My name is Bob Hadfield, a Chester based photographer. I recently attended an exhibition at the Town Hall of the work of fellow photographer Tim Daly. Tim is Senior Lecturer in photography at the University of Chester. On display he had a selection of some very unusual books he’s created. As a photographer I’m always fascinated with the medium and always try in my work to do something fresh or different with photography. Tim Daly as I discovered is somewhat of a master of ‘the different approach’. His work is a smelting pot of traditional photography, razor sharp humour and very contemporary take on how we (the viewer) experience his work.
It all comes together in a surprisingly effective way.
You, the viewer feel as though you are as much a key ingredient to what makes his work what it is as Tim’s own contribution himself.
Let me explain…
Firstly, throw all your preconceptions of what a book is away. Tim’s books are quite unconventional and how you experience them is clearly something Tim always has at the forefront of his mind. For example in one of his books he explores what was left of Long Grove Hospital, a mental institution in Surrey. Opened in 1906 and closed in 1992. The book features images Tim has taken in what remains of that hospital and gives a sometimes haunting but always poignant impact to the reader. Furthermore as you journey through the book you come across real items from the hospital, for example a note by a member of staff describing a daily routine of a resident. Tim’s powerful images combined with these items from the hospital give you a real connection with the place and you can’t help compare in your imagination what it would have looked like in the day versus the dilapidation you see in the photographs. As with some of the other books on display, this is a ‘one-of-a-kind’ book, the only one in existence.
Another one-of-a-kind is ‘Returning Burton’s Plunder’. Tim used images taken by Harry Burton of the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. What set’s Tim’s approach very much apart from a traditional book here is that the images you see were created using unfixed salt prints – they are still light sensitive. The book has a seal, and once broken and the book opened the images will gradually fade to black. You are very much on borrowed time reading this one.
Tim’s own words on Returning Burton’s Plunder:
“This inbuilt destruction – prompted by the very act of reading – creates an absurd dilemma for the viewer. Do they continue to look at the unstable images on the page or do they keep the book closed?”
You can see the digital version of Returning Burton’s Plunder here
Another of Tim’s books on display at the Town Hall certainly had me chuckling to myself. It was called ‘Mixed Metaphors’. In this book Tim documents the names of working canal boats. In the 1950s canal boats were becoming very popular as weekend holiday homes and their owners would often rename them to reflect their own perspectives on life. In this book Tim shows us not only the humour which went into the naming of these boats, but when viewed in their present day surroundings allow for some unintentional but very amusing juxtapositions. You are left to make those humorous observations yourself since the images are printed without descriptions. It’s like watching a comedy show without canned laughter. There’s a trust in the work that shines through without being forced.
Looking through Tim’s books made me think more about my own work. A photograph has to stand on its own merits, but the way the viewer experiences that photograph can take a very different approach.
I applaud Tim for his ‘left field’ way of thinking about the medium of photography.
Article by Bob Hadfield
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