John Heseltine Photographics

observations of the everyday and all that might be implied

Category: photography

rag & bone man

Shall I call him a rag and bone man or is that demeaning ? It shouldn’t be, there was something noble in his manner and his independence, he must have been one of the last “bone grubbers” to work the streets of South London. He seemed to be making his way home and I followed, I’m not quite sure why. But he soon noticed me, my awkward cloak of invisibility had slipped and now he was wary, he probably thought the camera was government property. But I was just curious and wanted to know who he was, what he exactly he did to eek out a living, where was home if that was indeed where he was heading. Was there a family waiting to hear his day’s story, had it been a rewarding day ? So much raw material lay on the Brixton streets, but he just passed it all by moving with real purpose, perhaps he was being highly selective or he has passed his quota for the day, or his tea beckoned… I paused to load another roll of film and he vanished; all my questions remained unanswered.

He would have been a very old man by the time of my second visit to the Atlantic Road area nearly 35 years later. I tried to retrace the route, but the world has shifted and only some of it makes any sense, I turn a corner into what I expected to be familiar territory, but then I see I am lost.

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London

London

London

London

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Restless…

 

A week that has left me very restless…

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www.johnheseltine.com

badlands ?

guardian_harvest

Badlands ? I’m not so sure, nor whether my photograph in the Guardian last month accurately illustrates this fictional work (Nell Zink’s “Nicotine”), but the image has its own small story. The 1970 photograph of the Harvest Farm, near Princeton, freezes a moment in my own history and encapsulates a brief period of optimism I felt here sheltering from the storm. Back from a West Coast odyssey I had returned to some wonderful friends and it seemed they would all be around forever. I had bought a ’54 Chevy pick-up and a ’59 Porsche for virtually nothing, I cocooned myself in a WW2 leather jacket from Englishtown flea market and I had a great part-time job in the Last Chance Saloon and Record Shop. But optimism was short lived as the horror continued in Vietnam, I received my 1A draft classification and the record shop closed down. To borrow from a song of the time, the music seemed over. The following year Johnson & Johnson demolished this small oasis to make way for a disposable diaper factory. What an ignominious conclusion.

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creatures of darkness, creatures of light

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A pigeonnier is as circular as life itself with different levels and hundreds of boulins (niches) and an external ledge on the ancient exterior to protect nesting birds from predatory rodents, long known to be the only threat. The harmonious system provides a series of metaphors I have explored in some of my work as the 17th century building in question stands in my garden; I have often imagined the boulins as individuals, lives, families, homes, communities, even as spirits ascending. More obscurely perhaps, on other days the small dark chambers mirror the inner most workings of my mind, dreams, fears, even small tombs that echo with the sound of my severe tinnitus. Standing empty as they now do they can seem to represent emptiness, loss, time past or just solitude. But today, as sometimes happens when external worldly turmoil seems to mirror my own inner disquiet, this matrix suddenly seems to represent something different: the comfortable protective world the birds all knew so well has now been invaded in an unforeseen way. Owls have found a way in to terrorise and murder the native population and wipe out their simple routine forever. Once inside they cannot be dislodged, they are protected, they are frighteningly aggressive and anyway will always find a new ingress to the space they have now decided is their own territory. Try as we might to sympathise with the predators and their own needs, the cruelty of violence has won, the pigeons were powerless to resist the continuous onslaught so they all took take flight. All part of the natural order of birds I suppose, but not of humankind. I can only hope.

http://www.johnheseltine.com

Inside France

french wallpaper

Hidden, basic, unmodernised, the way things used to be in many domestic interiors in twentieth century provincial France. Not pretty, not even safe but quite a few shuttered houses still conceal these retro charms and one of my ongoing projects is to seek out these peculiarities and record them before modernisation wipes them away forever. For some reason it all seems to be about wallpaper…

Palermo’s muted ghosts

In Palermo there is a jungle but no Leopard to be seen, the decrepit streets and squares hear a different growl where a new order shouts, its echoes bouncing off the crumbling walls of the palazzi that stand ‘round us like lovely mute ghosts’*. Ill-cemented blocks fill the voids where elegant windows once surveyed, balconies bearing the weight of civilizations now fallen into the street providing rubble to fill the uneasy void of subterranean tombs. No attempt to contain chaos and decay is obvious, decline and oblivion is an inevitability that Sicilians know so well and lavishes the melancholic charm outsiders can’t fail to admire. Where a begrudging reconstruction occurs, an old building’s dignity is shrouded in the uncomfortable mantle of modernity, with just the occasional antique feature revealed, for “In Sicily it doesn’t matter about doing things well or badly; the sin which we Sicilians never forgive is simply that of “doing” at all.”* Maybe the Prince was right, Sicily is in continuous tension and will long resist fitting into the scheme of modern Italy.

*The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958)

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Musings over a film scanner: New York 1979-83

Is it self-indulgent or even healthy to pass whole days, even weeks lingering in the past ? It is a strange and somewhat solipsistic business spending much of my working days here in rural south-west France conducting a forensic examination of my own history. But this is what I do: for 35 years or more I have recorded the world around me and at some point these recordings have to be replayed, re-assessed or, in the case of the tens of thousands of negatives and transparencies that surround me, they have to be exhumed, catalogued, scanned, researched, captioned and key-worded, in short given a new life, otherwise the whole point of doing them is forever lost. You might think that all this should have been done long ago, but the archiving I have done so far has just skimmed the surface, the process takes a long time and all the while a majority of my working time has hitherto been spent creating yet more images.

The act of digitizing the images is like peering through the camera all over again but the viewfinder has become that of an antique device and the world that I framed is no longer there, it has altered fundamentally just as I too have changed. I often remember the most minute details of the circumstances surrounding the making of the image while paradoxically forgetting some of the crucial details, like where exactly I was at the time, hence the urgency to get on with the task in hand before my caption information becomes a work of pure fiction ! Self-obsessed or not it has now become an engaging past-time, necessary for the releasing of the images from their long captivity in filing cabinets but also informative in helping me confront my own personal history.

New York has a particular resonance for me. Arriving as a 16 year old, fresh-faced from an English boarding school in late 1967 I was confronted by what seemed to be a forbidding city as well as a totally alien but day-glow vibrant alternative culture. The brighter side was literally dazzling, the darker side was more than menacing: the backdrop of the Vietnam war, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and, more immediately for me, the death of my mother on a Manhattan street – all within the first few months – did not initially make me feel at ease in my new home. I grew up with a jolt, but at that time I also picked up a decent 35mm camera then and my lifelong commitment to photography began. In pursuing this interest I began to feel at home in my newly adopted town and the rich tapestry of its streets.

More images of New York can be found at my new archive site: www.heseltinearchive.com

New York is probably the most exciting city I have visited. The architecture is extraordinary and the people some of the most interesting and diverse and I was lucky enough to be there to witness a period of great sociological and cultural change. I moved to Manhattan in 1968 and stayed there for about two years but most of my early negatives were all lost and these images date from visits to the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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New York is probably the most exciting city I have visited. The architecture is extraordinary and the people some of the most interesting and diverse and I was lucky enough to be there to witness a period of great sociological and cultural change. I moved to Manhattan in 1968 and stayed there for about two years but most of my early negatives were all lost and these images date from visits to the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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New York is probably the most exciting city I have visited. The architecture is extraordinary and the people some of the most interesting and diverse and I was lucky enough to be there to witness a period of great sociological and cultural change. I moved to Manhattan in 1968 and stayed there for about two years but most of my early negatives were all lost and these images date from visits to the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

newyork_43904

New York is probably the most exciting city I have visited. The architecture is extraordinary and the people some of the most interesting and diverse and I was lucky enough to be there to witness a period of great sociological and cultural change. I moved to Manhattan in 1968 and stayed there for about two years but most of my early negatives were all lost and these images date from visits to the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

New York is probably the most exciting city I have visited. The architecture is extraordinary and the people some of the most interesting and diverse and I was lucky enough to be there to witness a period of great sociological and cultural change. I moved to Manhattan in 1968 and stayed there for about two years but most of my early negatives were all lost and these images date from visits to the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

New York is probably the most exciting city I have visited. The architecture is extraordinary and the people some of the most interesting and diverse and I was lucky enough to be there to witness a period of great sociological and cultural change. I moved to Manhattan in 1968 and stayed there for about two years but most of my early negatives were all lost and these images date from visits to the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

New York is probably the most exciting city I have visited. The architecture is extraordinary and the people some of the most interesting and diverse and I was lucky enough to be there to witness a period of great sociological and cultural change. I moved to Manhattan in 1968 and stayed there for about two years but most of my early negatives were all lost and these images date from visits to the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

New York is probably the most exciting city I have visited. The architecture is extraordinary and the people some of the most interesting and diverse and I was lucky enough to be there to witness a period of great sociological and cultural change. I moved to Manhattan in 1968 and stayed there for about two years but most of my early negatives were all lost and these images date from visits to the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

More images can be found at my archive site: www.heseltinearchive.com

aftermath

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Paris one week on. Ordinary Paris, normal November rain, but can anything ever really be ‘normal’ again ? The first rain since November 13th can do nothing to wash away any of the horror that still occupies the minds of all Parisians. Man’s capacity to inflict pain on one’s fellow man can be astounding as illustrated by the graphic first and secondhand accounts that are shared by so many citizens of this city, one that suddenly doesn’t feel quite so large.

I am beyond words, so once again I resort to photographs. Unlike most other actions they merely depict, they just “are”. No language is required, nothing can be negated or misunderstood, the question is which part of reality to frame. Clearly as we saw last week there are various versions of reality. There are no scenes of violence in my camera, no hard-hitting documentary here, just a couple of ordinary images of Paris after the initial trauma and before the events are processed to become history. Do the faces in the street betray the fear everyone still feels ? In my mind the wet zinc of these rooftops reflect a void, they remind me of the gloomy, family mausoleums in Père Lachaise cemetery, the greyness of oblivion and the finite nature of life. But this is just projection, nobody else will see this; in the end they are just ordinary but distinctly Parisian houses, a small and lovely part of the world that will probably outlive us all.

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sleepless

The curtain rail fell down the other morning so the moonlight after the lunar eclipse was particularly unforgiving. Supermoon or not, it was a strange night in southwest France and sleep was the furthest thing from my mind…

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sleepless

How do we ever really know what we mean …

JHParis_sHow do we ever really, really  know what we mean and what exactly is our inner instinct ? Most people generally seem to think they know best, but I am rarely wholly sure. Words pour out, but from exactly where ? Do they match what we really feel, do we all know our depths so certainly ? So our actions, our best intentions are rarely perfectly defined. It seems to me that our ‘true’ wishes can nuance with the time of day or night as well as a myriad of variables that follow our every step. Life is surely a big long experiment in learning-by-doing, albeit with quite a bit of acquired knowledge that is generally taken as read. But learning by doing isn’t always successful, mistakes are frowned upon; you feel you are getting something so very right, only to find it was wrong, it vanishes and you have to begin all over again. So, in answer to the very first question posed at the outset is, I suppose, the evidence will only ever  be revealed over time. How long though ?