that same right.

From The Sunne Rising

'To warme the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.'

Friends of Derek at Lucy Bell Gallery, St Leonard’s, Kent until 31st March