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Margao Train Station, India © Malcolm Glover

Margao train station, India © Malcolm Glover.

Sculpting time

There is a widely held notion that the camera never lies, that photographs always truthfully represent what is within the viewer. But don’t tell that to photographer Malcolm Glover, says HOT reporter John Cole. 

“The camera does lie,” says Malcolm with his characteristic passion for the subject.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s film or digital, because when you frame, compose, light and process, these are all forms of manipulation.”

Malcolm didn’t always feel this way. After studying at Newport College under Magnum photographer David Hurn, he worked for almost 20 years as a classic photojournalist and documentary photographer, forever trying to capture the ‘decisive moment’, a photographic concept immortalised by another Magnum photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson. The decisive moment has become something of the Holy Grail of reportage photography.

“If there was something at the edge of the frame and it didn’t work, I’d chuck it,” says Malcolm. “But after a while I’d had enough of trying to get an image without the Decisive Moment looking over my shoulder. Always looking for that moment became fascistic, and I began to feel that it really was a tyrannical approach to taking photos.

“I felt like a predator and that I was upsetting people. I was an observer, always on the outside, never the participant.”

Partly because of these feelings, Malcolm started experimenting with film-making around 1994.

“I loved the medium and liked the idea of capturing a sense of time that was longer than 1/125th of a second. However, organising so many people became very time-consuming and frustrating.”

Around the time that Malcolm was making films, digital photography came into being. “To be honest, I wasn’t aware right away of its potential, but gradually I learned that Photoshop gave me the ability to stitch pictures together, in fact to stretch time out.”

However, the transition from classic reportage photography to creating huge panoramas of stitched-together images was not easy.

“The first panoramic I shot was a village in North Wales in 1999 and I realised right away there were dozens, if not hundreds of technical problems to deal with: shooting so that images were overlapping; continuous light throughout; connecting the perspectives so that there was no tilting at the edges; keeping the same depth of field; and endless others.”

But Malcolm persevered, and he was inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s book, Sculpting In Time, in which the the great Russian film-maker talks about the art of sculpting in time when making a film.

The idea of sculpting in time became a liberating concept for Malcolm.

“I became more and more interested in stretching time out in my photography.

“It’s interesting that now that I’ve freed myself from the tyranny of the decisive moment, I feel I can come back to it. Sometimes I still try to get that decisive moment in time within just one frame, which then becomes part of the whole stitched together image. I’m not trying to fool anyone with my photography and in fact I feel my panoramic images are really documentary photography in a different form.

“I print the images very large so it’s like a tracking shot, where you’re engaged with the image and become immersed in it. I like the prints big, up to 25 feet long and roughly four feet high, to get the feeling of taking a journey, especially when pictures are for public buildings. But obviously when it comes to selling work at exhibitions, these are printed at five feet, as most people don’t have space in their homes for prints 25 feet long.”

Some of Malcolm’s strongest panoramic images are the ones that were recently on display at the Lucy Bell Gallery, a body of work that Malcolm has been working on for the last five years.

“I loved the spontaneity and theatre of India and travelled a lot when I first went there. But after a while, I got bored with pointless travelling and decided to shoot some panoramas. I became especially fascinated with the role that water plays in people’s lives in India, especially it’s religious implications as seen in the rituals along the Ganges River.

The Ganges River, © Malcolm Glover

The Ganges River, © Malcolm Glover.

“The first panorama I shot in India was a four-mile stretch along the Ganges. I had about four hours when the light was pretty much the same and I took a number of images: a boy washing clothes, a man washing a herd of cows, boats taking tourists and an iconic plastic religious statue floating along the river. The last shot I took was of a woman standing in the water praying, and although the light was markedly different from the other shots, I kept it in because I felt it was so strong. I didn’t care.

“The longer I stayed in India, the more I became intrigued by transport and especially amazed at the theatre of train travel.

“In my shot of the pastel blue train in the station, I wanted to show the amazing array of what goes on in these trains: people eating, drinking, sleeping, talking and simply observing the world around them.

“I especially love the filmic quality of this panorama. Each train window is like an individual frame on a strip of 35mm film.

“I stitched together dozens of different shots to create the one long image of the train in the station.

“People sometimes ask me if my images are real. Of course they’re not ‘real’ in the traditional sense. But what they are is an impression of an experience I’ve had over a length of time. And to recreate this experience, I have sculpted time.”

Malcolm is also a dedicated teacher, keen to share his craft and vision, especially with young people.

“I love India and I want to go back soon. A man who bought one of my India panoramas runs a charity called The Right Now Foundation and he wants me to work with children from the orphanage, teaching them photography.  It seems a fitting way to give back to a country that has given me so much.”

You can see more of Malcolm’s work on his website.

Footnote: although Malcolm’s exhibition at Lucy Bell Gallery is officially over, one of his stunning photos is still in the window and the others are hanging on the walls. Hopefully, with luck, you can still get to see these amazing photographs.

Posted 21:45 Tuesday, May 28, 2013 In: Photography

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