May 30, 2012
by Peter Marlow
'For the first time' Amiens, France 1991
With a group commission from The Department de La Somme, and two borrowed medium format Plaubel cameras from Chris Steele Perkins, I went to Amiens in the spring of 1991 with great trepidation.
I found myself in a French City that I had never ever heard of, other than that it played a significant role in the first world war. I found a place where precisely nothing was going on. I had been working reasonably successfully covering news in over sixty countries as a photojournalist, but I felt something was missing, while my pictures were good enough for the market and the magazines I was working for, they were not in my own mind good enough for ‘me’. I felt the work I was doing was rather flat, characterless and generic.
I was getting to understand how light worked, but I felt there was a lack of subtlety in the images, they were either black or white, but with few tones in between. The larger negative format it was a revelation, I could now resolve the gentler in-between tones and I was really excited about the results. I shot a hundred and fifty rolls of 120 film.
From the seed of the lack of action I realised that what I needed to do was to simply look, and try to remove from the equation the plans, the story-line, the juxtapositions, that had become the standard toolbox of the photojournalist.
Deep down I knew instinctively that ‘authorship’ and a unique style, could sustain me through a whole career, and I felt I had finally found the way forward that might stay with me for life.
All the fear of explaining, and expecting things to happen, were replaced with the excitement of simply looking and discovering. The smallest things became the largest, I no longer needed events to make work I was happy with, I could make photographs literally anywhere.
Freed from this anxiety, I could create something from nothing, and so I took it ‘on the road’ and applied the same approach all the work I have done ever since.