Ciprian Honey Cathedral

Max Ferguson talks to Raymond Meeks about his latest book – part photography, part poem

Upstate New York based Raymond Meeks is envious of photographers that “have collections of maps” and “who travel to far off corners to make their work and come back with iconic pictures and epic stories”, comparing himself to a dog staked in a backyard. But, this closeness to what he photographs is surely what makes the work alluring? Several years ago when Meeks and his partner Adrianna were packing their home to move, he decided to photograph the process – to help, “mitigate some of the hardships that most of us associate with moving”.  Clarifying the duality of this situation he says, “the leveraging of such a menial and exhaustive task with that of making a new body of work definitely softened the impact and even excited the process of both.” And perhaps unsurprisingly, he noticed something else while watching Adrianna through the viewfinder of his camera: “I also came to appreciate her particular gestures and movements, which stirred a deepening of my affection for her.” Adding that, “it was almost an out-of-body experience.” This closeness between Meeks and Adrianna is what we are allowed to glimpse in Ciprian Honey Cathedral.

The first thing I noticed when I tore open the eagerly awaited brown cardboard package was the book’s cover. The pages, of colour and black and white photographs, are encased in a pale greenish cloth hard back. This in turn is wrapped in a transparent plastic dust jacket. Looking down at the book there is no image on the front. Or title. Meeks didn’t want to give too much away. Not even his name appears on the cover. The only information we have is fifty-four lines of text printed in poetic staccato onto the plastic wrap-around. This inspired text-cover-combo is the work of the publisher MACK’s in house designer Morgan Crowcroft-Brown. Before I’ve opened the book two lines – about three-quarters of the way though of this “text-collage” – grab my attention, “too small to read; trees with pasted-on leaves”. Re-reading I notice the title is on the cover. The words ciprian, honey and cathedral each occupy their own line of fifty-four.

On YouTube you can watch several videos of Nick Cave performing Rings of Saturn – the song that inspired this text-collage – and in each one he recites his trademark narrative prose in a deep baritone. Floating, dancing and mesmerising his audience with the lyrics: “upside down and inside out and on all eights. You’re like a funnel-web. Like a black fly on the ceiling”. Watching these videos, drawn to them by Meeks’ photographs, it’s as if it’s me in the funnel-web. I’m hooked. Looking for differences, so minute in the performances, I notice things I wonder if anyone else has seen. And similarly with the book, I come back to it time and time again as I am speaking with Meeks and writing this article.

Photographs of his partner Adrianna, like a metronome, set the pace of the book – allowing other images their own place in the narrative. In the first photograph she is presumably sleeping, on her back. Her head is resting on white pillow, the crop is close on her face and we can just see her nose and eyelids, but the hair that falls down in loose waves is what we are drawn to. This establishes the rhythm for the intro into the book. “The pictures of Adrianna in states of sleep don’t vary much” Meeks says, adding that “in terms of lighting conditions, camera angle and perspective. This creates a steady, grounded rhythm throughout the book—a place to return to— and allows for a more coursing and free-form flow of pictures that parallel and sometimes function independently, where the relationship between two subjects are maybe less apparent.” Each image on the first five spreads is presumably a photograph of Adrianna, but we cannot see her face, she is obscured either by shadow, crop, arm or wall. Who is this person we are meant to know? Speaking at the great distance we all find ourselves in from each other, Meeks explains that his relationship with Adrianna and how it is presented to us the viewer could be at tension with each other. “Our relationship and my motives have been clear between Adrianna and I, but for the viewer about to experience the work for the first time, I also felt it was important that they could enter with the understanding that she is an empowered woman who lives by intention.”

Halfway through Ciprian Honey Cathedral we come to a photograph of a stack of shallow bowls taken when they were moving house. On top of each one is a torn sheet of corrugated cardboard. The jagged edges are as wild as the plates are perfect. This, presumably recycled from their original intended use, is to protect the bowls from one another. Everything is delicate and the stack is high – as if it may teeter over at any time. It is the textural difference between card and china that stops me on this page. Looking back through the book again I see another photo – perhaps for the first time. In it a brittle leaf lays against the soft skin of Adrianna’s arm.

And the long wait is over. What we are left with is a book – part poem, part photography – that Meeks at one point described as a “love song”.  And another wait, to see what this modern master of photography makes next.

Ciprian Honey Cathedral by Raymond Meeks is published by MACK books

Peckham 24

As Peckham 24 opens its doors for its 4th edition, Emma Bowkett, director of photography at FT Weekend Magazine, discusses her new exhibition, the definition of community and the subtleties of language and narrative within photography

I wondered to myself whether this whole community that seemed so grey
and heavy 
was hiding an array of colours and a sparkle in their souls
for those who could see 
beyond the surface
– E.A Karlfeldt, 1926

Peckham, the alleged birthplace of William Blake’s poem Angel and once home to Antony Gormley’s phallic Bollards is today hosting the 4th edition of Peckham 24, a contemporary photography art fair held across its Copeland Gallery, Unit 8 and Seen Fifteen. 

Co-founded by artist Jo Dennis and curator Vivienne Gamble, the short festival— showcasing the work of 25 international artists across 13 exhibitions, including Larry Achiampong, Maja Daniels and Raymond Meeks — endeavours to highlight the collaborative effort between artist, curator and community alike, returning this year to its grassroots with a theme harnessing both Collaboration x Community.

Baud Postma, Photographic Memory

Photographic Memory, displayed at Safehouse 2, reimagines the first ever shared facebook album of artist Baud Postma documenting his travels through the Sahara, presented alongside film-stills from David Lean’s 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia and an immersive installation created with set designer Jabez Bartlett. Using his personal archive as departing point, Postma depicts both a ‘death’ of first-hand experience within the social media age and photography as a new means through which to construct the self.

Where John Berger in his essay Understanding a Photograph looked at photography’s integral play with time and the human choice made “between photographing at x moment or at y moment”, Postma develops this within the context of our digital age and social identity. What decision is now being made? 

Tenzing Dakpa, Urgency/Calling 2016, from the series The Hotel

For those who could see beyond the surface displayed at the Copeland Gallery also presents the work of six leading international artists and their disparate personal and political engagements with their external surroundings. Using photography, dance, sculpture and sound art Marianne Bjørnmyr, Tenzing Dakpa, Maja Daniels, Katrin Koenning, Raymond Meeks and Alexander Mourant respectively depict the tension that exists between both community and identity, the external and internal, beautifully illustrating Berger’s thoughts on the photograph as “recording what has been seen, always and by its nature refers to what is not seen”. 

Curator Emma Bowkett, director of photography at the Financial Times Weekend Magazine and winner of the Firecracker Contributors Award (recognising women who have had a substantial impact on the photography industry), talked to Port on the experimental energy of Peckham24, emotional response to photography and the slippery definition of community in the present political and cultural moment.

As part of the advisory committee and a curator at Peckham24, what is it that particularly resonates with you when looking at an artist’s work?

With regards to what resonates, it is often an emotional response. I will be drawn to an artists’ work by their creative approach to storytelling, the subtleties of this language and the vigour in which they strive to communicate this narrative.

The theme for this year’s edition of Peckham24 celebrates its grassroots, founded in community and collaboration. You have said that the term ‘community’ is becoming ever more fluid and complex. Can you talk a little about your curatorial process for the exhibition? How did you select artists in relation to the theme of community?

These six artists are people I have been working with for some time, or artists I have been wanting to work with. I made the decision to focus on the theme of community and Raymond Meeks’ project Halfstory Halflife was the first work selected for it. I had seen his prints at Unseen Photo Fair with Galerie Wouter van Leeuwen and was completely blown away by it. I showed Katrin Koenning at Triennale der Photographie Hamburg last year and was keen to work with her again. Alexander Mourant made new work for this show but also for the FT Weekend Magazine Photo London supplement. I think it felt natural to bring these artists together in the space.

The title for your exhibition at this year’s Peckham24 is For those who could see beyond the surface. To me, the title’s use of tense is ambiguous, creating multiple possible interpretations. Could you expand a little on the choice behind this title?

The concept of community itself is ambiguous, I deliberately chose a title that would reflect this. What draws people together in commonality can be a physical or metaphorical space. Or it can be music, politics, religion – layers of these threads intertwined. The title is taken from a text that was published in the 1926 Swedish Tourism Association Yearbook. E.A Karlfeldt describes his encounter with Tenn Lars Persson and Maja Daniels uses the text as the opening quote for her book “Elf Dalia”. I loved its contemporary feel. Here below, the quote in full:

“I wondered to myself whether this whole community that seemed so grey and heavy was hiding an array of colours and a sparkle in their souls for those who could see beyond the surface.”

“This year Peckham24 is showcasing dance, sculpture, film and sound alongside photography. What do you think these additional art forms bring to the group exhibition?

There is an experimental energy to Peckham 24 which allows us to be bold, for us to try new things and see where they take us.

Peckham 24 is on from the 17th to the 19th May 2019. For those who could see beyond the surface is on at the Copeland Gallery and Photographic Memory is displayed at Safehouse 2.