Practice Reflection :

Voyeur (of Emptiness) : a Metaphor of Office Life

Week 5  Informing Contexts, MA Falmouth University

My practice has at its core the gaze through the means of the lens at spaces and places, customarily devoid of people.  I am a voyeur of things, closeness brings into the crafted image materiality and texture; distance frames space and light.

The subjects are inanimate, the audience is invited to undertake an assessment of what is shown, to be drawn into the image, to choose to metaphorically insert themselves into the spaces they see. The viewer’s imagination as voyeur.

By way of an example to demonstrate my visual strategy; this image is from a series – see above – called ‘Emptiness’ I made when I negotiated access to a 20 storey building in Birmingham, UK, in December 2016.  I made it my duty, my task, to rapidly capture the life and death of the building. It is not a beautiful composition, it requires is a textual anchoring to assist and provide depth.

edg gym.jpg

This is the changing room in a gym at the top of the building.  There are no people in any of these images.  But there is throughout a palpable trace of humanity.  There is something and also nothing in these images.  There are highly familiar and recognisable items to view.  As the photographer I was imagining activity, conversions, a break from work, the gym as the backdrop to the hum drum of office life; commerce as a human engine.  Yet the humans had gone, this engine had moved away.  All 20 floors were the same, filled but void of the busyness of business.  There was a hollowness, a quiet disquiet.  The spaces were repetitive, pale, tired, drab, characterless, but I was privileged, as I sensed something that I cannot  calibrate in my images, it is the viewer’s opportunity to tell me if in the series I caught the spirit of a human presence, voices echoing then evaporating for ever, people meeting, greeting, celebrating, commiserating and working.  The warmth of humanity was once here, now vaporised.

My work I categorise as a form of minimalism. It is the study of the essence, not always showing the literal.  It can be enigmatic, but not deliberately deceptive.  This series, Emptiness, is capturing the banality, the ordinary, a space for people, devoid of people, of the tools of office life, but no life, the light, materiality, shows and textures of a faded office world.

I was enveloped with a cold blanket of melancholia when making the images.  I was intrigued, but saddened by the stark vapidness.  I imagined people staring out of the windows, at the view, to keep in contact with air, birds, sky, rooftops as a fantasy counterpoint to the unpleasant air-sealed reality of the drumming air-conditioned draft wafting over the veneered desks and the cream coated vdu’s. I permitted myself moments, via sheer intrigue to lift lids, to open doors, to peer inside, to blow off the dust, to dig a little; my fingers moving from the shutter button to tackling the content; moving from voyeur to partaker.

 This is an account of an ending.  Humans gone, but they will be elsewhere.  The building is going as I type.  Then there will be a nowhere.  Those banal spaces, walls, floors, ceilings will be ground down and recycled into new materials, spaces, enclosures and things, so the humans can return and be present once again, instead of absent, life will be there, to repeat the actions, the conversations.  The commerce engine fires up once again.

My motives for the gaze at these things?

I felt a tangible achievement because I persuaded and invaded, I pried so that I could see and record, I wanted to feel what was left, I wanted to be the last one in and the last one out. 

For my audience I wanted to create a document, a record, a legacy, to imply what was once in there, to influence thoughts about keeping what may not need to disappear and to provoke a debate about reuse, reappropriation and regeneration.

A poem – Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”