At first glance, the cover of this book gives little detail as to what might be found within the pages. A series of eight QR codes are neatly arranged above the title suggesting, perhaps, that this book contains a cold, technological study of something, well, cold and technology based. The reality is quite different.
In fact, the book contains fifty images made by both the author and the photographer he has collaborated with to construct this narrative. Mear has followed a fellow photographer making photographs in his local area in order to become closer to the place and this has resulted in a deeper understanding of both the place and methodology. Initially, this method of documenting place becomes twice removed from the subject as Mear puts himself of the position of the documenter documenting the documenter. I am drawn to this notion in the way that if only we could document ourselves as we undertake a project, our methodologies would be in the spotlight, and what becomes of our chosen subjects?
It is clear, throughout the book, that Mear is continually questioning Ellis about his methods and position as a photographer and vice versa:
‘How much do you want to be an ‘excellent’ photographer? Is it something you want to do or is it something you’re going to do? But what’s the difference?’
Ellis asks this of Mear and Mear asks a number of questions pertaining to photography as an art with a series of interspersed quotations from famed photographers throughout.
We pursue Mear following Ellis during the series of moving images (found on YouTube via the QR codes) and, if you can see around the few technical issues – like the increasingly maddening flatlining sound from the van, or the obstruction of road noise drowning Ellis’ voice – then these monochrome records deepen our connection with Ellis. In contrast to the sense gauged from the book, the moving image additionally distances Mear from his associations with the place, presenting mostly as the cameraperson with a few indications that he remains as the camera occasionally wanders off to the side to look at something he is interested in, not Ellis. Because of this apparent distinction, I question whether the book and the moving image are unified from the perspective of the viewer. The moving image existing without the book makes Mear invisible and puts him in the sole position of the cameraperson – yet his presence is palpably felt within the pages of the book.
This book, and the project it contains, is achingly familiar as a documentary project of place. But it goes much further in positing a breadth of questions regarding the role of the photographer and the relationships held between practising photographers. Especially considering those making projects about the ‘same’ place or subject, it has to be noted that this book also defines the distinctions between how crucial the position of the photographer is, how our subjectivities are central to what we see, and the varieties of experience we bring to each enquiry or investigation.
Lucy Bentham, Photograd, 2017.
Just Passing by
This book is the third part of a progressive collection of photographs that sets out a number of stark and intimate images of Coalville, with a focus on Snibston Colliery and Snibston Discovery Museum and people 'passing by' in 2014.
It was commissioned as part of the Transform arts programme established to change the image of Snibston in 2010. It represents a further stage in a journey of exploration of the area and its importance by the photographer Christopher Mear who began his association with Transform as an apprentice in 2011.
Just Passing By is a narrative of place - picking up on the feelings, memories, stories and perspectives of local people who have offered their take on the current nature of this area and how it has altered over its recent history. It offers us all a new understanding of place based on the ingredients that hold and connect us to a location and the way that people engage with it to build new meanings and understandings. Place is a rich and complicated interplay of people and environment and this idea is captured in the work presented here.
Chris has worked tirelessly to edit to a selection of images and viewpoints offered by local people in response to the idea of capturing their feelings of this place at this particular point in time, we are all just passing by - for a short while the custodians of our habitations. His own narrative is interwoven in the process of developing his perspectives of Coalville and its surroundings over his lifetime in the area and he blends this well while allowing other voices to tell their small part of this larger story.
As this book is published the Transform programme comes to its natural end having commissioned a significant body of work, of and about this place and the collections of the museum, which inhabit Snibston Discovery Museum today. This book is something of a farewell too, but it looks to a future as well as celebrating or bemoaning a past - it is after all just set in a moment in time.
Just Passing By successfully marries together individual views to build a collective story - not a polemic, but a story which suggests a strong sense of ownership and loss.
Chris has worked closely with Tom Box, a designer, originally from Coalville and a regular part-time worker at Snibston in his student years. Their collaboration and skills provide a keen and perceptive study in print.
Just Passing By is a fitting final project output for Transform, and does what the project aimed to achieve, offering a different perspective and indeed changing the image of Snibston.
Maurice Maguire, Snibston Discovery Museum, 2014.