Catalog view is the alternative 2D representation of our 3D virtual art space. This page is friendly to assistive technologies and does not include decorative elements used in the 3D gallery.
Black Country DADA: Brian Griffin
Curated by Peter Bonnell
"How little I appreciated just how important these photographs at the Blackpool Ballroom Championships, taken in desperation for my diploma exhibition, would become. Being so close to our diploma show, as well as being technically inept, I could feel a cloak of hopelessness wrapping itself around me. Reflecting shortly afterwards, I became convinced that I was being looked after by a greater being and thought that perhaps there was a God after all. Maybe I underwent some sort of conversion. Whatever it was, I’ve continued to feel that way throughout my creative life, like I’m being guided by something or someone more powerful. Of course, having been a photographer for so many years, I’ve also come to fully realise that out of a negative arises a positive, similar to the workings of magnetism. The reality is that these ballroom photographs only just survived as they were dreadfully under-exposed. I soaked the films in Paterson Acuspeed developer – for a long time – and even that still produced only the faintest images on the negatives, along with a thick base fog. I still find it incredible that, six months later, the prints I produced from these thin negatives launched my career after they were admired by Roland Schenk, the Art Director for Management Today. Life in general can sometimes prove to be quite extraordinary, and a life in photography certainly can." Excerpt from 'Black Country DADA'
"I took this photograph in 1974. It was for an article on people commuting into London to work. I hailed a taxi and asked to be driven slowly across the bridge, whilst I took a series of images through the cab’s back window. The inspiration was obviously Fritz Lang’s film, Metropolis. My initial commissions for Management Today were thumbnail headshots for the front section of the magazine. I remember getting £15 per photograph. After a few months I progressed to shooting stories. The problem I had was that I hadn’t, as yet, developed my own style. My images looked like anyone could have taken them. I was not a portrait photographer, and portraiture was slowly becoming ever more present in magazines. However, it was a start – a start in an industry that, even back then, was so difficult to break into. I was fighting for inspiration to develop my own style and find my own way of photographing the managers who appeared regularly in the magazine. My thinking at the time was that if my photographs were too similar to other photographers’ work, then I was going to find it hard to progress in this tough industry." Excerpt from 'Black Country DADA'
"I liked Martin’s looks – very Germanic, very Second World War Germanic. He was very strange, almost not belonging to this world. In fact, looking back I can’t remember any conversations that we had. We just floated together. He looked incredible and was totally photogenic, a seemingly unreal and unlived in organism. I can’t remember where he lived. I never socialised with him, he just entered my life for a short time to be photographed and then left. He never commented on the photographs or asked for a copy. It was as if he was my ghost model." Excerpt from 'Black Country DADA'
"At the opposite end of the spectrum (referring to Brian's way of constructing his images) is the photograph of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. All it took was a sheet of Perspex with a hole cut into it. In order for the edge of the hole to glow, its edge was sandpapered then light was passed down the thickness of the Perspex. My assistant tossed a number of table tennis balls onto the Perspex with the photograph lit by flash and tungsten. I then wound the camera on but not the film, then made a second exposure of more table tennis balls placed on black velvet paper. Prior to this I used the facial grease off the side of my nose and transferred it to a starburst filter to create the flare and starbursts in his eyes." Excerpt from 'Black Country DADA'
Top Left: Han Solo (Harrson Ford) Bottom Left: Darth Vadar (Dave Prowse) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) Top Right: Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) Bottom Right: Darth Vadar (Dave Prowse) "I became good friends with the late Rodger Shaw, who was the creature technician on the Star Wars episode Return of The Jedi. His studio was just up the street from my studio near The Ship of Saint Mary’s pub, where we would play each other at darts. At the time they were shooting Return of The Jedi at Elstree Studios and Rodger introduced me to their head of publicity. They built a basic photographic studio facility in order for me to photograph the leading stars, which I did on Tuesday 9th February 1982. I got each main actor for maybe 30 minutes between filming. I think I probably spent two days at Elstree. All the material was sent to Lucas films where it was promptly rejected and returned to me." Excerpt from 'Black Country DADA'
"The Designer and Filmmaker Alex McDowell took me to a rehearsal space near London Bridge to meet Iggy Pop. In those days, rehearsal spaces were pretty dour. Iggy had some famous guys in his band, amongst them Glen Matlock from the Pistols and Brian James out of The Damned. Iggy came over to meet me and drew up a plastic flip top litter bin as a division between us. He unzipped his jeans, pulled out his penis and peed in the bin. My introduction to Iggy Pop!" Excerpt from 'Black Country DADA'
"Kate Bush had seen my record sleeve A Broken Frame and was interested in having something similar. So, I had to find a cornfield, which I did, half a mile from my home in Little Frieth, Buckinghamshire. Each day I would leave home at 6.15am to drive to my studio in Rotherhithe. Luckily it was before the introduction of speed cameras. On the morning of the shoot I arrived in Rotherhithe Street to see Kate sitting on the pavement alone outside my studio. I smoked at the time, but it was still a shock to see Kate smoking a Carroll’s unfiltered cigarette. That beautiful highpitched voice could survive the smoking of a very strong cigarette. My assistant, Kate’s make-up and hair stylist plus Jacqui Frye, who had designed and made the outfits for Kate, joined us and we left for the location. She proved to be a most charismatic woman and whilst amazingly talented, also extremely sexy. Us horny males sitting in the front of the location bus were overcome with her femininity as she disappeared into the back of the bus in a cloud of marijuana. For a few years after she would send me a Christmas card." Excerpt from 'Black Country DADA'
Top left: Cladding Engineer Top right: Plasterer Bottom left: Lift Engineer Bottom right: Sewage Pipelayer
Top left: Welder Top right: Pipework Engineer Bottom left: Riveter Bottom right: Cleaner
Left to right: Siouxsie, (Singer, Siouxsie and the Banshees), 1984 George Melly, (Jazz singer and critic), photo for Sony, 1990 Brian May, (Musician), photo for Sony, 1990
I have written my autobiography... yes, I have written it myself! A hardback book of over 200 pages, with an insightful introduction by W.M. Hunt. It tells truthfully what it was like to survive and make one’s way as a photographer in Britain back then. I tell the story through my personal experience of those tough times. This virtual exhibition, for FORMAT21, is a brief tour through the book to give the viewer a tantalising glimpse of the content within it. The PDF to the right of this text gives some written insight into a number of the works you find in the exhibition ahead of you. Those were those analogue days! Growing up amongst the factories of the Black Country, studying photography in Manchester alongside my friends Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr, and then filled with trepidation going down to London to make a living as a photographer in the early 1970s. In popular recollection, the 1970s have gone down as the dark ages, Britain’s gloomiest period since the Second World War, set between Harold Wilson’s ‘swinging sixties’ and Margaret Thatcher’s divisive eighties. What was it like to be a young photographer then? By the end of the 1980s my photography was known throughout the world. How did I do it? What did I go through? It’s all in this book that tells the story warts and all. In 1969 I lived at 1 Stocking Street, Lye, in a two up two down terraced house with no bathroom but an inside toilet – which was a luxury in my street. It was a typical terraced street, filled with factory workers and consisting of 16 houses. At the bottom was a factory that was a mystery. Although working, I never saw anybody enter it or exit it. It must have been worked by ghosts! I’d passed my 11 plus so went to a good school instead of the school for fighting. This alienated me from my friends for a while, because no one passed their 11 plus in the group of streets where I lived. At 16 I had to leave school. Mom and Dad needed me to get a job and bring in money to the household, so I ended up in a factory like everyone one else. Firstly at Newbank Construction in Mucklow Hill, then at Rapid Conveyors and eventually at Stewarts and Lloyds on the 8th floor of an office block in Birmingham, only a short walk from where my mother had given birth to me. Apparently, my head was so big my mother had to have 53 stitches to seal the entrance where I’d exited into the world. Back home in the Black Country poor Wanda the dog died of a broken heart, missing my mother whilst she was being cut open in Loveday Street Children’s Hospital having me. Although it was resurrected occasionally, my parents didn’t hold it against me. Each day I would walk to Lye Station and take the diesel train to Birmingham Snow Hill, before completing the short walk to Lloyd House, where I would start work in the estimating office at 8.15am. Standing in the central aisle of the large open plan estimating office would be the chief estimator, positioned under the big office clock checking on our arrival. Our regular finishing time was 5pm, however, when the hands on that clock signaled 4.53pm, I would sneakily scurry down the back stairs and run to Snow Hill Station, to catch the 5.12pm train home. This was my working day for a few years until, at reaching the age of 21, I found a reason to escape. I had become an adult and realised I was in charge of my own destiny. I depicted this early period of my life in my book The Black Kingdom, published in 2012 and accompanied by a travelling exhibition which started its tour in Paris, and finished in the New Art Gallery, Walsall, UK. It is now stored in the archives of the New Library in Birmingham. As this was the city of my birth, it seems to me to be the perfect resting home. This then is volume two, which I began to write at the advent of ‘lockdown’, implemented by our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on Monday 23rd March 2020. The lockdown meant that my life as a photographer came to an abrupt halt, with exhibitions and projects postponed and no clear view as to when it would be lifted. Covid-19, also known as CoronaVirus, had become a pandemic and put fear in all of us – especially people of my age that have been earmarked as being particularly vulnerable. As I write this autobiography, death seems a real possibility. As of today, 100,000 people in the UK have died and it’s like sci-fi land outside with most roads and towns deserted. It’s partly because of this feeling of vulnerability that I wanted to get the stories and images from these years down on paper. It may sound morbid, but if I might pass, I want to leave a story that depicts life as a professional photographer in England, during the ’70s and ’80s. Lockdown has given me the time to do this and so, in a strange way, I am thankful. I write this book not quite knowing what the future holds but holding on to the hope that somewhere down the line there’ll be a volume three. So this is Black Country DADA, an autobiography that I have written myself, with excerpts from my then assistants. I hope you enjoy it, for I assure you I gave it my best shot! Designed and supported by www.thecafeteria.co.uk www.briangriffin.co.uk
As we left the moor and walked back to Hebden Bridge, we felt that we had undergone a religious experience. Photograph by Susie Parr
This is one of my photos about racism taken in a sound studio in Germany (1988). A white set of speakers, speaking into a microphone while holding a gun microphone to a black speaker, speaking into a microphone.
"It had now been a good decade since I had started photographing business people, and I could see a change in the photographic style as I started bringing other people into the photographs. Looking back, perhaps it was because I needed something to make the shots more interesting. In addition, my aesthetical approach changed, and the images became more dynamic, more theatrical and even more aggressive. The reason for this was that I had become a more capable photographer who was far more technically proficient. I’d also learned how to behave in order to get the best out of a shoot once I was in the subject's office or building arrange to arrive early to take a look around and find the best location. It’s so much easier not having the subject with you at this point. It takes away the stress and avoids taking up your subject’s time unnecessarily, especially when working on an editorial shoot where time is of the essence. Set up your lights with, if possible, the help of your assistant – the more lights and equipment the better. This creates a situation where you can truly take control. When the subject arrives, they generally become overwhelmed by your set-up, creating an atmosphere that places you immediately on top of the situation. If you are a photographer with just a backpack and a hand-held camera, then the subject is on equal terms and may not take your direction easily." Excerpt from 'Black Country DADA'