On Thursday 9 July Open Eye Gallery welcomed distinguished photographer Peter Fraser to join in conversation with Professor Mark Durden, centring the discussion on Fraser’s project A City in the Mind (2012).
A City in the Mind culminated in an exhibition of photographs in 2012 and subsequently exists as a photography book published by Steidl. The key concept focuses on the Italo Calvino novel Invisible Cities (1972) and the imagined conversations of Marco Polo to Emperor Kublai Khan of the many fantastical cities he had visited on his travels, describing cities in relation to objects. This poetic achievement inspired Fraser to create photographs which mirrored the images of cities, in this case London, imagining the city as though he had never been there in his body but only in his imagination. In a series of intimate and ambiguous images, Fraser reveals a profound vision of London, which appears to have little if any resemblance to the city, as we understand it.
By converting to a digital process for greater clarity and by using pigment printers Fraser has achieved radiance in colour, which has subsequently revolutionised his practice. Although, over the years digital photography has been viewed with some apprehension, Fraser’s poetic purpose fully justifies his method. Throughout the conversation Fraser revealed the significance of colour in his work, using pigment printers that are physically capable of producing the microscopic physical pigments of colour like in the Palaeolithic cave paintings, to generate the vivid hues in his photographs. Fraser also commented on his particular fascination with blue, recalling his encounter with the film ‘Powers of Ten’ 1977, looking at the earth from outer space perceiving the blue sphere like an imagined universe thus conjuring notions of the sublime.
Throughout the discussion Fraser revealed his approach to photography, describing the process as intuitive, drawing on the energies from the unconscious to the conscious mind in order to give an expressive form to these energies, experiencing a flash of recognition of the magnitude of what is before him. Fraser’s obsessive approach pushes against what is understood by a photograph. His method is suggestive of an alchemical process as his images elevate quotidian objects to a divine and transcendental platform.
Fraser and Durden also discussed the British photography tradition and the inherent unease with developments in photography as an artistic medium. In particular Fraser explained the difficulties of finding other contemporary photographers and the struggle to visit pioneering exhibitions during his early career in the UK. Consequently, looking to America’s dynamic, aggressive and exploratory use of colour in photography. Favouring the crudity and brazen colour used in works by American photographers such as William Eggleston.
Overall the conversation was an edifying and insightful perspective on photography, heralding the photographer with as much value as an artist from any other discipline. The discussion also revealed the significance of photographic galleries and encourages an exploration of photography now.
Georgina is a writer and regional web editor based in Liverpool.
Open Eye Gallery
19 Mann Island
Tuesday – Sunday 10.30am – 5.30pm
Image by © Ted Oonk, 2015