+ Visual Art
Narrative, Contrast, Culture and Deathtolls:
A Discussion With Cinematographer Tim Cragg
Mental Contagion: What city
do you live in? How often do you travel, and how long do you typically
stay when you are on location?
Tim Cragg: I recently moved from London
to Hastings, a town on the south east coast of the UK, just under
two hours from London. It has a strong art community and a certain
quality of life that only a smaller place offers. It’s also
convenient as it’s not too far from Heathrow and central London.
I tend spend on average about six to seven months of the year abroad
in various countries on filming assignments. They range in duration,
but in general I am never away for longer then a month at a time.
Mental Contagion: There is a
comparative theme in some of your personal photographic work, showing
images side by side. Is it your intention to show similarities, differences
Tim Cragg: I am interested in the visual
narrative that a collection of images can create. In particular
either using a fixed frame (called a “lock off” in
the film industry) where it’s the subject within the frame
that changes and not the frame (Still Life, Living
for The Dead), or by creating a singular image by the use
of two images, both given equal proportion and therefore importance.
The choice of the two images can work as juxtaposition, similarity
or simply on an aesthetic level.
"China" from the series Simile
Mental Contagion: In the Design
and Nature series, you show beautiful, tightly-cropped images of rock
beside images of Le Corbusier’s Unité
d’Habitation. What connections are you making
between these images?
Tim Cragg: I was interested in the free flowing
abstraction created by natural forces contrasted against the architectural
design of man. I wanted both examples to be (in my opinion) aesthetically
beautiful, and to have an equal level of importance in their own right, to
both be known within their own fields of interest. The abstract colours and
patterns are taken from a location called The Wave in north Arizona, USA.
It’s a spectacular sandstone formation created by the wind. I am inspired
by the design in the natural world, especially when the framing is tightly
cropped leaving the scale, perspective and context unknown.
Le Corbusier’s Unité
d’Habitation is a giant twelve story apartment block built
in the 1950’s in Marseilles. Structurally, it’s
simple: a rectilinear ferroconcrete grid, into which are slotted
precast individual apartment units. The concrete shell struck me,
as been a perfect comparison to the wave.
"Design and Nature " from
the series Nature and Design,
d’Habitation, Marseilles, France (left); The Wave, Arizona (right)
Mental Contagion: There is
something that people hate to love and love to hate about kitsch
culture. Jim Jarmusch's film "Coffee
and Cigarettes" and the film "Fargo" are
great examples of themes that show a culture that time forgot.
Why do you think people respond so strongly to this? What is
it about the Café
Culture series that intrigues you?
Tim Cragg: I am not sure. Perhaps we
all want to belong to a collective of humans and realize that there
is an overwhelming sadness to the breakdown in most modern communities
and when we look to those cultures locked in the past they evoke
a sense of nostalgia to how it could have been. Or is that just me?
"Legs" from the series Café Culture
I entered the café on the search for caffeine, not on the
look out for a new project to shoot. It struck me instantly that
I had stepped back in time. The café had been designed in
the mid-'50s and hadn’t been refurbished since.
It had a sprinkling of customers who looked like they were straight
out of central casting, mostly just sitting and waiting, for what
I didn’t know.
"The Reader" from the series
"Mavis Transcript" a visual transcript
from voice interviews conducted at the café (above)
I came back a month or so later with a friend of mine,
Jack Burton, and have since been frequently visiting the café to
photograph and to record voice interviews of the regulars who virtually
live in there. The café feels very familiar to me, not
as a real place but as a film set. I wanted to reflect this in the
way I approached the images. Rather then using observational street
style photography I wanted to bring a certain contrived nature
of the studio photography to the project. Shot on a cumbersome large
camera, tripod and flash units, it very much involves the balance
of the participation of the subject and a pose that I impose on them.
I feel like I am part of the theatre of the café, whilst never
actually appearing. This artificial approach contrasts with
a natural lighting style and the brutally honest voice recordings
that mostly centre around the themes of nostalgia and regret. Soon,
I too will be part of the fabric of the café. It’s lure
of ‘acceptance’ and
refreshingly strong sense of community within reminds
me that the success of corporate franchising in the café culture
industry is destroying not only these small independent businesses,
but also a space and place where those that have ‘fallen out’ of
society seek sanctuary from the over-ambitious, too-busy, status-hungry
polystyrene coffee cup club.
"Café Transcriptions "a
visual transcript from voice interviews conducted at the café (above)
"Costa Hajiyianni " from
the series Café Culture
Mental Contagion: In your travels,
you've met people from all walks of life, from all over the world.
Can you site any examples in which you've seen similarities
between two cultures of seemingly disparate lifestyles? The series My
Ride seems to lightheartedly explore this theme. What drives your
curiosity about this?
Tim Cragg: The core ingredients that make
us human, not inhuman, as humans can act, seem to be very similar though
out the world. Two cultures that I have experienced that are very similar
and yet totally different are the Touareg, who live in central Sahara,
and the Evenki who live in Siberia. The survival of both cultures
is linked to a great understanding of life skills in their own climatic,
The Touareg are from the Sahara desert, water is scare as are food supplies.
Extreme temperatures of heat and the general non-existence of life make
human existence very difficult. The Evenki, who are a nomadic tribe in
Siberia, roam the Siberian tundra surviving in temperatures as low as
70 degrees below Celsius in winter with very few daylight hours.
"Man With Animal " from the
I wanted My Ride to be lighthearted, and have a ‘grabbed’ feeling
to it. It’s more about the culture similarities that we have with
an association through material goods. No matter where I travel, even
parts of the world that have a history of socialism and a very young
relationship with capitalism, the association of ownership of a car and
what that car represents is prevalent. Does what you drive, a consumed
item, represent who you are? Do we not knowingly make assumptions on
a person’s character by what they drive, wear, etc., or are we
truly free to not pass judgment.
"Russia and America " from
the series My Ride
Mental Contagion: Your Scarred
Landscape project shows images of sites from around the world where conflict
or large-scale violence led to a large number of deaths. The images show the
land and it's structures, if there are any, as it is now, eerily calm, or even
strikingly beautiful in some cases. Seeing these images together in a series,
and knowing that at one time, large numbers of people suffered at these sites,
what thoughts arise while you are documenting them?
Tim Cragg: Do I feel that strongly about
anything to sacrifice my life for it? Whilst our sympathy naturally
goes out to the victims I am intrigued how some people can be
led to believe, and therefor actually whole heartedly believe
themselves, that their cause is worth risking their own life, and
in some cases sacrificing their own life for. We see this with
the huge rise in suicide bombers. Can you imagine feeling that
certain that it's worth giving up your own life? It questions how
we value and what our perception of sacrifice is. If you believe
in something without a hesitation of doubt, does that cease to
be a sacrifice and transform into choice. How does that compare
to the many small but continuing sacrifices that we all make everyday,
that are not a choice, but a sacrifice.
"Red Square" from
the series Scarred Landscape;
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China
- death toll near to 3000
"Tucume" from the
series Scarred Landscape;
Tucume. Peru. A human scarfice site death
Mental Contagion: Working with
the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and the BBC, it's clear that you've
seen some incredible and unique sites. What are some of your favorites?
Tim Cragg: I have been fortune enough
to have had so many varied experiences, filming in jungles, deserts,
the Arctic middle of the ocean and most major cities in the world. They
all have some tale to them. This last week I have just finished a project
in Jordan, with the King of Jordan, I spent time with the King,
met the Dali Lama, escorted around by helicopter. Next week I am
off to the USA to climb and film Mt. St. Helens, then onto Poland
and then Kenya, so it continues week after week, year after year. It's
important to realize that with all the adventure comes a certain amount
of sacrifice. My project Gnothi Seauton touches on the loneliness,
separation from my family, and the ability to only be an observer of
a culture one visits. I use the metaphor of the hotel window to visualize
the separation from the inside to the outside. Gnothi Seauton is an ancient
Greek aphorism "Know
As for locations, I have a love-hate relationship with Siberia in winter.
I love to hate it, but keep on going back.
"Korea and America" from the series
About the Photographer
Tim Cragg was born in 1970. He grew up living in various counties around the
world but has based in the UK for the last thirteen years. His photography
falls under the title “eye sore things” a personal observation
of cultural and social ideologies translated into a collection of images. Comparative,
repetition, juxtaposition and the mundane are continuing themes through out
his work. He also works as a cinematographer and has photographed close to
a one hundred documentaries and has a list of awards including a bafta for
his photography. He is married with two children.
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