Two Blue Buckets.
Tell us about the release of the "Directors Cut" of Two Blue Buckets, and the importance of the changes to it since its first release 30 years ago?
Well, the original publication of ‘Two Blue Buckets’ was published by Cornerhouse Publications, Manchester in 1988. It presented the audience with a selection of images taken from several different exhibitions of mine during 1984 to 1987, an intensely productive period, with an illuminating essay by Rupert Martin.
The book won the ‘Bill Brandt Prize’ hosted by The Photographers’ Gallery, London, (subsequently ‘The Citibank International Photography Prize, and now the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize) and quickly became very well known internationally as a consequence.
When we printed the original edition, there wasn't enough money to publish all the images from each series, and over the last few years, while teaching younger generations of photographers, I realised many young, photographers, curators and collectors, were born around the time the first edition came out, weren’t aware of the work, and it seemed like a good idea to now publish a ‘Directors Cut’ of the book with the original images and 19 missing ones from the original.
Gerry Badger has written a wonderfully illuminating new essay introducing the work to a contemporary audience, and there is also a transcript of a conversation with David Campany, another terrific contemporary writer on Photography. Even though I was very happy with the colour in 1988, the new printing with Hannes Wanderer at Peperoni Books, Berlin, is really beautiful and subtle. Also the fact that we have printed the new book in Hannover, where 30 years ago I showed the work alongside Paul Graham with Thomas Weski at the Spengle Museum, is the icing on the cake.
What initially attracted you to take interest in seemingly conventional objects?
In 1968 when I was 15 at school in Cardiff, Wales, at the end of the school year, the Headmaster called us into the assembly hall and showed the remarkable film ‘Powers of Ten’ by Charles and Ray Eames, normally best know for their domestic and Industrial design in the USA. The 9 minute film takes the viewer on a journey from a picnic on the edge of Chicago’s Lake Michigan, out to the imagined edge of the Universe, and back, then down into the body of one of the picnickers to the deepest level inside an atom. I learnt that day there was no hierarchical relationship between large things and small things, because it didn’t matter how big something was it was made up of the smallest imaginable elements.
I think this lead me to feel small things were important, and time spent with my grandmother in North Wales every summer as a child, surrounded by heavy furniture, and in an intensely ‘physical environment’ ( I actually used to go with my grandmother to collect water from the well with a ‘yoke and 2 buckets’ around my neck) led me to be very conscious of the ‘physicality of the world’.
In the book there are images from many different places made over the period 1984 to 1987.
How do you wish the imagery to be received by others?
When I go to see an exhibition, or hear a concert, or read a book, I want to be left to respond the way I want to, to the work. I’m very happy to be given some guidance as to how the work came into the world, but it’s the sum of all my experience and makeup which determines my response. That’s all I expect from an audience, that they bring whatever they like to reading the work, so I’m not trying to invoke anything, rather share an image that means something important to me, and if it has little or no interest for someone, I’m quite content with that.
What was it that determined the two blue buckets becoming the centrepiece for the book itself?
Perhaps the most singular and magical quality of photography, as least before ‘Photoshop’, is the way that ‘every point of information in the subject is represented democratically in the resulting image’. Of course manipulation of all kinds is possible, but that doesn’t interest me. In the image of the buckets, if one just glances at the photograph and then moves on, you might image that the buckets are the same. However, a closer examination of the buckets, as a consequence of the point made above, is that it can be seen that the buckets are in fact quite different. This image then ‘celebrates’ this unique quality photography has.
What's next for you?
Well, hard on the heels of my new ‘Two Blue Buckets’ is another new book to be launched alongside a major new exhibition of my work at PhotoEspana in Madrid on the 1st June 2017 (and on until 27th August 2017) This new work ‘Mathematics ‘, published by ‘Skinnerbooks', Italy, with essays by Mark Durden and David Campany and my afterword, has been made between 2011 and 2016 from Northern Ireland to Istanbul, and Norway to Sicily. The 52 photographs, which include 9 portraits, have been inspired by the idea that 'at the deepest level, mathematics is the code behind everything’. This is an idea that fascinated Aristotle and Pythagoras, and 19 centuries later, Galileo is quoted as having said that ‘the world is a beautiful book written in the language of mathematics’. I find this idea of a mathematical structure behind everything absolutely compelling, and may well draw energy from the fact that as a schoolboy I loved mathematics, chemistry and physics, and even then understood mathematics to be ‘beautiful’.
Furthermore, because our use of, and interest in, mathematics, is never without a moral dimension, 5 or 6 of the 9 people portrayed were asked a question immediately before I made the portrait. I asked ‘I want you to imagine that something you always thought to be true, you just discovered was a lie’, and then I made the photograph. I’m very excited by this new work, which has been tough to make, and very much look forward to seeing the work on exhibition in Madrid.