John Blakemore

During a recent OCA visit, Paul Hill recommended looking at the work of John Blakemore. I located a recording of John discussing his work at an ‘On-landscape’ conference . The video is over an hour long and features John talking through his journey in photography. I note a few lessons from his talk.

He once taught photography and described the ‘3 Rs’ of photography: Relationship (that this must be developed with your subject over time); Recognition (an eye for when and what to photograph); and Realisation (the process of bringing the work into the world). When he is not preparing for exhibition work, he realises his work through photo books that he makes himself. He talks about sequencing and using ‘formal devises to contain the flow’ and how he’s never been interested in the single image.

He is renowned for his monochrome prints and work and that is what appears when searching the web. Examples of this can be found in the Hyman collection . However, he talks about recent colour work and how he gives up control of everything to do with post-processing. His interventions at the point of capture and realisation in book form.

In his landscape work, he mentions focusing on details that imply the broader scene. This echoes the idea of knowing many things from one thing. He comments on enjoying the loss of scale that a small detail can contain – ‘transcending its obvious subject’. He is a photographer whose work is primary driven by the visual form; he doesn’t talk about the concept for his work, just what he wants to show (visually).

What struck me is how little interest Blakemore and Hill have in experimenting with photography technology. They appear to work with tried and tested tools – Blakemore commented that he only uses two lenses, a 50mm and a 90mm (both marco) and Hill that he prefers wider angle lenses; 28mm or 35mm. He in particular likes to be unencumbered by anything that restricts his ability to move freely in the landscape, so has always shot 35mm film (and now, I think, a digital Panasonic Lumix for colour work). I have a preference for wider angle lenses when out walking and making street photography. I like the idea of selecting one lens and sticking with it for my project – a consistency in angle of view throughout. I’m currently more inclined towards 50mm as it works better in drawing in specific areas of detail along the confines of a canal path, whereas the 35mm lens is more greedy in what it takes in.

Unfortunately, I could find no trace of Blakemore’s workshop contents online (or video of him running one), so I’m just left with Paul Hill’s mention of John asking everyone to sit with their eyes closed for 10 minutes and take in their surroundings before photographing the first thing that caught their attention. I could be described as a meditational practice – I was curious to see it in action!