Shutter Hub Member Chris Bird lives in the North East of Scotland and works in a variety of formats. He builds or adapts cameras to make pinhole cameras that use Medium Format and 5×4 negative film and paper negatives. He likes to experiment with all formats using vintage 35mm and Medium Format vintage cameras. He enjoys the creative freedom that is possible with pinhole photography, he likes that this process seems to condense into the elements of “Light, Time, Perspective and Memory”. He also uses digital, GoPro and phone cameras to document time spent in the environments that he enjoys. His projects tend to emerge from his other interests, for example trips into the mountains, trail and fell running, and wild swimming.
Part of Chris’s series is currently on show part of this series is currently on show in Shutter Hub’s Everything I Ever Learnt exhibition at Cambridge University.
For me, the fleeting serendipitous moments that emerge from life have a more lasting meaning and value than those that are planned. This “series” of images emerged after a look back through some of my photographs from the last seven years or so. They weren’t intended as a series, but over time I have noticed continuing themes that have developed in my photographs.
These images represent my son’s path through learning as he tries to negotiate his recent diagnosis of autism whilst staying focussed on his own ambition. The chronological progress of images also represent my own learning of the diverse photographic medium and is a hybrid of analogue and digital techniques. My interest in photography was rekindled by some experiments with pinhole cameras.
Throughout my son’s education, there has been the involvement of professionals and a slow progression of diagnosis with a variety of outcomes addressing the reasons for a slower than expected progress with reading and co-ordination. The involvement of speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists led to a plethora of recommendations and diagnosis dependant on the professional you had access to at the time; Dyspraxic, Dyslexic, and on the Autistic Spectrum, to name a few. All of this gave us recommendations for how best my son could access his education, but with limited funding and specialist help he has had to negotiate the mainstream school with the feeling that he is literally treading water until he starts his walk home at the end of the day.
My own education took me to art school, studying firstly painting and drawing, and then gradual moving towards photography and story telling with moving images.
I remember a statement made by one of my painting tutors that if the end result was what he or I had expected, then we had both failed. The learning process was one where you should allow chance to be a major player.
This approach has stayed with me, I think, since then, and I have carried this into my photographic work. To push a process to the point where it breaks and begins to fail is the point where you might learn something new.
The most interesting image is the one you seize back from the brink of failure and its structure just about holds together.
My approach to making art and photography is one of discovery and rediscovery, starting the process as if for the first time. I tend not to use the same camera repetitively, avoiding habit and building skills, and to use it both to learn process and to express something about a particular time and place. I still enjoy using film and experimenting with alternative photographic techniques. These, I think, give a greater connection to the process and understanding of the interplay between light and time, this also gives the distance I need to reflect on the context of what I am making.
I think my influences as a photographer come more from my progress through art college, studying painters like David Bomberg, Frank Auerbach and Giacometti, who seemed less concerned with the acquisition of skill, but more with building images through the understanding and observation of light, perspective, and structure. I also enjoyed work of artists who built stories through symbolism, like Odillon Redon.
Whilst there is a lot I enjoy about contemporary photography, my own influences, I think, come from the experimentation of early practitioners of the photographic medium, the film making of Luis Bunuel, and the darkroom experimentation of Man Ray.
The education system, through which my son is still going, seems to concentrate on the management of behaviours rather than engaging with enabling ambition and personal progression.
My son has a relentlessly enquiring mind and thirst for knowledge that feeds into his interests and ultimate ambitions for the future. He concentrates on his own personal encyclopaedia of knowledge to enable him and lessen his uncertainty about the future.
My opinion of learning has changed over time, both through my own experience and as an onlooker/facilitator. Whilst the education system might, if you are lucky, give you a foundation on which to build, most of what we learn, use and remember is learnt through our own enquiry, through experiences away from a classroom and through received knowledge. If I can highlight any one important thing that photography has given me, it is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of events and my role as a parent trying to preserve a sense of enquiry and ambition when everything else conspires to control and categorise.
See Chris’s Shutter Hub portfolio here, to find out more about his work.
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