Tuesday 14 May 2013

Russia: A World Apart (Simon Marsden and Duncan McLaren)

It's very sad that Simon Marsden's refrigerated and dwindling stock of Kodak HIE outlasted him. He was, to my mind, the finest and most consistent user of that idiosyncratic film stock with its haloed highlights and exaggerated grain. That's not to understate his abilities in the darkroom, but it's the classic HIE look that I will remember him by.

With its distinctive look, many people have thought of infrared film as showing something supernatural. When he loaned us a print of Moydrum Castle for the Infrared 100 exhibition, Simon wrote to me saying ...
The goal of my work has essentially always been the same: to demonstrate that magic is real or that reality is magic. I have used infrared film for its ethereal quality, day is turned into night and nothing in this twilight world is quite as it seems. The unusual texture of the film's grain produces a timeless feature that lies somewhere between an etching and a photograph.
The trail that began with ruined Irish castles has finished with an eerie collection of Russian landscapes in the book Russia: A World Apart. Some are unkempt ruins, which always lend themselves to the increased contrast that infrared brings. I sometimes think that our ruins here in England are too neat: should a derelict monastery be set in manicured grounds? Not all the places visited are ruined: the Winter Palace in St Petersberg is not, but stands under a brooding cloudy sky while the sun fails to break out from behind the Alexander Column. Backlighting is another hallmark of much of Simon's work.

Chernyshev Estate, Yaroplets, Moscow Region

I should not forget the text. Duncan McLaren, who collaborated on those Irish Ruins (indeed he instigated that first project) and a post-USSR venture beyond 'the wall', accompanies the photographs and photographer again. He tells the stories of not only the artefacts' past but often what is happening now; the people he and Simon met on their journey.

Russia: A World Apart is an atmospheric book; in keeping with the best of Simon Marsden's work. Infrared photography is a genre that you either love or just don't get. This book demonstrates one aspect of it at its best.

[Published by Mudds & Stoke at £25 ISBN 978-0-9573795-0-3]