Photographer Stephen Gill has a long-term obsession with the London Borough of Hackney. He is also preoccupied with drawing our attention to the photograph as a material object with a surface.
For his self-published book Hackney Flowers (2007) Gill collected flowers, seeds, berries and objects from Hackney’s streets. Back in his studio he re-arranged them on top of his own photographs of the streets of Hackney, re-photographing them to build up warm, evocative, multi-layered images. As with his work Buried (2006), some of the photographs were also then buried in the ground at Hackney Wick, letting the subsequent decay imprint its own collaboration with the place. They are striking images, even if they are somehow strikingly obvious. Maybe it’s seeing the hand of the photographer so clearly in the image that startles us, but Gill has a light, often playful touch.
We think of photographs, particularly analogue film photographs, as being indexical. Gill’s camera was there when the light bounced off this Hackney scene and was recorded in the silver salts of the film’s emulsion. But Gill’s camera was also there a second time when he re-photographed a print of his first photograph with berries arranged on its surface – now it has become doubly indexical. Gill plays with this doubling within the image itself; arranging berries in the foreground in such a way as to look as if they have actually fallen from the branches above. This playful re-appropriation of nature recurs as a central artistic idea throughout the book, gently shifting our attention from one surface to another, reminding us that the photographs we are looking at are material objects, images with both surface and depth.