Cameras used by the Gras and Christofis family from the 1950's to present day:
1. Agfa isolette II, Made in West Germany, C1950's, 6x6 film
2. Bilora Bella 44, Made in West Germany, 1958 4×6.5 film
3. Bronica Zenza, Made in Japan, 6x6 film, C1980s
4. Praktica MTL50, Made in East Germany, 35mm film 1986
5. Canon EOS 3. Made in Japan, 35mm film, 1998
I suspect my best photographs come from a black and white documentary project of Kensal Green Cemetery that took place from 2000-2010, amassing thousands of photos in the process. These have never been displayed before. I want to showcase my work by reproducing three of the more expressionistic photos that are enhanced with darkroom techniques. We conclude with a rare colour slide.
Selenium toned paper
Limited edition print 1/2
Beyond the tree
Limited edition 1/1
Classic Greek column topped out with plant growth
Experimental darkroom print
Limited edition 1/1
Two into one
Double exposure 6x6 negative
As we march towards the spring Equinox
Clouds blink and then cry outside my West London skyline.
Faint rays of light bend through the veiled window of my studio.
In a mere ten minutes, a dull tone of grey pastel takes a walk
With confident, improvised strokes.
As I step back and view, Lautreamont comes to mind:
"As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine
And an umbrella on an operating table."
I step forward and substitute that sewing machine for a tattoo machine.
There is also no need for an umbrella as the clouds have dissolved in real time.
On the picture plane, we have a domestic interior looking out across suburbia.
A machine vibrates and draws blood.
This is a cottage industry of body art.
Bobbins your uncle!
Bobbin's your uncle!
An anthology of eleven spooky stories "for fearless readers of ten upwards" is being devoured by an eight year old boy.
The book in question is Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery. That boy, me.
I have a vague memory of a Puffin Book sales rep attending my primary school in 1974. She waxed lyrical about the latest books and left behind a catalogue. After begging 30 pence from home, I placed an order and next week the said book materialised. It had a lovely Ghostbuster cover illustration by the artist, Barry Wilkinson. Literary phantoms and apparitions were conjured from the imaginations of H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson et al.
Was the boy a tad disappointed? There were no contemporary stories in the Hitch style. No Birds or Psycho. For even at this stage in life, Bodega Bay and showers, were etched in my consciousness; a generation breast fed on cinema mediated by television.
Schooling intervened to impose a "dubious" (at the time) value of learning by rote. Reading, writing and arrrr-rithmetic! It did however provide a focus to the act of reading. Books. Discreet and unassuming objects. Turn the page. Unleash the inner voice with a tale to tell.
Jump cut to secondary education and another memory, this time of an English class. I see a slighter older boy who copies out whole sections of text and passes it off as his own. Copyright? I didn't know the meaning of the word. My teacher rather playfully comments in the margins: Bram Gras or Edgar Allan Gras?
Flash forward. Today is World book day in the UK and I'm chilling out with Horror: The Definitve Guide To The Cinema of Fear. A most informative survey of cinematic horror from its origins in gothic literature to postmodernism and beyond. Just the tonic for some extra-curricular research.
Cross fade between 1974 and 2014, bookish boy and artful man. Time breeds all manner of change, but I'm still possessed by books (and films) that make the flesh creep. Although the internet has revolutionised book culture and e-books represent the future, I'm hankering for a 1,128 page book published in 2007: Mario Bava: All the Colours of the Dark by Tim Lucas. It retails at about £185. That's a lot of pennies for a humongous bank of piggies. Better still, see if the BFI or the British Library have a copy.
End note. I cannot check out books from my local pop-up library in Kensal Rise. This was set up by the local community in resistance to the council closure of the library. In the last few weeks, building works have commenced to convert the building into housing and a skip was summoned to dispose of the books.
I'm plotting an exhibition called Even The Dead Die (working title) that will be shown at Photomonth during October - November, 2014. This will be my first systematic effort at editing 3000 plus photos taken at Kensal Green Cemetery from 1989-2009.
The exhibition will focus on an area of the cemetery that represents the final resting place for material culture. This is a general dumping ground for the ongoing maintenance of the cemetery: stone broken down in preparation for recycling; discarded plastic packaging from flowers; clay, lots of clay; otherworldly microwave, cathode ray tube, burnt-out lorry. They are all temporarily stored here, before making their way into the mother of all land tips.
This project is purely analogue. I have never really taken up the instant fix of digital (wonderful as it is!). Thankfully, I'm quite an organised person. But it does means sifting through dozens of boxes and identifying negatives in both 35 and 120 film formats. The editing process will take several months and I will need to clear a space in the studio for the display of working prints. These will need to be constantly revisited: comparing negative with positive; looking for images that can cluster or alternatively offer points of thematic and iconographic difference.
I obviously want to focus on the dead-end zone, this wasteland within the cemetery. This fits into our cultural attraction for ruined objects and I note that Tate Britain is about to open an exhibition called Ruin Lust.
There is an irony in the way we house our loved ones in a memorial that symbolises the eternity of memory and love. The reality is that marble will weather and decay. There are also those "acts of God"; one of these caused the extensive perimeter wall on the Harrow Road to collapse in 2005 (damaging many burial sites and still being rebuilt as we speak).
Out of the ruins, there is a challenge to create a unique exhibition. One that perhaps reveals the hidden workings of the corporate side of the burial industry. It also will have an ecological subtext. The issue of sustainability is important in death as well as in life. As green burials are becoming more popular, future generations might forsake the trimmings of a traditional burial. Is not dust to dust, the cosmic scheme of things?
I've previously exhibited facets of this project.
At my first solo exhibition, Between Heaven and Earth, in 2002 at the Artists Gallery, I showed an installation piece that represented a newly constructed road in the cemetery. 15 x A1 photos were placed on the floor in the gallery under perspex sheets and visitors were invited to walk across its surface. The programme note read: "Weird and wonderful artefacts from demolished houses were used to form the foundation of the road: a comb, y-front underwear, battery, plughole, etc."
I have also used the cemetery as a source of inspiration for experimental prints in a butterfly series.
In 2005 I took part in a group show called Around a Mile. This was at the Dissenters Chapel which is sited in Kensal Green Cemetery. I exhibited Chasing Butterflies:
"It's not easy to chase a butterfly in the cemetery with an SLR camera and freeze frame that zigzag of a flight pattern. However shooting off a roll of film and finding that not one photo contained a butterfly was a surprise. Butterfingers. This collage of images is an attempt to render that noble futility into an abstract landscape."
For the new exhibition, I hope to commission soundscapes from musicians. This will add a sonic layer to the visuals and enhance the narrative play of slideshows. I first employed this collaborative approach in 2012 for Glasgow and Edinburgh: Built Environment From Gulf War to Harry Potter.