This year’s Award winner is Thomas Riggs, selected by our Acting Director Celia Davies who asked Thomas to share a little about himself and his winning project, CROSS BONES, with us:
Thomas Riggs: I’m 22. My family are from a little town in south Wales, and we moved to Leicestershire around 1999, where I “borrowed” my first camera and started studying photography at school. A few years ago I escaped to London, where I’m now living. The work that I’ve done over the past few years has included photography, filmmaking, writing and even some computer programming, but I consider myself a photographer first and foremost.
CD: How did this project come about?
TR: When I first moved to London, I ended up at a poetry night where I heard John Constable reading verses from The Southwark Mysteries. At the time I knew virtually nothing about Southwark, the place where I was now living, but there was something quite seductive in the way John presented this dark mythology of the area, as a place frequented by medieval prostitutes who had been shut out of the City. Of course at the time, I had little idea of how much of it was historically accurate, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying these ideas as more of a mythology, or folklore. When I happened upon the site by accident a year or so later, John’s words came back to me. That’s when I started filming different historical locations around Southwark, just with a couple of prime lenses and a tripod.
CD: You’ve chosen to make this film work largely through a series of static shots and found sound in the same manner Patrick Keiller might, why did you choose to approach it this way?
TR: Through most of the project I was shooting stills and video simultaneously, but quite rapidly it became clear that the video was saying much more than the photographs. I think it had an effect on how I was making the work, too; I was shooting video as I would with stills, to be edited later, so without knowing how much of the footage I would end up needing I would record thirty seconds or a minute of each shot. It doesn’t sound like a long time, but it really stops you from hurrying and you start observing things with a much higher level of awareness. The technique of the static long take echoes this quite well, as it does in Patrick Keiller’s films. (I started working with the long take before seeing his films, but “London” was certainly one of the big inspirations for this project.) There’s a very firm rooting in space and time, a here-and-now-ness that I wanted to achieve—as, after all, everything you see in the film is very much what exists today. There’s a photograph and a few maps, but they were all filmed in the same way. You’d think you could avoid using the Ken Burns approach in the 21st century and just use digital images, but it’s just not the same.
CD: Does the subject in the project reflect a particular interest for you in your practice?
TR: Graveyards are a new one for me, but more than anything this project has helped me develop the processes that are involved in making my work. More and more I’ve begun to understand photography as something useful not only in documenting my curiosity in something, but useful in the sense that the camera itself facilitates that curiosity, by making me look at my subject in a very particular way. Like Friedlander has said, it’s a generous medium; by going out and photographing or filming something, later on I’ll notice little details that become a new basis for exploration.
CD: Why did you choose to make this work ultimately as a film in the end?
TR: While I was at university, I spent quite a lot of time at the Stanley Kubrick Archives learning about his career as a photographer, before he started directing films. There’s a lot of overlap between photography and filmmaking, in technical terms, but there’s a clear understanding of the photographic that Kubrick used to give his films the impact they have. I think more than anything it gave me the confidence to use those technical skills for more than just still photography, and explore the possibilities of working with both photography and film together. There’s also a rich tradition of experimental documentary filmmaking about London, and particularly the history of London, which I felt some affinity for.
CD: What were you are drawn to whilst creating this project?
TR: When I first moved to London it took a little while for me to fully realise just how fragmented the experience of modern London is. Take the tube map, for example: it has very little bearing on the actual geography of the city, but you go down the tunnels in one part of London and emerge somewhere else, and there’s very little spatial continuity to that experience. For most people, London becomes a collection of very individual places that exist only as fragments. Photography is probably one of the few things that can match that experience of fragmentation, and I think certain kinds of experimental filmmaking can be included in that approach.
CD: What is next for you?
TR: Whatever my curiosity leads me into, I guess! I’ve got a handful of half-finished projects I’d like to turn into portfolios or little books. I hope I get to make more films, but honestly, after working on CROSS BONES for so long, I feel a real pull to get back to photographs and prints again. People have suggested I should take some pictures of old Tube tunnels, the kind of thing you’d see in a “Secret London” guidebook—but I think I’ve had enough of subterranean London for a little while.