Garry Fabian Miller
Notes d’après les entretiens avec Garry Fabian Miller (1957) de Mark Haworth-Booth le 24 janvier 1996 et de Martin Barnes le 29 septembre 2003, disponibles à la British Library dans le cadre du projet « Oral History of British Photography » (références C459/ 78, 14 bandes, 6 avec Mark Haworth-Booth et 8 avec Martin Barnes)
With Mark Haworth-Booth
1ère bande (31:21)
Father was a commercial photographer, self-employed (photo as recording).
At 15, interest in documentary photography. Arnolfini gallery in Bristol: contemporary art, photography, landscape exploration, land art.
Started to take his own photos around 76, colour. Views from his window (sea or field, and sky), change of weather and colour, passing of time. Series of sea horizons, surface of ponds, sediments in a quarry (shown at Arnolfini in 79). More and more abstract pictures, squares of orange water or green ponds, surfaces, focus, shifts. Small, humble things; looking at nature
Death of mother: , thought about his work and life, left commercial photography, moved to Lincolnshire.
2ème bande (31:24)
Sense of distance (# from views form windows, landscapes), meaning, looking beyond appearance (Ben Nicholson’s quote about: infinity and religious experience: line at his Arnolfini show). Religious experience in this small space. Interest for Nicholson’s paintings as objects in themselves, not the drawings, but the surface of the framed object; he created something which existed in the world like a natural object; the sort of art I was interested in. Interested in the resolution of an object into something that is real in the world. Not just paintings, but things in the world like a stone.
In Lincolnshire, working on house, garden, unsure about his work, struggling. Very different landscape; photographing hedges, focus shifts in front of a hedge, like an abstract series of surfaces.
Photographs of snows (rarely exhibited; City art Gallery of Lincoln) : most successful photos before I stopped using cameras, achieved best what I was trying to do, light reflecting from snow, snow is white neutral surface but becomes different when sun hits the bank of snow. Brilliance of the light, reflecting and absorbing qualities, contrast with shadow areas (blueness), dazzling white light. Only when climate was right. Abstract quality: looking at a cloud (shift into somewhere else). Difficult to print.
Summer 84, photographing wheat, focus shifts (doing large slide projections): light passing through a plant, release of energy. But something was wrong with these pictures (constraints of the camera): decided to not use a camera anymore. Was teaching in art college in Hull (1st time in his life in art college), watched a female student (Jane Prophet) doing performances in front of slides projected on the wall, but she put rubbish from her pockets (scrapings of charcoal) in the slide mount, light passing through; it was very beautiful, incredibly powerful incredible random black marks with white light around them projected on the wall; reminded me of Ian McEver pictures (Show at Arnolfini): simplicity of passing of light through almost nothing. Why not try? All summer, I have been observing light passing through plants and having problems because of the constraints of the camera.
I took a plant, put it in the enlarger and passed light through it. I was amazed; 3 weeks before Xmas 84. It achieved all my desires of last month, clarity of the making, beauty of what you make, removal of complexities of equipment, releasing and radical, reduction to such a simple method, remarkably simple. From nothing, something of such substance could exist; belief not in refining (not applied art skills), but in transforming nothing into something, a language that was not there before; like Roger Ackley (takes humble things, piece of wood, makes an object with transformative energy), a model for me.
In 85, I explored what this meant. Understanding plants, leaves, flowers, light, exploring from scratch during winter, then with spring, new way of working.
Contact through Arnolfini with Richard Long and Hamish Fulton. I lost my connect ions with photography, I went on another path, away from photographic concerns (and photographic publishing). An artist using photographic material (rather than a photographer).
The Reed Press: artist book in six copies.
3ème bande (31:21)
Established Reed Press: hybrid behind series of prints and portfolios.
No name for his new process, not photograms. Felt isolated. It did not belong anywhere. Using object in enlarger, not on the paper, using it as a transparency. A few had done it often in combination with something on paper, but nobody had developed it, had explored its possibilities: no name for it. At beginning, was evangelizing about it, showing it to students, but it never developed. Only recently (1996) have other people start exploring this way.
Affinities: Ben Nicholson, polished and direct : direct experience rather than acquired knowledge for him. Rothko? Morris Louis? someone trying to make something that previously did not exist, exploring without reference point, often simple forms, triangle, circle, square, similar with mine (# from Pollock of Kelly), we gather rather than spread.
Showed works in a chapel in 1990. Religion ? From 85 to 89, many opportunities to work with nature, landscape, ecology, got consumed in these commissions (Artists in National Parks, etc.); my work deeper. Then trend towards religion, spirituality; people thought it was linked to my work; I became perceived as an artist with spirituality. Changing the world: I do it mostly as an artist. Close to many religious people, in art world and outside.
4ème bande (31:22)
Friendship with two nuns (Quidnam convent; Wendy, Paula), with priests: I do my pictures for them. They wrote essays for The Journey (long religious development).
In 86 curated exhibition: purpose of photography in relation to landscape, 5 artists using photography: Fede Backeliton, Andy Goldsworthy, John Gutter, Roger Palmer and him; how to expand the value of photography beyond topographic landscape tradition.
Then several exhibitions in his garden shed, in landscape, not in city. Show art in different places
In 88, occupied buildings in Lincoln, then developed into The Journey, in 90 in Lincoln, relationship between contemporary art and spirituality: Cathedral, churches, disused buildings, landscape sites. 15 artists, including Stephen Cox, Richard Long. Became quite visible about religious art.
Showed there “January the 7th”: black space with ‘flame’ in center (in fact a green leave, yellow tip brown tip); layers of leaves stopping light passing through.
In 90, pictures of leaves about stopping light or letting light pass through. Circular forms.
In 91, need to work with less solid substance, flame or smoke; explore light passing through liquids, oil had best quality.
92-93 all his work with oil, all pictures circular.
In 93 summer, rather than passing beam of light down through enlarger, explore passing beam of light horizontally through space. Containers of glass containing oil.
In 94, work with water, colourless, transparent. All pictures till now (Jan 96) light through glass containers with water; also hanging shapes to redirect light. Dark pictures with areas of white light. Two years of acquiring this knowledge.
Met Chris Bucklow in 86 in Lincoln, Susan Derges in 87. Affinities between us? Not sure, but we are friends.
5ème bande (31:20)
Chris has become more spiritual, religious. Susan is a neighbor. All of us light-sensitive paper without a camera, but different works. Friendship, but not shared vision.
Sea of Faith movement (Don Cupit, BBC series, book, group): religion is a human creation, should adapt and change. He is a member, also Chris.
Cibachrome paper being one of the great things in the world. Valuing materials of photography, like a sculptor or a painter talking about pigments: many photographers don’t have this respect. Sensuality of the surface, glossiness, smoothness, contrast with the inert back; in the dark relationship to this substance; record things that I can’t see working in the dark. Early days of photography were much about chemicals and papers, direct relationship; the camera came and the materials became less interesting to explore like a painter would explore canvas and pigments. It became all about understanding the camera and its workings, its relationship to the subject. The paper lost its exploratory potential. Man Ray light and paper: incredible resolution of work like it exists in other art forms; Weston understanding of material. For me, photography is the paper; cibachrome miraculous human invention.
Picture made as easily as breathing, no struggle, coming into being, simplicity. Need a certain state of being to work, rare and intense periods. Rest of the time: to put me in right state for that. Just wait and be calm: other things to do, gardening in the afternoon.
Likes his pictures to be in houses, in religious context (convent rather than city church).
Many 100 pictures (framed) he did.
Curatorial projects, educational projects, consultancies. Co-curator of ‘The quality of light’, project with Tate St Ives in Penwith, Cornwall.
6ème bande (11:16)
St Ives : showing artists outside of the city.
General working method: exploratory. Changes, new materials, new methods of working. From no knowledge of what might happen to acquiring knowledge; wondering what might happen if you follow a certain path. All you do is done by touch, complete darkness, incredible tension, searching for making visible something you think could exist. Long exposures (15 minutes); experience apart from the world, spending in the darkroom 20 minutes watching a beam of light pass through, like a retreat, a cell away from the world and awaiting something, as religious people would. Coming into being, being away from the world. Photography is made in these places away from the world, the darkrooms. Also very vulnerable position; need to have faith that it leads somewhere. In there something can happen; a very apart place to be.
With Martin Barnes
7ème bande (31:01)
Curator for St Ives International. Commission of Towards a solar eclipse (99). Feelings about the events around the total eclipse in west Cornwall.
Elective Affinities: Mark Haworth-Booth’s first exhibition in gallery, Chris Bucklow was not ready. Only Susan Derges and him. He showed circular oil pictures (sort of photograms), poured oil pictures (light horizontal), first works with water in blue vessels (light horizontal). His first exhibition with a dealer.
St Ives project in 96 (The quality of light): his last curatorial work (money reasons)(long explanation of his role and the project); no work of his. But ongoing relationship with that region.
Commission by Tate St Ives in 99 during eclipse; reviewed his past circular work. Rim of glass container touching paper: better. Made four large pictures for the Tate, done in March, six months before the eclipse. They were my ideas how it might feel.
Only place of total eclipse. It was put into my life; significant moment; the world was going to be different. End of world feeling? how society deals with that, versus personal experience.
8ème bande (31:09)
The eclipse (continues).
GFM uncomfortable with the media promotion of spectacle over substance.
Just another event, that the media took over; not a pure moment. I didn’t want to expose myself again (talk at the Tate is the last talk I ever gave, very intense, I said what I felt, people are not used to that, they only want the surface, I expected the world to change as a result of the eclipse and it didn’t). No value given to the sense of pure wonder.
Now, just be quiet, do my work and not demand attention (perform, compete with musicians, TV persons, media culture, like many artists do).
At same time, Petworth House in Sussex (invited by Photoworks), starting in April for exhibition in August, for Petworth Windows: very dark pictures, contrary to eclipse, very dramatic. Turner had been there, died there (? No, in Chelsea), Blake also. Centrality of light in the life of an artist : dark pictures. Celestial window pictures : cruciform in rectangles of white light; I built vertical and horizontal structure to divide the light.
9ème bande (31:09)
Petworth Windows (continues). Christian symbolism
Sense of location, creativity.
Publication of Elective Affinities: renewed interest in his work (reprint of The Sea Horizon)
Starts on Thoughts of a Night Sea.
Book ‘Tracing Light’ about Petworth Windows published in Feb 2001, 18 months after end of project (which had lasted one year).
Working away from home? Residency? Why take artists away from home? I visit and come back home. Retain the experience within myself. Art making shouldn’t be a struggle, complicated. Poets or composers can be away from their subjects, but visual artists should be? Is it about recording. Nothing exists in the world, it’s all inside my head. It can only be made where the means to make it exist, in my darkroom, my practice is invisible, except in my darkroom, where there is nothing to see except the pictures.
Creativity occurs in your mind.
Some Sea Horizon pictures were selected by John Szarkowski in 1976 for KitEye (open exhibition) in The Middle Group in Nottingham, then Serpentine (his first exhibition). Reprint and exhibition in 97 (many sales).
Petworth windows: new way to manipulate light, build space to do that; how light passes through columns, is distorted and twisted.
Thoughts of Night sea, presented horizontally are made vertically; same scheme than Petworth windows, but concerned by cruciform, I wanted more neutral space : sense of the sea with a horizon. Looking across the sea towards the horizon, effect of light on water, on sky, on large spaces of land. Very simple pictures, horizon, land.
10ème bande (31:10)
Article on Thoughts of a Night Sea in Modern Painters by Linda Saunders*
Visit to Japan, great affinity.
Work on Night Towers and Night Cities, on skyscrapers, just before 9/11.
Cruciform symbol in Petworth window, then out: any less conspicuous symbol in Sea horizon? Other crosses in his work (Good Friday, 94); Christian culture. Thoughts of Night sea (1st shown at Tate Liverpool): abstraction, sense of sublime, of openness, of transcendence, non-specific religiousness; water is an acceptable symbol for all religions (easier to accept than cross in Petworth windows). All work is autobiographical, but not specific, not descriptive; sometimes response to situations. Progression is my choice, hence autobiographical element.
Tokyo complex city, hence Night Cities pictures.
Thoughts of Night Sea book with writer: text contributing to thinking, not description. Lavinia Greenall was interested in the work, I asked her to write. It opened the pictures up.
Modern Painters article: Linda Saunders discussed difficulty of the cross form. It was read by a Tokyo gallery (Nikido), had a big impact on a Japanese collector/dealer. Japanese bought lots of my work at Purdy Hicks in June 2001, then visited me as went to Tate Liverpool. One (Hitochi, gallery Nikido) made a speech: the impact my work had on him, and on people in Japan. Deep spiritual values, sense of sublime, touch the soul of people, help them rediscover values, face their inner self; light in people’s heart.
Went first to Japan in 94 at Yokohama Museum with Susan Derges; nothing came out of it. Again October 2002 for show at this gallery.
Night Cities or Night Towers: many bars creating complex matrix, like many windows. Saw Michael Andrews exhibition at Tate on 11 September 2001, including painting of office blocks at night. Had started pictures of towers in early September 2001. Uncanny coincidence. Big pictures, some towers three pictures high.
11ème bande (31:11)
His changes in perception about working, changing scale of pictures. Deep emotional response to his work in Japan.
His desires to make the unseen seen through images created only in the mind and then directly onto photographic paper.
Move from blue to orange.
Series Burning, Golden.
Changes from 96: then domestic gallery only, not interested by ‘the world’ and pictures for homes, modest size. Then important to have foreign galleries, shows here and there, I don’t travel much; but Japan was something else, because of this person; that’s where my work has been understood, I have an audience there, more than in England. Massive cultural difference I don’t understand with Japan, but I am at ease there; even Christian-educated Japanese have different beliefs than us, but feelings about light, colour, go to the soul rather than the brain, felt rather than thought.
Change in scale: I had made large projects before, depends upon space where they will be, upon opportunities. Large pieces are exceptions.
Shift from nature toward sculpture (cities). Interested in light rather than in objects. Reference to historical moments in architecture.
Interest in the unseen: the pictures I make exist only inside my head, not in the world. They exist only because I imagine them, I build them in my mind. Make them exist on the surface of the paper.
Night cities: meditations on the complexities of life, on people who have to function there.
Exhausted after that, did not want to become a machine printing more and more.
Had to escape from the colour blue: dark, melancholic. Wanted a light warm, radiant, restorative. Desperate need to come out of this space of darkness.
For Graves Art Gallery Sheffield: they had Gwen John painting: warm light coming through window. Project with them delayed from Oct 2001 to may 2002 for exhibition in august 2002. Burning (with Gwen) series : beam of light passing through oil, simple aperture as rectangle, moving to paper. Move to orange. Intensity depends upon position of rectangle; 5 to 25 minutes of exposure.
Blue came from blue glass holding the water. Why was I attracted to that blue glass? Bristol glass (Melcey, his place as a child) is blue.
New series, uplifting, positive sense.
Then exploring, with same colour range. Sept-Nov 2002 Golden series. All sheet of paper exposed to orange/yellow light. How to erase light?
12ème bande (31:10)
Interest in abstract painting.
Ideas about layering and removing paint, and doing the same with light in photography; methods of double exposures to achieve this.
Problems of abstraction versus decoration.
Series Golden Storms.
His spiritual position, his thoughts on religion.
Exposing and then re-exposing so as to erase: similarities to painting. James Urcott, the Underpainter (book, Canada), overpainting.
Exposed paper taken off the wall, put flat; a board on parts not to be erased, then light on, then develop/ everything wiped out except the blocked area. Beautiful edges; sense of beginning of day, light emerging across water.
First new idea I had since I started with liquids (10, 12 years, after the plants).
Golden storms in 2003 (Jan-March) orange light; 2/3 of them have a dark rectangle hanging over the light.
Golden threads: darkness, golden line of light, not sure I will keep them.
Northern Sun, Sept 2003: sun hanging in a dark sky.
Also ready for pictures with a red vessel, very red, white light.
Pure abstraction. Pure geometric abstraction, very pure.
Not a lot of abstract photography, not the stripbackness of an Ellsworth Kelly painting. Reach the purity of painting. Light coming around the block: kind of illumination. Purely aesthetic, very simple. Make them big? as big as a Barnett Newman? It means nothing.
Potentially, it could become decoration; this is worrying. Related to states of mind, Northern European spirit; people apply psychological states to what they see. But the red and white are pure forms, in classical sense, a relief, maybe more decorative.
There is no progress, there is no hope: Western thought. The best you can hope for is to reach the best possible state of being at this moment, no more than that. While India, no progress, just cycles, the best we can reach is perfection at this point. Maybe red and white lead to this, sense of perfection; while other work (Burning,…) sense of brooding, more European. Opposite to decorative: cleanness. Not “nice, but pretty”. Bridget Riley retrospective was decorative, pattern making, once she introduced colour: very sad.
His position in schools of thought? It’s part of my work, religious dimension around my work, some ambiguity. Always attracted to religious spiritual dimension from early age. In late teens, aware of the Quakers: no hierarchy, silence (very powerful to me), light, social positions. In Lincolnshire, parish church, Church of England, belonging; Lincoln Cathedral: quality of space and light, evensong. Readings from Bible of no value, no interest, just a space for the music. Interested in Don Cupitt, radical theologian, how to make Christianity have value today (Sea of Faith series, movement). Peace movement (through Quakers, Christian CND, Radical Catholics).
In Devon (15 years ago), late 80s, environmental movement, religion and nature.
13ème bande (31:04)
Quakers. Lack of belief in a deity.
Working with inkjet printing. Possible demise of Cibachrome paper and rise of digital technology.
In Devon, severed links with Quakers and all that. Married Naomi (Jewish). Involved in parish church for 8 years, evensong (odd because I was young). When our son died 12 years ago, buried at church. I was drifting away from anything organized. Now I am in no place, don’t go to church, no interest, no religious position. Just way of living.
Desillusion. Different view when you are in your 40s. Very angry with fundamentalism. Very hostile to religious people, to people seeking solace in religion. Organized religion causes damage to people.
Pictures to make the world a better place, someplace we might like to reach. If you don’t think and just believe, life can be quite simple. If you think and question, life can be pretty tough.
Key to me: exposure to the light (like an animal), well being, very simple things.
I don’t believe in any sense of deity: religion is a human construct. Not much to escape to (religion, drugs).
Get solace from my pictures: me as well as the viewer. Light coming into you, well being.
Working everyday is part of my structure; could be a ritual. Like Schopenhauer or Wittgenstein : organized life. Going into darkness every morning: odd as a way of life, not many people do that; specially someone like me so sensitive to light. Trying to remove myself for some searching reason; like an animal burrow. I am choosing to do it, my way of life, not an employer telling me to do it.
Paper (cibachrome) is my all life (positive-positive material); some supply problems. Only 35 customers for this product in England (Ilford); product may disappear. Material fundamental to me, but of no value for others. Artist without his material? I want to keep control, not send it to a machine in London for developing and printing (other artists do) for large pictures, so size limit. Other ways of working, other process? Made tests in summer 2003: scan made from the print. I’ll continue to explore that. But it means living on the computer: not my life style, need someone to work with me for hybrid of camera-less photograph and inkjet prints.
In mid 80s, I found a way to make a unique print, not contrived. Only one copy, unique. Good for art market, for collectors, no artifice (destroying negatives, like some did). If I go with inkjet prints, move from unique to replicable media : complicated question. Arbitrary decision to print 3 or 5 : right level of preciousness.
Since I work in series, maybe just one of each; each person would have a unique copy of it.
14ème bande (29:20)
Working with other media. Green Air
Other early memories.
Since interest in light and time, why not work in film or video? Not much free time to explore that, concentrating on what to do next. Complexity puts me off. I’m committed to the two-dimensional object on the wall.
Meteorological Office moving to Exeter: open competition, but reluctant to comply with criteria, just want to do my work. They asked me to submit something. I was offered the commission. Had to discuss with scientists, build relationships (huge organization). The way weather makes you fell, weather and vegetation. Effects of climate change on global vegetation and vice versa: discuss with scientist in charge of that. Piece which was narrative, communicative, about the greening of trees, photosynthesis: a poplar tree, thin and high (windbreaker, frontier tree in America, also photos by Stieglitz of poplar trees). Printing leaves of poplar trees, different colours.
Doing another commission, beech tree for Japan.
Born in Bristol January 1957.
House in Scandinavian design built by his father, very distinctive. Then Melcey, expanding city: glass works, blue glass.
At 14, my first exhibition in the Melcey library.
Going into darkroom at father’s office at early age. Commercial photographer, weddings.
Younger sister, born 59.
Read a lot, still does.
Singing in a choir; no classical music.
Didn’t like school, crowd, conformism, controlling system. Left after O level.