There is nothing spontaneous in Andrew Greaves’ work as a photographer. Images are carefully composed of assembled objects, and the objects themselves are chosen in a concentrated and sreious manner. The resulting photographs are as far removed from the ‘frozen instant’ of reportage or documentary photography, the slice of life image that gives us a glimpse of another reality, as it is possible to be be within the same medium. Such photographs project us into an imaginative reaction to those other worlds; the picture is believed in as a substitute for reality. Commonly we expect this of photography, in art or in journalism. Photographs  in reproduction are constantly consumed by all of us in the media and in advertising. Most of the time we are scanning photographic images for information, accurate representation or facts. To scan a photograph as if it was a painting, which is necessary with Greaves’ images, and to be denied facts, is for many people a fresh experience.His photographs hold the attention because they are strongly composed, form comes first, and they do not obviously reveal their content. The intrigue prolongs the eye’s open minded engagement, we are cast into an enquiring role. Greaves photographs are not routes into other worlds, they are objects in themselves. Modernism brought an awareness of a painting as an object, abstraction closed off avenues of interest in the subject matter  for its own sake and preoccupations with verisimilitude. Photography, as practiced by artists such as Man Ray since the early decades of this century, has had an abstract vein in line with painting, but it has not been so apparent to the majority audience.

Greaves’ background includes abstract painting, not still-life painting, though his photographs are still-lives. But this is their secondary aspect. The objects portrayed, chosen and juxtaposed with such care, are not being themselves, and what they actually consist of unimportant and sometimes well disguised. The things that he selects are often abnormal in some way, altered by time and nature if not by him. Fish are frozen solid so that they retain their neat trunk-like section when sliced in half, a balloon is withered and organic looking lumps of smokeless fuel are painted another colour. He is drawn to objects with modified recognisability, as a way of making them his own, possessing the things before he can contain them within an image. The first purpose of his photographs is aesthetic, to make an abstract composition of great subtlety and richness, within the constraints of the (usually) black and white form. But photography almost unavoidably brings representation, and he plays with this added dimension of presenting semi-familiar objects, vivid references to reality that coexist with the formalist emphasis. Unlike many artists who turn to photography, he has gone to great lengths to understand and perfect techniques. The quality of the finished object is as important as the content.

A series of images made in 1988 all contain a flat painted black form which reads as a frame. This ‘frame’ has, superimposed on it, a sequence of very different ‘still-life’ subjects – a pile of sand, textured white paint, dead flowers, severed leads from a hi-fi, broken glass, torn pieces of photograph. They are beautifully portrayed; fish glisten and petals crumple with great conviction. But the realness of these things is open to question , their three-dimensionality, or lack of it; doubts rise about the existence of these objects as upright or horizontal formulations. The feeling that a picture within a picture evokes is always powerful, the sequential process which which created uncertainty about the flat and the solid, about form and space; at any stage in the series we cannot be sure which parts of the image were ‘alive’ at that point and which portrayed. Further play with the scale adds to our sense of intrigue and uncertainty.

Andrew Greaves’ photographs are thoroughly ambigious  and engaging, and sucessfully piosed between wit and gravity.

 

Alison Britton is a leading British ceramacist, curator and writer on the crafts. Was awarded the OBE in 1990 becoming a  fellow of the Royal College of Art in the same year. She also holds an Honorary Felowship at the University of the Arts, London.

She included three of my works from her collection in her recent exhibition ‘Life and Still Life’ at the Univerity for the Creative Arts, Farnham, Surrey