Photographs of London’s forgotten bridge by Robert Gumpert May 18 through 23, 2015 at the Menier Gallery, London SE1 1RU
When did you first see the potential in the fabric of the bridge? “The very first time I walked across, 18 October, 2008. Sometime around 16:30. I really couldn’t believe the patterns and colours and I took a few shots…”
AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT GUMPERT Is there any particular significance to you of Westbourne Bridge? Not really. When I come to London I sometimes stay with friends in either Little Venice or Maida Vale and as it turns out, if walking, Westbourne Bridge is an easy way to go. What has surprised me most over the years is how few people know the bridge at all. When did you first see the potential in the fabric of the bridge? The very first time I walked across, 18 Oct 2008. Sometime around 16:30. I really couldn’t believe the patterns and colours, and I took a few shots. Can you remember the circumstances when you took the first shot? Judging by the time, I was perhaps walking back to where I was staying or on my way to a dinner with them and decided to walk from Paddington Station. What were you aiming for at that time? In terms of the bridge, nothing really. I had been shooting decaying leaves, backlit and in extreme close-up, for a number of years which really
attuned my eye and thoughts to certain patterns and as I walked across the bridge it just caught my eye. So it was sort of note taking, a few images of something I found interesting. Did you appreciate the significance immediately – that this was the start of a new project? Not at all. It appears from the image library that I only shot a few frames that first time in 2008. I spent more time photographing patterns in the tube and walls around Brick Lane than anywhere else. When I returned in 2010 I again found myself on the bridge and took a lot more images. It was probably when I returned to San Francisco and processed the images that it occurred to me there
“It was probably when I returned to San Francisco and processed the images that it occurred to me there was more to do.”
was more to do, but it was another 2 years before I was on the bridge again. In 2012, I made several runs at the bridge and have done so every trip since. This is a very different sort of project for me – very leisurely, with so much time between visits. Undoubtedly this lets me see the changes, which allow me to continue making images of the bridge. When did it occur to you to pair up shots? On that I am not sure. Again from the photo library it appears I did not return to London until 2010. But I remembered the bridge and walked across with much more photographic intent. However, even then I don’t think it occurred to me this was turning into anything other than images I liked. Just a guess, but probably between 2010 and 2012 I started playing with the pairings. I had done pairing – with intent – with a number of the postcard series I was putting out. And I had done pairings with the decayed leaves. In both cases I liked the process of grouping them, seeing how different images worked together and what kind of statements could be made visually. So perhaps I was open to the idea on some unconscious level, but what really made it happen was the pure accident of processing the images.
“I had done pairings with the decayed leaves… I liked the process of grouping them, seeing how different images worked together and what kind of statements could be made visually.”
I saw two or three images together and it immediately sent a little tickle up my spine. After that I started to look for images that worked together. This was also during a time when I had started making prints again (on the inkjet) which I hadn’t done regularly for a number of years and really missed. Are the pairings purely aesthetically based, or is there another force at work? I’m not sure how to answer this – I don’t think there is any deeper meaning in the pairings, so perhaps it is aesthetics. The process, I think, is somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle: I have all these images I’ve taken, only rarely with a thought to pairing, and then I sit at the screen and stare at them, making selections and trying pairings out. How much work goes into manipulating the images and what guides you? Probably not much more than goes into working on any image I intend to print, or is meant for display in some manner. With the documentary work I have an idea going in how the print should look and what I’m trying to convey. Further, there are conventions of the medium [documentary photography] that set
boundaries of how much “artistic” manipulation I can do. With the bridge and walls it’s not the same. First I don’t have as clear an idea going in how the final image should or will look. And I don’t feel any need for the colour or tone to be the same or close to reality. So with these images there is a lot more experimenting and playing around. Sometimes it’s just up to a mistake in working the software controls that lead to something interesting. The process, broadly the same with documentary work, is as follows: I edit the take in Adobe Lightroom [image processing software] and then make selections to use. It’s usually at this stage that a few ideas for pairings begin to crop up. The processing is done in Lightroom and the image is outputed. That file is opened in Adobe Photoshop [another imaging software] and final processing work is done. Because of this workflow my final images for printing often change a bit from one printing to the next. Sometimes this is a real drag as the same image won’t always look the same. I then use InDesign [digital layout software] to layout the pairings. I output the result as a PDF [portable document format]. If I like the way it looks, the PDF is opened in Photoshop and final adjustments are made and exported as a .tif image file. The .tif is
“I don’t feel any need for the colour or tone to be the same or close to reality.”
loaded into a RIP [a printer processing software] for printing. Again adjustments are made with the RIP and then “Print” is clicked and I wait… As a photographer, what need does this project fulfil? Would it be fair to say it provides an antidote to your other work? Originally, with the Dead Leaves series I saw this somewhat abstract material as unrelated to my documentary work, especially since the dead leaves had started out as a visual exercise when I was without money, jobs or projects. But now with The Bridge and the Black Walls I wonder if perhaps it isn’t all a sort of documentary work with the “real” world stories and images being more representational and these somewhat abstract images more interpretational, but still referencing the originals; like a jazz musician riffing off an already existing melodic framework. Making these images, both the originals and then the pairings, offers a way to expand my visual horizon, to push at my interior borders and at least look over the edge get a glimpse of what can be. However just today as I was walking home my thoughts on this changed a bit. I was looking across the street and saw a grey/black wall with uneven paint and a few geometric paint patches – my sort of wall.
But when I pulled back my gaze, the scene was of an older, neglected warehouse/factory building now housing artists’ lofts. A scene of urban flux, if not ill-health. I wondered about the two images. The first – the closer – was, in my mind, a thing of beauty and design. The other – farther out – was of dirt, grit and decay, and yet they were the same place. The two visions got me thinking of the two branches of physics: quantum mechanics and classical mechanics. One attempts to explain the world on a nano scale; the other everything else. But even though physicists don’t seem to know how yet, there is this feeling that they are related to one another in explaining the cosmos. And when seen like that, this work of beauty and design (the bridge, walls, freeway supports and the leaves) is absolutely related to the “gloom and doom” topics I have worked on my whole life. Perhaps this explains my distaste for the “relic porn” school of photography. While the bridge shots speak to a belief that there is beauty everywhere, they are close in and make comment on the beauty isolated from their larger context. But when you pull back, as “relic porn” does, it really isn’t beautiful any more, it is an indictment of society – institutions and individuals and their failure to meet responsibilities, but “relic porn” pretends that it is just beauty.
How do you feel about the possible renovation of the bridge? The bridge is changing. Currently, as of my last visit, it is decaying – with a fix here and there. Good for these photos but not so good for the infrastructure. Structures like The Shard, Big Ben, The World Trade Center, Golden Gate Bridge – they all have a ‘branding’ aspect to them. The Westbourne Bridge, if on a smaller scale, is no different. Unfortunately its brand speaks of neglect, and failure to care. It says the ‘commons’ is not willing to keep itself together, not interested in the welfare of its citizens. And the Black Walls? Were they inspired by Westbourne Bridge? Yes, I see in the Black Walls hints of the bridge and its haphazard repair efforts. I also see my fascination with geometric/non-geometric shapes and interactions. The is also a bit of “What exactly am I seeing here?” As with the bridge and other wall shots, I often only see hints of something when I’m shooting. And then – like some sort of forensic technique – the processing brings out what was only hinted at when I first looked. Interview by Michele Colyer
Black Wall 2015•06
“Structures like The Shard or the Golden Gate Bridge – they all have a ‘branding’ aspect to them. Westbourne Bridge, if on a smaller scale, is no different. Unfortunately its brand speaks of neglect, and failure to care.”
LIST OF WORKS 01 The Bridge 2009•08 02 The Bridge 2010•03 03 The Bridge 2010•04 04 The Bridge 2010•05 05 The Bridge 2010•09 06 The Bridge 2012•01 07 The Bridge 2012•06 08 The Bridge 2012•07 09 The Bridge 2012•10 10 The Bridge 2012•11 11 The Bridge 2013•01 12 The Bridge 2013•03
13 The Bridge 2013•04 14 The Bridge 2013•05 15 The Bridge 2013•06 16 The Bridge 2013•07 17 The Bridge 2013•08 18 The Bridge 2015•03 19 The Bridge 2015•05
On the Cover The Bridge 2009•08
01 Black Walls 2013•01 02 Black Walls 2013•02 03 Black Walls 2015•01 04 Black Walls 2015•02 05 Black Walls 2015•03 06 Black Walls 2015•04 07 Black Walls 2015•05 08 Black Walls 2015•06
The Bridge 2012â&#x20AC;˘01
All photographs are in an edition of eight. Prints are made on an Epson 4880 printer, printed using 8-colours with photo black ink. They are printed on rolls of Epsonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s archival Exhibition Fiber.
Photographs of Londonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s forgotten bridge by Robert Gumpert May 18 through 23, 2015 at the Menier Gallery, London SE1 1RU