A blank sheet of paper – the starting point for any piece of conceptual work. In Maddock’s case it began with photo paper. Once he had the first successful picture, he could see the finished book in his mind’s eye. That’s the starting point for the series called III. Robin Maddock photographs three things that share the themes of movement and fleetingness. The items in his pictures pause briefly on their journey – before light-footed and sinuously bouncing, flying or flowing on their way.
A ping pong ball, a blank sheet of paper and spilled milk – at a first glance three very different objects. How did the idea to combine them into a series come about?
It all started with a ping-pong ball. I can remember the bench I was sitting on when I started throwing it about. I was thinking about the episode in the comic Tintin, The Calculus Affair, where a little square piece of sticky tape travels around the world – an object on a journey. Equally important was the story in the comic Rupert the Bear and the Runaway Ball.
And why milk and paper?
I wanted to convey the feeling that form could seem to shift, that it can change. I used different white objects, mostly when I was in different cities: paper in New York and San Francisco, milk in San Francisco, a ping-pong ball in Los Angeles. It was good to know the one thing I was working with at any given time, so the mind could drift off.
Is it movement that connects the objects?
Yes, levity and brevity, then making something stop in the camera, then on paper. There are moments when I turn the page in the book of the III series, when the categories suddenly blend into one another; those are the moments when I’m happiest.
You used the analogue Leica for this project …
I’ve always had an R 6.2. It’s the first serious camera I bought, mostly because the salesperson told me that Salgado had used one. I learned photography with my father’s old SLR camera – I like the fact that what you see is exactly what you get. I also like the sound of the release – really loud! I listen to the click of all my cameras!
Before this series you photographed in colour. Why did you now opt for black and white?
It becomes more abstract. Plus I was making it harder for myself; I mean, Los Angeles is all about the light and colour, and I’m principally a colour photographer. I also wanted to make something timeless which referenced the times of some of my favourite American heroes: Bukowski, Fante, Chandler, Evans, and so on. Shooting on film also has a different physical aspect: the timing of a shot at high speed in great light; making something sculptural from basic materials was wonderfully freeing.
Which other artists inspired your work?
Some artists that inspire my work at the moment and from my beginnings are Walker Evans, Eggleston, Tom Wood, John Myers, Dana Lixenberg, Gabriel Orozco, Mantegna, Van Gogh, Sergio Larraín, Goya, Dürer, and, obviously, many more.
What is the greatest challenge in taking photos?
For me, the greatest challenge in taking photos is coming out of myself, reaching across the divide to strangers, and still getting a picture that does them justice. If you look at most portraiture, it seems this is still the greatest mystery about what we do. It gives me hope to see myself learning human skills all the time, just through taking pictures of daily life.
Robin Maddock was born in England in 1972, Maddock studied archaeology in Wales before doing a Master’s in Photographic Studies at the University in Westminster. His first photo book, Our Kids Are Going to Hell, appeared in 2009, followed by God Forgotten Face in 2011. The series presented was published in 2014 under the title III and can be seen in LFI 4.2019
To see more of Maddock’s photography and to order his book you can visit his website.