Capturing private moments of a gritty London


“Point and Shoot” — an exhibition of gritty black-and-white photographs of nothing in particular, the work of the inimitable Henry Bond and his shots of the streets, people and places of London — his home — is now on show at the Taro Nasu Gallery.

Untitled No. 3/149, photograph by Henry Bond

Bond elicits a film noir quality from a city that prides itself on the worst side of its nature. It is contemporaryLondon in all its banality and beauty, portrayed in heavy, highly contrasted black-and-white photographs that evoke nostalgia more keenly than an old movie.

Moments, any moment, are captured in Bond’s apertured gaze and rendered by the same Bond-induced ethos into a grainy, grimy, rough, glamour-infested city. Bond is in love. London is celebrated, and for being what no other city can ever be: London.

Robbie Williams, in a paparazzi shot, is a yob happy to be recognized and have his photo taken in a curry joint. A perfectly ordinary man in a suit at a party tokes on a joint. A posh couple at a wedding hang about on the street, the woman’s eyes obscured (with a little computer manipulation by Bond) by the shadow her overlarge hat brim casts, in an image loaded with everything you could want to guess at about British wealth and rituals. Rows of books sit in some dusty, private library. The images all speak of the life, London life, captured by a peering, voyeuristic Londoner.

Two photographs in the exhibition stand out from the rest, somehow more personal because they are close-ups: one of roses, the other a grid of chainmail, covering skin. The roses appear metallic in black and white, and as they crawl out of the frame they remind the viewer of romance. The chains suggest being locked in or out, compelled to a life of viewing.

Shot after shot after shot, random and in no particular order, is melded into the taxonomy of Bond’s world as he digitally manipulates his photographs into his desired requirement of light and dark, all obscured and tweaked into a demonstration of his love affair with London.

“Point and Shoot,” both the exhibition and the book, is a fantastic roundelay of images taken wherever Bond finds himself. Shot with cameras including digital, APS, traditional 35 mm or disposable (any everyman camera will do, Bond’s romance with his city is not meant to intimidate or obscure with technically perfect shots), some photos are out of focus, and subjects are as mundane as a boot or a wall.

Bond is after all a self-professed photographer-as-artist, and so his technical expertise, which is great, is kept out of the picture. But the famously, impressively eloquent Bond (described by Creative Review critic Colin Jacobson as “splendidly loquacious, extremely articulate,” who nevertheless dismissed this body of work as a meretricious cliche because no photograph had the social impact of someone setting themselves on fire in front of parliament) explains photography, art and his particular photographic impetus.

“For a number of years now I have been making work which is related to the question of not only what is in the photograph, but how is the photograph being made, and what a photograph is telling us in society in general,” Bond said in a recent interview.

“So my work is really a whole excavation of what you can achieve in a photograph that you can’t achieve in other particular themes and forms. I studied art at Goldsmiths with other British artists that are now well known and I treat photography in very much the same way as anyone would treat their art works.

“One of the themes that is obviously important is street photography, and that has been important in artistic photography throughout the whole 20th century — it’s like a backbone in a way. And within that is a question of intimacy and candidness. You can take photographs of people when they don’t know it — you are taking a photograph of something that is apparently authentic or real and another side of that is on the street and how people present themselves — it is not a private moment and my work roams across that.

“There is a huge theme in photography of the private moment, and you could say that is perhaps the greatest contribution of photography to culture — essentially the ability to record intimacy rather than the considered, constructed portrait. We have had constructed portraits through many hundreds of years of dignitaries and monarchs. So all of those questions collide in my work — and I don’t see it being completely evolved in terms of saying ‘this is what I believe.’

“What I do believe in is highly complex. But equally it is not a didactic, moralistic sort of dry body of work on what is the meaning of photography — I am out there trying to make photographs, but I am aware that it is quite a complicated business.”

The city’s female beauties and masculine heros, ordinary people who just look great in burned-out black-and-white, inhabit a world photographed to fabricate a misanthrope London style. The exhibition and book of two years worth of photographs accumulate into a successful artistic body of work, unified by a particularly Bond — Henry Bond — sensibility of cool, calm, detached, subduing elegance.