"Paul Railton is a photographic artist based in Yorkshire. Railton’s photographs examine the pauses in between the states of space and place. Dealing with the stillness that endures from the interaction between nature and human life. This series of images were made in response to the post industrial landscape of West Yorkshire. The series was made initially as a book, which has been exhibited as BABE 2017, Bound Artist Book fair at the Whitworth and as part of the Light of Day exhibition in Manchester".
SFUK: Please begin by telling us a little about yourself and your interest in film photography.
PR:I have been photographing for as long as I can remember, forever commandeering my grandmother’s Olympus XA and using up whatever film was left, so it’s fair to say I have been photographing for a number of years. I started taking photography more seriously when living in Ireland around fifteen years ago. I bought a second-hand Nikon FM2 from a flea market and as much Neopan 400 as I could afford from John Gunn’s camera shop on Camden Street. I was instantly fascinated by the process of film photography and have been processing my own film from the beginning. The excitement and anticipation bound up in its process, opening up the tank and seeing the images for the first time is still the most exciting part even after doing it for so long along with a little bit of nerves. I moved over to digital photography around 2008 when I was working for various newspapers which demanded the speed of delivery that only digital can provide. I missed the pleasures of handling film and the quality of the photographs over the instant gratification that comes with digital. The magic had gone. Now a little bit older I have been able to combine freelance work with my personal documentary practice and a return to film photography. I have just finished building a black and white darkroom in my loft, which due to the unique way our house is lit means my girlfriend and dog are often restricted to one room for hours at a time in order to control light leaks. The dream of a colour darkroom has passed, due to the lack of decent colour paper. So it is a combination of home processing and scanning for colour photographs. I currently use a Wista 5x4 field camera and a Mamiya 7ii.
SFUK: The images you are sharing are from the series 'Trading Industry for Ghosts', that's an interesting title, what can you tell us about the project and the body of text accompanying the images on your website?
PR: These images were taken on the site of a former textiles mill in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire. The mill was one of the largest producers wool in West Yorkshire until the mill burned down one afternoon in 1961 during the workers lunch break. No one was harmed in the fire, however most of the workers lost their jobs, houses and livelihoods that afternoon. Since then the area has been left, almost forgotten with virtually no signs of the life it once had. If taken at a previous time, each image from this series would have captured the mill, but now only the ghosts of the building and the people who made it remains. As I could no longer photograph the mill directly and having to rely on local knowledge for historical reference, I spoke with a number of people and got varying accounts of what happened, I collected these stories into a poem to allow the viewer to form their own account of what might have happened on that fateful date. Essentially a poem is a collection of words that use literary devices, such as simile and metaphor, to create images of this almost forgotten history in the reader's mind.
SFUK: What is it that you enjoy most about shooting film and how do you think this defines your work?
PR: I mainly shoot on 5x4 film, which takes time. Each image I make has to be carefully considered and there is always a pause to reflect on the photograph before I press the shutter. The time between the pressing of the shutter necessitates a precise, exacting process before I get to see the image. The patience, knowledge and precision this process demands for me, seems to imbue the images with a specific quality, allowing the photograph to take on a new reality. This accounting of my own knowledge, time and labour which is tied up in film brings about the other key factor in processing, the cost. Thinking about how much it costs to press the shutter makes me think twice about every photograph I make. There has been many a time where I have sat and thought about a photograph for twenty, thirty minutes. Waiting for the light to break in just the right way or thinking about how the image might work in a series and then not pressed the shutter as it didn’t feel right. I think this comes across in the stillness and framing of my photographs. All of these considerations combine to make it a really considered process, something which I think brings real benefits to my own working practice. Of course it is not without its drawbacks, I have also missed many a photograph because I hesitated too long or been caught short in how long it takes to set the camera up in the first place.
SFUK: When considering a new project or series of images, what inspires you? Where or who do you go to for inspiration?
PR: I wouldn’t say there is one specific place or person I would go to for inspiration. Researching an idea is an in important starting point. I usually find that projects stem from the smallest nugget of information that I find intriguing and hope that other people find intriguing too. I find photographic theory just as fascinating as the images itself. Critical texts quite often frame my thinking around a project and I will then try to expand on a theme to make a body of work. Using this project as an example, walking past the Hollins Mill pub down Hollins Mill lane and then getting to an empty expanse of land made me wonder what and where Hollins Mill was. This led me to try and find out. As the mill burned down before we had the benefit of the internet and due the financial cuts to local libraries my research became a journey into local knowledge. The wildly differing accounts are what inspired me to create a poem as a jumping off point into the images. As Gaston Bachelard wrote in the Poetics of Space ‘Poetry has a capacity to summon the subconscious is not dependant on its ability to describe space, but rather to direct or set a bearing towards it. Only an implied description will enable us to bring forth those sought after feelings which might vanish if intellectualized’.
SFUK: You describe your work as a response to the pauses in between space and place. It's safe to say your images are mostly devoid of human presence, however they do document human existence, or remnants of interactions. What can you tell us about this process? How do you set up your shots and how would the aesthetic change if a person were to be introduced into the frame? As a running theme between your projects, is there an over-all message you're trying to convey?
PR: This is a very interesting question and something I have thought a lot about. The landscape around us has been present for thousands of years, very little of it has been untouched by human beings. We exist for a very short period of time, I try to reflect that by documenting the landscape in its current form and how the land has been influenced by the people who have passed by it. I like to leave that to the viewer to unpack. In this area of Yorkshire, the industrial age greatly transformed the landscape as it did in many other places, especially in Britain. So far these images have been more powerful without the presence of human beings. The introduction of a person would shift the viewer to the person rather than the landscape and move the timeline to the now. One of the main elements of my practice is to create images that stand up to repeat viewing, I hope to open up a conversation between the viewer and the image. There isn’t an overall message as such, I am interested in the landscape and environment that seems to be at times forgotten.
SFUK: Finally, is there anything else you're currently working on we can keep an eye out for in the near future?
PR: I am working on a couple of projects at the moment. I have been walking the route of the border between England and Scotland, looking at the landscape and the effect of the people who inhabit it. So far I have found a vast open space where there is an imaginary line which denotes the country you are in. This project is still in its infancy, so feel free to follow me on Instagram for regular updates @paulrailton.