Reason 2: Function

Here’s part two of my series of posts explaining reasons around why I started publishing. I’m sure I’ll miss things, and these posts are here to get my thoughts in order as much as for the interest of the internet.

‘The gallery’, I wanted to avoid. I wanted something quick to make and to ‘exhibit’. Affordable, to make and to buy. Easy to transport. Something that could exist in multiple, and so be in more than one place at a time. Something that is an edition, not necessarily to limit the edition but so there is no ‘original’, and all copies have the same intrinsic value.

Prints would have done, to an extent, but within the context of my work at the time, they would have been single images on single sheets, and prints and printing are expensive. Photocopy prints aren’t expensive though, and they prevented me becoming precious as I had with the paintings that took nearly two years to make.

My influences are pretty wide and include ideas around Minimalism and Conceptualism — many of those discussed in Lucy Lippard’s Six Years, Don Celender, In Numbers exhibition, Felix Gonzales Torres, some street art, American underground/free press, Hand made signs, Modernism, 1970s teaching packs, National Trust info pamphlets, bookies’ cards from horse races, ephemera and collectibles…

The idea of photocopied prints was kind-of the antidote to the problems that painting and galleries were causing (me), and they fitted with the aesthetic, DIY-ness and spontaneity of my influences. But, they were single sheets and one image, and felt a bit light. Literally speaking, copied onto heavier stock felt like I was trying to convince people they were something they weren’t. Light in a content sense too though, just a bit of paper and a picture — a copied one.

So, I photocopied a sketchbook and stapled it together, to make a rough copy of the original. Sketchbooks are very personal things, no one ever really sees them, and certainly I’d never sell one. If you price things on time alone, then a sketchbook would run into 1000s, and even then I’d regret selling them. To me they were the place all else came from. By copying it, and making another 25 or so, I was breaking down the ‘original’ and the personal. Now I could send it to or swap with anyone, and if they didn’t want it, they could give it away. It was open. These copies spidered their way around the world very quickly. My work, overnight almost, was in 24 more countries than it have ever been.

The book (I wasn’t calling them books, still don’t really. I was calling them copies), I thought, was a useful multi-purpose container. A container to house things, a collection of drawings or photographs for example. A container to transport things, or a container to be used as an archive, to present ‘data’ of some kind. It’s an immediately functional and purposeful thing — I’ve never really been sure of the function of painting. The type of book I was / am interested in, was no bigger than the sum of its parts. IE, no grander, no more valuable, not decorative, not manufactured in a way that gives the impression it’s better than it is. Part of me ‘doesn’t see the point’ of decoration or embellishments. If something is made of the most appropriate materials and is shaped to provide its best function, I’ll take it, over the version of the same thing with a pattern, or with ears, or with a badge, or with gloss, embossing and tail bands. Plain, straightforward, simple things. Extra is unnecessary, and extra gets in the way. I see a lot of art in this way, including a lot of the paintings I used to make. If a subject or work is about ‘kitsch’, for example, then a function of that might be to demonstrate kitsch, so the form would follow, decoratively, and the decoration would be purposeful. That would be ok!

The book: It’s personal, shareable, can be read anywhere. It can be posted worldwide in a day or two, inexpensively. It can be sent direct to someone, on their terms, rather than them coming to see it, on the maker’s terms. It can still be shown in a gallery, collected by a museum, held in a library. If it’s a picture book, it’s universal. It can be a starting point — a window into a subject or thing. The content can be curated, submitted, or selected.

The way I’d usually hung things in a gallery was quite linear. The viewer would generally travel from left to right, reading the labels and sometimes looking at the work. Now I had the advantage of facing pages, turning pages, repeated images, flipped images, gatefolds, French folds, covers…All the tools I wanted and could use to lead people, create a story or narrative. The book pauses people. At least, a flick through, usually stopping as something catches their eye. There’s a physical action necessary to ‘use’ a book which I don’t think is there in a gallery. You can walk through a gallery and not see anything. The pause, on the reader’s terms, encourages seeing.

At the time, I didn’t know of any social media. MySpace had just begun. Flickr too. No Facebook, instagram, only just Gmail, so the everyday mass communication we’re now used to, wasn’t really there. Artists, illustrators, photographers were online, just about. Basic, static websites to act as a portfolio. I was starting to build myself a website, searching for how-to code HTML guides, then CSS later. Metadata come up and I realised that at that time, if you used enough keywords and meta data / website info, then those keywords would affect search results, and so expand my audience to people not necessarily looking for the thing I had to show. So the first book, of the copied sketchbook, I called, ‘Happy Birthday’. Keywords and titles included the words Happy and Birthday. At one point, quite briefly, when searching online for Happy Birthday, my site came third in the list. This was just playing, but I enjoyed the idea of subverting the internet. I also enjoyed the idea that by adding nothing new, only using what already existed, I could ‘do something’.

John Claridge, Over 50 Years of Archived Work

On the 30th of August 2012 I published the first of what has become a long series of books by John Claridge.  John worked through the ‘Golden Age’ of advertising, for many international big name brands. With each commercial project though, John found time to make some work for himself.
John grew up in the East End of London, and it’s there that we began with our books. Some images and details below, more will follow as I slowly create an archive for Café Royal Books.

This text has been written by John Chillingworth and Helena Srakocic-Kovac and details significant moments of his career.

 At about the age of eight, John’s life-long passion for photography that was born when he spotted a plastic camera at a local funfair in London’s East End, where he was born in 1944. He just had to win it, it was as simple as that. Knowing that possessing the camera would let him take home all the memories of that day.

There is always something new to appreciate about ‘ground-breaking’ professional photography. John Chillingworth wrote in his series evaluating photography’s ‘greats’, that he has seldom, if ever, met someone with the same natural creative needs as the good and great of earlier generations. Whatever the rule, John Claridge is the exception.

Another case of déja vu?  An East End education (or lack of it).  Left school at 15 – talked his way into his first job in photography and the rest is history!

Well, no! John Claridge is, in every way, a one-off.   True, the boy from Plaistow, with a handful of ‘jack-the-lad’ cultural contemporaries could have drifted into dead-end employment, or brushes with the law, or worse, but there was something different about him.

As a consequence, in 1960, at the behest of the West Ham Labour Exchange, he dressed in his best East End ‘duds’. With hair plastered a jaunty angle and armed only with a bucketful of determination, the boy from Plaistow went ‘up West’. The interview resulted in a job at McCann-Erickson in the Photographic Department.

He strode forward with the kind of youthful exuberance, which college-educated contemporaries often failed to comprehend, let alone emulate, Claridge grew in stature.

During the two years he worked at McCanns, not only did he have his first one-man show,  he was inspired by many, namely the legendary designer Robert Brownjohn. His work that was exhibited at this first one-man show was acclaimed in the photographic press as ‘shades of Walker Evans’.

At seventeen he turned up on the doorstep of Bill Brandt’s Hampstead home – to give him one of his treasured prints.  Gentle and polite, Brandt invited him in;  sought the young Claridge’s opinion on his current work and sent him away feeling ten feet high.

Recommended by established photographers and art directors, he became David Montgomery’s assistant between the ages of fifteen and seventeen.

By the tender age of nineteen he had opened his own studio near London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. His ideas and his images matured rapidly.   A mix of editorial and advertising commissions brought him and his easy confidence to the attention of 1960s advertising trend-setters. The result of which has been the presentation of over 700 awards for his work.

His by-line became familiar in many of the monthly magazines of the day and his reputation began to move from a national to an international level.

By the age of twenty-three, as well as having a home on the Essex marshes and a de rigueur E-type Jaguar, although his real sporting love was and still is the motorbike, he had written, produced and shot a short film titled  “Five Soldiers”.   An American Civil War tale which, when shown on a university campus in the US, caused a riot among the students as it was compared with the war in Vietnam   …  the press said compared the film tp Luis Buñuel.   The film was eventually banned but made its way onto the underground circuit.

He realises now that he had been working in the ‘golden age of advertising’, and as the years melted into decades, the commissions took him around the world.   Tourist boards in the Bahamas, India and the US recognised his highly individual visual talent. Banks, whisky distillers, international corporations, car manufacturers, all were (and still are) prepared to give him his head to creative images that inspired their ad agency art directors to greater and more stunning campaigns.   The result of which has been the presentation of over 700 awards for his work.

John’s work has moved on over recent years.   Here is what eminent photography critic and historian Helena Srakocic-Kovac recently had to say about John’s work:   “When you decided to pull back from advertising  …  which, I think, is such a shame because you revolutionised it and elevated it to an art form  …  you have been substituting it with work of equivalent value, guts and visual strength but so very different  …   so much to see  …   to me at times it appears as if it’s not yours  …  unstructured and scattered in its beauty  …  you used to tell stories and now it’s more about feelings and moments in life  …”

His work is held in museums and private collections worldwide, including The Arts Council of Great Britain, Victoria & Albert Museum, National Portrait Gallery and The Museum of Modern Art.

He has also published several books under his own imprint:

·       South American Portfolio (1982)
·       One Hundred Photographs (1988)
·       Seven Days in Havana (2000)
·       8 Hours (2002)
·       In Shadows I Dream (2003)
·       Silent Ballads (2013)
·       Seven Days in Havana – Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7 – seven volumes (2013)
·       Presenting Clowns – Act 1 (2013)
·       Paintings (2014)
·       Tommy Cooper (2014)
·       Tuscany (2014)
·       The Last Ride (2014)

Text ©John Chillingworth and Helena Srakocic-Kovac. Photographs © John Claridge. Books in the images© Café Royal Books.

Original prints, lithographs and books can be purchased through Nicky Akehurst. Further prints for sale.

Another Time Another Place
John Claridge
2012
28 pages
14cm x 20cm
b/w digital
Numbered edition of 100

Along the Thames
John Claridge
2012
28 pages
14cm x 20cm
b/w digital
Numbered edition of 100