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Source - Issue 22 - Spring - 2000 - Click for Contents

Modest Souls

Article by Carlo Gébler

From: Issue 22 Spring 2000
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View photographs from: Golfers »

Receiving these photographs my first reaction was to wince and then to glaze over mentally. Inflated by snobbish condescension, I looked at the seven subjects in their terrible clothes, each striking their ridiculous (I thought) Walker Evanish poses, and I found myself wondering what on earth was there to say about these? If Arbus, I thought, had done these, she would at least have found some momentarily arresting subjects, some weirdos. She would have given us golfers who were Siamese twins (one doing the long shots, the other the putting, presumably). No doubt she'd have given us naturist golfers as well. But these were boring, anodyne; there was as little going on here, I thought, as in any game of golf I have had the misfortune to catch.

But then I began to look more and more closely at what I had been given and, as time passed, my attitude began to alter. Each picture might have looked similar - they each featured people in their golfing regalia in what I presumed was their golfing environment - but each was subtly different. The devil, as they say, is always in the detail.

There was, for instance, the one showing the old man, the tongues of whose golfing shoes appear to have come free from the uppers that should normally have trammelled them; the shoes, besides, are spotted with little bits of grass. The old wooden gate behind him appears to be unlocked. The stance of the subject is military; he is standing sticking out his chest.

Suddenly, from this wealth of little details, a whole narrative suggested itself. He was a military man, I thought; the position of the chest suggested he had spent hours on the parade ground. And now, in middle age, he held some post-service golf sinecure; he was a greens man, or something like that, who hadn't much money and he played his golf in the morning before the paying golfers took over the greens. He was like a character in a story by Henry James.

Now it may be that none of this true (none of it probably is true); the man is probably the millionaire owner of a bus company in Staffordshire, but that is not the point. The point is that the story arose without my having had to make any effort. And that is a sign, or I took it that way anyway, that the photographer (to paraphrase Stanislavski), rather than loving himself in art, loved art itself, pure and simple.

You not only get stories here; you also get people. Let me re-phrase; the fact these suggest stories is precisely because what you are given here are people; real, autonomous, three dimensional people - people quite like oneself - or as I thought when I looked at these, quite like myself. For me, at any rate, it is critical that when I look at photographs I find I can recognise the people at whom I am looking, as people with whom I share some common ground as a human being. And this sense of shared humanity is always more important for me than any conceptual idea, or any polemical purpose that the photographer imagines the work will advance. Phooey to concept or polemic, I say, give me people.

So, I like these pictures. I think many people will. And even if you don't play golf, which I don't, I believe, dear reader, you too will feel happy and grateful when you look at these pictures. And what a relief, you will think, or at least I thought this, that instead of - as in so much modern photography - being given work that is ultimately designed to reflect the greater glory of the snapper, what we have been given here instead is work that is simply a tender record of a few modest souls at play.

Golfers by David Robinson will be on show at Clotworthy Arts Centre 4th -28th April, 2000.

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