The Making of Mordor, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 2014/15
Recently there has been a strong resurgence of interest in photographic typologies that engage with the ‘machine,’ ‘machine culture’, and the impact of new forms of industrialisation (Chris Jordan, Yeondoo Yung, Stéphane Couturier). The Sunbeam series derives from this new industrial typological work. The series was part of a group exhibition (Making of Mordor) that asked for reflections from artists Olafur Eliasson and Richard Billingham, photographer Brian Griffin, and myself, on the changing post-industrial landscape of the West-Midlands. The reference to Tolkien’s own critical relationship to the industrialization of the West Midlands, narratively framed the exhibition.
The Sunbeam project consists of a typological sequence of gates of abandoned industrial sites in the Wolverhampton area, documenting a transition in the local economy and its effects in shaping local history and contemporary culture. The design of industrial gates is generally driven by a respect for functionality and not by aesthetic concerns. Yet, time and the traces of labour have left marks that document the various uses of these sites, in turn, transforming them into iconic monuments of an industrial past that is increasingly invisible, but has played a major part in the formation of the region’s post-war identity.
All images were shot positively under complimentary bright daylight in order to avoid the commonplace and clichéd melancholic approaches to similar subjects. This enables conflicting aspects to come into play, which both reconfigure Walter Benjamin’s allegorical notion of the ‘ruin’ and revises the ‘straight’ and objective methodology that derives from the ethnographic photographic typologies of Bernd and Hilla Becher and the Düsseldorf School of Photography. As a result, these gates by extension represent both the industrial decline of the Black Country area, and act as monuments to the cultural significance of this industrial past.