Mark Cator - A Sense of Place
All photographs: Great Yarmouth, 2017
There’s nothing more exciting when the atomisation of people and architecture come together for the briefest of moments, and that little bit of magic of intent and chance make for an image that risks our enquiry, delves into our imagination. A photograph of place is not a definition of place, or document of place, it’s a response to a moment always in flux between reality and perception, observer and viewer.
The furnishings of landscape, the human in the manmade, the eclectic mix of architectural styles, the architecture of humanity, props on a stage, they all perch at the fringes of a liminal reverie, ready to create a small piece of theatre within the frame of the photograph. And it’s these outskirts of our attention a photograph demands.
Photography is pure invention, the temporary displacement of reality, a mixture of intent
and chance, the manifest and the particular. You experience this on the streets. A wealth
of detail, realisable ephemera operating way beyond the annunciation of the given. I revel
in capturing an instance, a single glance that will never be seen again, the movement of a
body, the pattern, the colour, the possibility that none of this existed, the fleeting divinity
of the unseen, the recording of the otherwise unrecorded phenomena that makes up the
everyday. This incompleteness is central to the photograph’s authenticity.
Photographing Great Yarmouth, I go unnoticed. If I intrude, then the image reflects
that intrusion. It becomes a performance, a controlled aesthetic between viewer and
viewed. With street photography, I’m fascinated by the unintended, the gentle touch of
human existence. I respect the overblown exemplars of photojournalism or the abstracted
style of the formal, but I see myself as a causal collector, not in a rush and wide open to
the emotional changes that occur to me as a photographer. It’s this piecing together of a
place and a people that fascinates me. The inclusion of culture, aesthetics and architecture
that allows a sense of place to prevail and results in a non-judgemental image.
There’s an eagerness when I set out. I feel compelled to capture every mood, every
passer-by, every building, every sign, and I weave amongst them all with naive enthusiasm,
to witness a presence, the visual poetry of living, and observe people as they
are, not how I or anyone else wants them to be. What if I had gone for the saucy
postcard-esque, look-at-them approach to visitors of the seaside championed by
photographers right up until the mid 1980s. There’s a marketable sensibility to grapple,
the tendency to reinforce perceptions, the gratuitous distillation of fact. I tread carefully
around the polyglot deadwood of clichés and I’m sensitive to the reality that I am
an outsider looking in.
There’s a difference between observing and the mere act of registering. In the main,
it is time based. Every day, we register what’s happening, but it’s not until we stop, sit
down, delight in every shape, colour, movement or inflection, that we begin to observe.
The streets act as a data transfer to time, a portrait in the making—whether it’s a portrait
where photographer and subject work as one, complicit in each other’s involvement, or a
portrait of a passer-by in the streets, a fleeting moment that binds humanity in one entity.
I love to see people lost in their own reveries, their own circumstances of emotion. I relish
the distillation of moment and in this am drawn to the photographers who embraced the
street, allowing a sense of time and place to prevail. Their approach is free, loose and they
have in common an ability to bring to life a world I never knew. Jacques Henri Lartigue
and his photographs of Paris just before the start of the First World War. Helen Levitt’s
pioneering street photography of New York. Robert Doisneau and his collaboration
with the poet Blaise Cendrars, ‘La Banlieue de Paris’, published in 1949. Roger Mayne’s
photographs of Southam Street, London, in the late 1950s and Garry Winogrand’s
1960s America. Mark Cohen and his frenetic hit-and-run photographs of Wilkes-Barre,
Pennsylvania, in the 1970s. The list could go on, but theirs was a photography which was
honest, humourous and alive to the spatial temporality of moment.
It is, in many respects, the same way I value P.H. Emerson’s photographs from ‘Wild
Life on a Tidal Water’, taken in 1887. The river is his “street” and within his photographs
I sense a people propelled by specific roles, a place amongst the order of things. The sense
of our role today is perhaps less well defined, the stage has changed, the mnemonic map
is unresolved, our trajectory is uncertain. What is certain, within the physicality of
place, and that place being Great Yarmouth, is the energy of activity has moved from the
quayside to the seaside, and once by the seaside I’m aware of photographers who have
passed this way, both physically or through their own interpretations of seaside towns
and resorts. They have created phenomenal work, some defining classics and blazing a
trail that is impossible to better.