'Illuminations' review: Christopher Taylor's photography book is about family and memory

The collection of photographs that stems from the author’s deeply personal experiences is imaginative and uncluttered.
 

Published: 26th June 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th June 2022 10:27 AM   |  A+A-

Christopher Taylor's Illuminations.

Christopher Taylor's Illuminations.

Express News Service

Christopher Taylor uses photography to map memories. Steinholt––his book of 2017––was haunted by ancestral memories of the bleak and unrelenting landscape of Iceland. Those dramatic black and white photographs mirrored life hanging by a thread over the maw of death. Taylor’s razor-sharp vision was most suited to his monochromatic images that left little to chance. Shooting mostly humans or objects and edifices that seemed to have arrested the ceaseless flow of time, his images were in a wealth of 
hues ranging from crackling whites that segued into the entire gamut of whispering greys, to 
occasionally the deepest shades of velvety black.

In his latest Illuminations too, that strategy remains unchanged, although having taken shape from deeply personal experiences connected with his infancy, his family and Skegness ––a sea resort in England where he was born in 1958, where he grew up, and where he tried his hand at photography for the first time while snapping tourists–– the images are in muted hues that have the delicacy of hand-colourised photographs.

“I felt the need to record this private sanctuary filled with memories and the colours seemed necessary,” he writes in the prelude to his photographs. As Taylor dived deep into the repository of his memories, he seemed to discover how the shadow of death darkens even our sweetest remembrances. Instead of his clunking studio camera, Taylor shot with his 60-year-old Rolleiflex. Just medium format colour film rather than black and white. A journalist friend had given him a bag full of old, expired, colour film––some as old as 20 years––to experiment with. It meant that the colour balance changed a bit sometimes or the film had lost sensitivity, so the results were unpredictable. The film gave interesting results, so he continued with that.

Unlike black and white film, which he processes himself, Taylor, who lives near Montpellier in France, sent the exposed colour film to a lab in Toulouse for development. Later, the negatives were scanned at a professional lab. These scans were then used by the publisher for offset printing. In some cases––as in the shots of the fogged glass panes––the images have a rather grainy look, or (particularly with slide film) a slightly surreal balance of colours.

In Illuminations, the colours have no jarring contrasts but certain warm tones––vermillion, ochre, viridian––and are juxtaposed with cool cobalt blue and salmon pink. These pools of colour are often eclipsed by areas of darkness. A shock of silver is all that is visible of Taylor’s father, who had died before the pandemic. A rose plant raises its arms in despair. The dried petals of a single bloom cling to it for dear life. A big spider with slender legs crawls under a large glowing emerald glass bell. A green jumper lies on an unmade bed. Blue and grey clouds scud across the sky. Daylight saunters past an 
open door. 

The total effect is of unruffled serenity, and even the soft and subdued rays of the sun seem to have a calming effect on the roiling sea waves and the wind coursing through the wilderness.

The book is in two halves complementing each other although different in tone. The paper textures, too, are dissimilar. Taylor’s photographs of his parents and their Skegness home occupy the sombre first half. The second is a “brief family archive”, a scrapbook of assorted memorabilia related to his parents and grandparents. Taylor’s elderly parents, like waxwork dummies in the first half, turn into a beaming young couple in the second.

Somewhat lighthearted though it is, like the first half, it reminds one of mutability, age and decay. You wonder why the book’s back cover with floral motifs looks stained and soiled. Then you discover inside the book that the back cover is actually the facsimile of a tattered comic booklet that belonged to his grandmother who was with the Red Cross. It dated back to the Great War when Taylor’s grandfather was on active service.

Our enjoyment of Taylor’s photographs and the “family archive” is enhanced by the book’s imaginative, uncluttered and handy layout designed by Taylor’s young daughter Katla. Vulnerability is well balanced with humour.



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