Play me omething
Beatrice Colin talks to photographer David Williams about the music in his images.
‘ln contemporary photography there’s not enottgh thoughtful rock ‘n' roll.‘ muses ex-songwriter turned artist. David Williams. ‘I like to think of these twelve pieces as almost like twelve songs on a record.‘ In his brand new show Findings . . . [fitter-Street the walls reverberate with a series ofenlarged. out of focus colour Polaroids which are placed in groups of two or three. Texts. such as ‘Relax . . . Enjoy your own silence’. like snatches of song lyrics. are written beneath each set. They point to experiences of lost love. childhood. death and painful self knowledge: the kind ofthemes of gently weeping guitars and late night laments. ‘lfthey were music. they would be blues-based.‘ he agrees.
From writing songs for Ringo Starr‘s label to a successful career which has led him to the job of head of photography at Edinburgh School of Art. Williams has covered much creative ground. He has won a major award. had several nominations for
others and been recognised as one of the first wave of
new scottish photographers. Most remember his documentary work at Edinburgh's St Margaret's School for Girls and regard him as a compassionate and talented observer of robust humanity.
His new show may surprise those expecting carefully composed. sharply-focused black and white photographs. This work was selected from more than 1000 Polaroids taken over a year at various locations. which were then photographed and blown tip.
‘The first portraits I did predict these.‘ he says. ‘lt seems like a tnassive shift. but not for me. I believe in moving on. It is very much my stamp on it. but it has to transcend the personal. I know that. (‘urrently the notion of the artist's stamp is unfashionable. bttt I would hope there is still a place for this metaphysical. It‘s definitely not theoretically based.‘
Most ofthe work is photographed in places Williams has an affinity with. such as Holy lsle and Ponobello beach. He returned to them again and again. ‘lt's kind of like people; it helps if you know them.’ he says. ‘I kept going back over a period as it matters to me that I know the light and the environment and what‘s likely to be going on. There are very few chance things.‘
In the haze of washed-out colour. a smudge of red suggests a child‘s dress and a stick-shaped man. the artist himself. How autobiographical are they‘.’ ‘lt is me in most ofthe pictures and l went to ludicrous lengths with a long cable release so I could be deep in the landscape and still take the picture.‘ he says. ‘They‘re difficult things to explain and I wouldn‘t want to. Ultimately they're there to meditate over: minimal and romantic.’
He does go on to explain citing his father‘s death as the impetus behind several. In one piece. A Sadness . . . Made sense of the figure is caught with
his arms outstretched on a rock. ‘lt's an allusion to the crucifixion and it is possible to make sense of sadness through crucifixion.‘ he says. ‘That's what it‘s .lll al‘out and l was playing with that.‘
'l'lte figures bring a sense of movement and L‘\’[‘e‘e‘l;tltt‘tt to the pictures. Pieces such as To attract
‘I work intuitively. I see it as my job to move people first and foremost . . . I know that’s a dangerous thing to say. How that stands along with Modernism
I don’t know.’
la'r ill/(‘Ililltli . . . Do ain't/ting. a work with a single human shape and two weather balloons on a lunar- empty beach are especially emotionally resonant. "l‘he text is important.’ he says. ‘The three dots are very important ~< it signifies that in that space somclltitig has happened. They're like paintings but they‘re not. These things did happen. staged or not.‘ So w here does his work fit in the whole spectrum of
1' .‘v -'
Big things were easy . . . The little things were difficult
photography? Is he a new romantic or a luddite? ‘There's a lot of theory around in contemporary photography which is fine,’ he admits. ‘But some of it is a bit too intellectual and I‘ve never worked that way. I work intuitively. I see it as my job to move people first and foremost . . . I know that's a dangerous thing to say. How that stands along with Modernism I don‘t know.’
David Williams may be a folk—inspired melody in a sea of techno-bleep. his photography an unhip march into his own emotions. An obsessional worker. he claims his music is the only thing which focuses his mind. Strange that in this show the only picture sharply in focus is the fast ofthe twelve.
‘That picture is like a resolution.’ he says. ‘They‘re mostly out of focus to help distance the picture. Okay, these are about me and about my observations. but when you throw that out of focus the ﬁgures are so small. it was a device to get away from pure autobiography. But this show is ajoumey of sorts. loosely structured and very much like writing music. It's my version of Sergeant Pepper.‘
Finding. . . Bitter-Sweet is at Portfolio until / 7 Dec. ‘
The List 18 November—l December 1994 55