I shot the short film Landscapes early in 1997. Starting in 1996 and continuing into 1998 I took series of photographs with a similar method and aesthetic to the film. The film and the photographs are featured on the following pages.
The script for Landscapes was fairly short. I liked Wim Wenders’s method of taking a journey and the story developing as you shoot (Gilbey 2022; Wenders 1991, 13–15). I also liked the way French New Wave directors, in particular Éric Rohmer, captured cities, shot on the streets, and featured conversation; and the high-contrast black-and-white look of one of Derek Jarman's short films (a video he made for the Pet Shop Boys’ song “King’s Cross,” shot in and around the eponymous London station, projected behind the Pets on their first tour, which Jarman staged) and Don McCullin’s photography more generally. Landscapes was centred on urban walks through the heart of London (St. James’s Park, Curzon Street, Half Moon Street, Green Park, The Mall, Carlton House Terrace, Waterloo Place, Trafalgar Square). I chose the start and end points for the walks and developed the characters of the two teenage protagonists only briefly with the two actors; but other than that nothing was fixed. The two characters were to talk about music, specifically rock and pop. At that time music was everywhere. This was the height of Britpop and Cool Britannia. Tony Blair was just about to be elected and would shortly welcome Britpop stars like Oasis’s Noel Gallagher to Downing Street. The Spice Girls were taking over the world. That height didn’t last much longer. Around six months later, “the excesses of Cool Britannia were reaching terminal velocity,” the “unwieldy bloat of Oasis’s third album” (Harrison 2022) had stripped the lustre from one of the main strands of Britpop, and Princess Diana had died.
In addition to the city walks, I wrote and extensively storyboarded interlinking sequences to be shot in a different, less realist style that would try to capture the inner thoughts of one of the characters, questioning his sexuality and his feelings for the other character. The two different sets of materials were aesthetically connected to my concurrent black-and-white photography practice. The “inner thoughts” sequences tried (not necessarily successfully) to imitate the style of high-contrast black-and-white portraiture I was attempting in studio portraits of people, which was influenced by the light and shadow in Robert Mapplethorpe’s work and Brad Branson’s cover portrait of George Michael for Older, the singer’s 1996 album that is discussed in the film and had been a massive hit—despite its obvious but sub rosa queer attitude and its jazz, bossa nova, and R&B influences, which were antithetical to the laddish heterosexuality, guitars, and Beatles aping of some of Britpop’s biggest if least interesting bands.
In retrospect the locations are somewhat incongruous. I could try and argue that the locations make sense because with Cool Britannia pop culture was being embraced by the heart of the establishment. But that wasn’t my thought at the time. I chose the locations purely because I found this part of central London architecturally and aesthetically interesting and wanted to capture the area on film, trying to bring to the project the same aesthetic style that I was attempting in my photography of London buildings.
Landscapes was shot on Hi8 and edited on VHS in 1997. It was remastered from a VHS copy with additional re-editing in 2022. Considerable imperfections from the original recording mediums remain.
The film can be watched by clicking on the poster above right.
I started shooting the pictures before I made the film. I was spending a lot of time walking around London, often to go to art cinemas and galleries and concerts and things. Sometimes, I took my camera. Walking and shooting made me think of the films I liked by Rohmer and Wenders, and then I started to think about how the photographs I was taking could work in a filmic context.
After making the film, I wanted to continue the project back in a photographic context. Each series of photographs is based on a walk conducted on foot. As with making the film, I determined a start and an end point, and that suggested a route, but otherwise nothing was fixed. Sometimes I was assisted by my friend Tom Schoon, who appears in some of the images. In all cases, I was walking through areas I knew reasonably well—or thought I knew reasonably well. On every walk I discovered things I had never noticed before. There was no rationale for the subjects other than things that caught my eye while I was walking.
After a while I stopped, moving on to other projects. I wish I had continued. Returning to the images and the film after twenty-five years, there is interest and sometimes poignancy in seeing what has (and sometimes hasn’t) changed.
All photographs were shot on Ilford FP4 Plus ISO 125 black and white film on a Canon EOS 500 and were scanned from the original negatives on a Plustek OpticFilm 8200i scanner at 600 dpi. For a small number of the images, the negative was damaged or missing and the images were instead scanned on a flat-bed scanner from hand-developed print copies made in the 1990s.
Gilbey, Ryan. 2022. “Interview; Wim Wenders: ‘When Paris, Texas Won Cannes It Was Terrible.’” Guardian, 1 July 2022. Accessed 27 August 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2022/jul/01/wim-wenders-when-paris-texas-won-cannes-it-was-terrible.
Harrison, Phil. 2022. “Good Mourning Britain: How Chillout Music Soundtracked the Death of Diana.” Guardian, 30 August 2022. Accessed 31 August 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/aug/30/how-chillout-music-soundtracked-the-death-of-princess-diana.
Wenders, Wim. 1991. “Kings of the Road.” In The Logic of Images: Essays and Conversations, translated by Michael Hofmann, 13–17. London: Faber and Faber.