When Einstein was at a dinner party in 1927 he was asked about his religious beliefs by an aetheist. He replied:
"Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious."
And to that extent I guess I'm religious too.
My problems came when I started to ask myself: What am I trying to do with my photography?
What is that emotive tug that I aim for in my pictures, and that I respond to in others?
Can you remember a moment wandering through an art gallery, when a painting suddenly stopped you in your tracks? Or when a piece of music, heard for the first time, seemed to be calling straight to your heart? That sensation that can be brought about by a great artwork, as you seem to slip from your normal life, your thoughts silenced, and find yourself in an overwhelming world of instinct and empathic emotion. The soul of another seems revealed directly to you, and for a moment there is connection.
That's what I'm looking for in my work, that feeling of direct connection between the art and the viewer. With no human subjects I am trying to create a resonance with the intangible atmosphere of a place, something strongly felt but almost impossible to describe or explain.
While the subject matter of my pictures is often hard, serious and political, the atmosphere I am striving for is usually a peaceful one. These photos are intended to be visually harmonious, mysterious and tranquil, creating a quiet space that encourages contemplation. I tend to show my pictures in groups, feeling that they need each other to help create a buffer for the viewer from the pressures and distractions of life.
This visual tenderness is an expression of something I seek when I'm photographing hidden spaces. My senses open up in these places, I feel a childlike sense of exploration in my surroundings as my rational brain takes a back seat and I become open eyes connected directly to beating heart.
I can't explain what makes a the play of light in a forgotten warehouse beautiful. How it's possible for the faded colours of peeling wallpaper to communicate such yearning. Maybe this is some kind of magic being revealed in the world, it often feels magical. I'm sure some people would see this as spiritual. I don't know, even though I spend my life seeking it out and trying to communicate it with others. I guess this is Einstein's 'Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend'
I do know that we are empathic, physical, sensual beings alive in a living world. A huge element of our experiences of being human and of our place in the universe come through sensory, emotive or otherwise non-verbal means.
Our rational mind and the language it controls can't explain all of our experiences of living, as so many of them are non-verbal and non-rational.
In 1882 Friedrich Nietsche wrote:
“Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings — always darker, emptier, simpler”
Our thoughts can't always adequately describe the rich experiences of living, but these things can sometimes be expressed through visual arts and through music.
There are no rules for how to make a great artwork. Any formula or technique that is successfully applied by one artist can be just as successfully broken by another. Art fits no logical boundaries and its effectiveness is very difficult to predict or to explain.
This is because the part of us that responds to an artwork is the part that has no voice, it is instinctual, irrational and empathic. A great artwork offers us a temporary end to loneliness, a moment of truly feeling that someone else sees and feels as we do. The hopeful message that understanding is possible, even when communication is so hard.
My photographs are of the world. I don't construct them in a studio or redesign them with software. As closely as possible I try to recreate for the viewer my experience of standing in a space. My sense that the world is a wondrous and mysterious place drives me to seek out scenes that might evoke this feeling in others.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the romantic poets searched for those moments when the mind was quiet and it was possible to engage in a direct empathic communication with the world. Like the buddhists before them they sought spaces in nature that encouraged contemplation, a losing of yourself in the sensory experience of being alive.
The romantics distinguished between the sublime and the beautiful. The beautiful was likened to an English landscaped garden, neat, elegant, tamed. The sublime, like a waterfall tumbling into a great chasm, was wild, overwhelming and awe-inspiring. They held that while we may find comfort in the beautiful, it is only the sublime that can awaken our inner selves. In my exploration of the man-made world I consider myself to always be hunting for the sublime.
I don't know what spirituality is. I'm not sure I have any beliefs. But I know that I am an empathic being in a complex world. A world shot through with energies and moments that I respond to without understanding them, sometimes without awareness of them at all. My photographs attempt to speak this language without words. To build more connections between people and to try to bring back into their lives, a sense of wonder, if only for a moment.