The Empty Office (for Peter Marlow).


Empty Office, Clerkenwell, 2002. Photo © Peter Marlow.

Katy Evans-Bush:

The office as its redundant workers move out is spotted with relics of human degradation: that is, of the letdown from future perfect to mere life.

The screw stuck in the wall, reminder of that award for the old campaign that no one still here now remembers – although it was great work and targets were exceeded – surrounded by nails that hold their heads proud, knowing they held up the proofs of its successes.

Comfortable tea stains, paper clips wedged where the desk didn’t quite meet the wall, a blotched photo of Sarah who worked here half a decade ago, with a small child; she’d be wanting that back, if anyone knew where to find her now. Bits of phone chargers. A chocolate egg in foil. A bit of silk ribbon, some one-legged scissors, a dusty old bottle of Bristol Cream: why is it blue? Are they really that colour? A sad pile of paperbacks no one will ever read: Windows for Dummies and guides to blogging for businesses. Blu-Tack smears where no one thought they’d matter. Sticker-marks on the phones, where someone put the new supplier’s number. Dirt on the sills from the plants the receptionist had to water, because optimism always wins out. Optimism and sheer daily labour.

Things can’t stay clean forever. People are people and every negotiation will be tarnished. Its spreading spots will eat at your blind belief in silver and grey and the functional streamline that bypasses doubt and loops back to the bank, via mobile phones, and suits with reinforced shoulders, and platinum cardholders.

Forget your cheap tiles screaming masculine thrust from the Carpetland down on the roundabout. This office was made for pink fluffy sweaters, cake crumbs, to-do lists, pictures of cats, the darkening water in a vase, nail files and overstuffed folders.

… this is a reprise of one of The London Column’s early posts, from June 2011, in tribute to the  English photographer Peter Marlow who died last month.

See also: Point of Interest (2),  Point of Interest (3).

Point of Interest. Photos Peter Marlow (3/3)

Gainsborough Studios, Islington, 2000. Photo © Peter Marlow (from Point of Interest, courtesy of the photographer and The Wapping Project Bankside*).

David Secombe writes:

Since William Egglestone’s pioneering use of colour print film as an artistic medium in the 1970s, an entirely new photographic aesthetic has developed. Egglestone built upon the achievements of an earlier school of American street photographers – Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander – by substituting colour in place of his forebears’ graphic black and white. Although Joel Meyerowitz and Joel Sternfeld were exploring similar territory at the same time, it was Egglestone’s 1976 show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art that made a landmark in the acceptance of colour photography as a serious art form.

Looking back, it is hard to comprehend the astonishment – even outrage – of the art establishment towards Egglestone’s super-saturated, over-sized prints of quotidian yet disquieting scenes of his native Tennessee. Egglestone’s embrace of what became known as the ‘snapshot aesthetic’ – unnerving observations of the mundane familiar to anyone who has ever been surprised by an anomalous photo amidst their family snaps – was revolutionary. The cool contemplation of unremarkable scenes was a long way from the approach of that earlier champion of colour photography, Ernst Haas, whose work echoed the Abstract Expressionists and who often worked for National Geographic: Egglestone’s pictures didn’t belong there.

Egglestone’s influence has been immense. The intensity of his treatment of colour found a UK disciple in Martin Parr, who abandoned his earlier, understated black and white exploration of the English scene (clearly under the influence of Tony Ray-Jones) sometime in the mid-1980s, in favour of a picaresque and brightly-coloured journey across Britain and beyond. In the 1990s many notable reportage photographers who had specialised in black and white followed the trend and abandoned their earlier practice in favour of a move towards colour, often preferring medium format to 35mm. At the same time, advances in technology made it easier to reproduce images from colour prints, obviating the frustrations and limitations of colour transparency film. And the rise of a new breed of art/fashion photographers – notably Juergen Teller and Wolfgang Tillmans – promoted a certain kind of affectless, abstracted snapshot chic.

The photo by Peter Marlow reproduced above represents the photographer’s move away from his earlier black and white photojournalism towards a more personal way of seeing the world. It is perhaps fair to say that whilst Marlow could have taken an image like this at any stage in his distinguished 30+ year career, it is the widespread acceptance of the post-Egglestone aesthetic that has emancipated this type of picture from the bottom drawer.  The photo – taken on film – dates from 2000; two years later, sales of digital cameras outsold their film counterparts for the first time. Future historians may come to judge an image like this as belonging to a certain period in time – a  period that began around 1970, and ended with the maturity of digital photo technology. In the digital age, the medium itself encourages promiscuity, along with its concomitant disposability: the temptation to delete an anomalous image to make space on an SD card is all too real.  It requires real commitment to record the day-to-day strangeness of the world on a commodity as valuable as film.

… for The London Column. © David Secombe 2011.

* Point of Interest is showing at The Wapping Project Bankside, London SE1, until 2 July 2011.

Point of Interest. Photos Peter Marlow (2/3)

Approach to Runway 27, West, Heathrow Airport, 2001. © Peter Marlow  (from Point of Interest, courtesy of the photographer and The Wapping Project Bankside*).

From Heathrow Noise Damage Across London – a report prepared by Charles Rolls for HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise), June 1997:

 Quotes from the social surveys

 The nature of the problems mentioned in the surveys fell into well-defined categories. The majority of people who experienced severe annoyance or said it was unbearable mentioned an impact on Quality of Life (ability to use the garden, have the windows open, listen to music/TV, have dinner parties) or Impairment of some Function (doctor’s inability to think during surgery, sleep deprivation,increased family stress).

Some typical quotes on the impact on Quality of life:

“It affects my ability to listen to music.” Paultons Square

“We have to keep our windows closed, we have spent extra money on noise insulation, and we can’t use the garden” Paultons Square

“Hard to concentrate on reading” Paultons Square

“Deters us from sitting in the garden. The noise is too frequent” Christchurch Street “Severely affects TV reception” Camberwell

“The intrusive effect on an otherwise peaceful environment” Camberwell

Some typical quotes on the Impairment of Function:

 “Intrusion on thoughts/conversation/examining patients” MD Paultons Square

“Early morning it wakes me and any visitors” Paultons Square “Loss of sleep is extremely debilitating” Paultons Square

“It disrupts the children’s sleeping patterns and causes stress to all the family” Christchurch Street

“Level of noise in the early morning. Often shakes the windows and invariably wakes the children” Christchurch Street

“When we are trying to relax it causes angst” Christchurch Street

“My sleep pattern has been greatly and increasingly disturbed by it” Camberwell

“You cannot get away from noise, it is very invasive and stressful to live with noise you can do nothing about” Camberwell

“Often woken around 4.30 – 5am then very difficult to sleep again – am very tired as a result but how do you prove this?” Camberwell

What is it about the noise that is most annoying?

 “There is an increase to a peak then a lull, but with the certainty of the next cycle being repeated” Paultons Square

“No other capital city has been so foolish as to land itself with this level of aircraft noise pollution” Paultons Square

“Hearing one plane and just waiting for the next” Christchurch Street “We end up shouting at each other in the garden” Christchurch Street

“Engine noise – screaming of the engines” Christchurch Street

“The noise in Camberwell is continuous due to the height of the aircraft” Camberwell

“That an area like Camberwell, miles from the airport but seriously affected by the noise does not feature in any consultation process” Camberwell

“You cannot get away from the noise” “I love my home and neighbourhood but the aircraft noise is literally the only thing which is making me consider moving home” Camberwell

“Couldn’t the flight paths be broader, so spreading the noise?” Camberwell

“BAA say we are outside the area seriously affected – this is quite wrong” Camberwell

* Point of Interest is showing at The Wapping Project Bankside, London SE1, until 2 July 2011.