Moore – The Light & the Vision

The work of Raymond Moore – an appraisal by the late Bob McClelland, published in The British Journal of Photography in 1969. This was only the second review of Moore’s work ever to be published in a mainstream journal (the first was in Camera Owner in 1967), bringing him to the attention of a wide sector of the British photographic community.

Falling somewhere between the social-realism of Cartier-Bresson and the abstraction of Hajek-Halke, there appeared, mainly around 1920-40, a school of workers whose photographs – which to this writer at least – are separated from the main stream of photography prevalent at that time. This distinction is marked, not so much by the originality or freshness of approach in these works, but rather, it is marked by the fact that the subjects which these workers chose were intimately related to man and his universe.

Flatholm, Wall of Light 1959

The workers – amongst them, the Westons, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand and later, Bill Brandt – were concerned above all with the relationship between man and his environment, and their photographs are witness to the sensitive individual’s quest for ultimate knowledge about his position in the scheme of things. Every image they produced reflects the view that where man does not frequent there exists a powerful force, one which performs all sorts of wondrous things and is responsible for countless mysterious events – but all of this activity ceases instantly upon the appearance of man. These workers showed that it is possible, with patience and skill, to capture the merest fragment of this activity as it rapidly disappears from sight. Each photograph was a spring-board for metaphysical wonder, a catalyst for contemplations and reflections upon existence itself. But their’s was not a naively optimistic romanticism – the subjects and events which they photographed were presented with considerable artistic integrity and not made more pleasant in any way. Adams concentrated, in traditional American fashion, upon the immense, the awesome and the wild aspects of landscape – Brandt was more concerned with the brooding solitudes and melancholy aspects of places. But the aspect which was really common to all was the fact that they dealt in universals – unlike a lot of photography, their work was accessible in any part of the globe and not localised in any way. Their themes were the grand ones – the vast, the mysterious, the cosmic.  

Pembrokeshire, 1964

With the publication of ‘Life’ magazine in 1936 and its rise to stature during and after the war, there was a reversal to social-realism and the grand themes were forgotten. Although Adams and the others continued in their work, the incidence of published photographs dwindled. Except for a few very occasional appearances in magazines, we no longer see any photography of this type – the novelty-drenched aesthetics of the present decade swamps any sincere attempts at the expression of personal values. Nowadays one has to reveal some unpleasant truth, disturb, or make some clever visual remark. We all have to be different or ‘original’ – anything that is odd or unusual brings praise from the innovator of the new. To the man in search of authentic visual experience, the last few years have been photographically sterile. It is with great interest and pleasure therefore, that I notice the growing recognition of a photographer who is undoubtedly signalling a come-back of photography related to personal experience – Raymond Moore.

Raymond Moore was born in Wallasey in 1920. His training in art began at the local college and in 1947 he won an exhibition scholarship to the Royal College of Art. Although originally a painter he has changed to photography as a more suitable medium for his work, and he currently teaches creative photography at Watford College of Art. In consequence, he can remain aloof from the stylistic demands of specific assignments and can remain himself. He has had five major exhibitions of his work and the latest, organised by the Welsh Arts Council, is currently touring Wales and represents’… yet another step towards the inevitable realisation of the indivisibility of all forms of creative expression’. 

Reflective Pool, 1965

Moore’s photography is subjective in the true sense of that word, but not inaccessibly so – he is one of those rare photographers who appreciate the disparity between what is sensed and what is seen, and his work is concerned with the communication of the former. The communication of these individual experiences is integrated, in the form of an exhibition, into a compelling revelation of a particular way of life, and it is through the totality of Moore’s images that his vision becomes accessible. Thus the observation that there are occassionally traces of Adams here, Caponigro there, is really irrelevant, though perhaps interesting from an historical point of view.

Certain aspects of Moore’s work stand out as distinct entities, although all ultimately pointing in the same direction. The first of these has antecedents in Brandt and can be traced even further back to Stieglitz’s ‘Clouds of Music No I’ of 1922. This aspect of his work is best exemplified by ‘Bryn Hyfryd’, a magnificent portrayal of sombre mood which betters everything before it and which is overpowering in its employment of dark tonal masses. Also falling into this category is ‘Rosebush-Presceli’, amongst others. These landscapes are categorised by a dramatic starkness and a feeling of activity of the elements of nature – wet, cold and windy scenes predominate. It may seem surprising that such melancholic images induce consolation in the beholder, but the effect is undeniable. To contemplate one of these images is to experience a great calm, a great feeling of relief, rather like Matisse’s ideal of an armchair in which the mind can relax. This paradox can be reconciled, however, by a consideration of the allusions of these works. In all of Moore’s imagery there is seen a tendency to affirm the presence of forces which are un-named, just as the forces of the desert or surging sea are un-named. Thus, in high-lighting the areas of existence about which we know little, these works act upon us as a release from the spiritual responsibilities of autonomous existence. It is as though Moore were saying ‘Look … we are not alone, after all.’

Temple Rock, Pembrokeshire, 1964(?)

It is this desire to go beyond limits which characterises Moore’s work, and the limits he strives to surpass are those of ordinary human awareness – he is concerned above all with the states of awareness which have no equivalent in the ordinary world of business and politics. In everyday life, our view of the world is obscured by the things in it, and Moore overcomes this difficulty by allowing his inward vision to act, instead of applying self-conscious thoughts. When, in the introduction to the Welsh Arts Council booklet, he quotes from Seng-Ts’an’s seventh century ‘Treatise on Faith in the Mind’, he tells us a lot:

Follow your nature and accord with the Tao;
Saunter along and stop worrying.
If your thoughts are tied you spoil what is genuine
Don’t be antagonistic to the world of the senses
For when you are not antagonistic to it,
It turns out to be the same as complete
The wise person does not strive,
The ignorant man ties himself up….
If you work on your mind with your mind
How can you avoid an immense confusion?

The adoption of this attitude – that of letting one’s mind alone and trusting it to follow its own nature – is how Moore enables his vision to develop. Ultimately this awareness becomes an awareness beyond the self, facilitating entry into the universal and producing a vision most likely to be shared by others. This is best achieved for me by an aspect of his work which can only be described as meditative. These quietistic images – amongst the best of which is ‘Wall of Light’ – are where Moore really holds his own.

Others in this series include ‘Renny Slip’ and ‘Reflective Pool’, the former being a beautiful photograph conveying a remarkable sensation of silence and solitude, the latter being similarly quiet but with a bonus of exquisite lighting and superb formal arrangement. These quietistic images are unique in the medium of photography – whereas Harry Callahan’s silence is the one which precedes a drama, Moore’s is the comforting, contemplative silence so beloved of the art of Asia. In these images we are transported to the vast, silent spaces where time does not exist and man is but a feather. It would seem that, in these works in particular, Moore has found a means of defining certain universal responses to existence – these are irreducible images, corresponding to the most basic human emotions and are at the heart of the visual message.

Other quietistic pictures are slightly different; ‘Enigma, Milford Docks’ being reminiscent of George Tice, for example. In another vein, ‘Street in Alderny’ is a startling juxtaposition of two images with strong surrealistic overtones. Another picture which is difficult to classify when isolated from the rest is ‘Miss Hooper – Presceli’. This is a very compelling picture which can in some senses be regarded as an environmental portrait, and in others as a ‘Figure in Landscape’, the latter predominating for me. Perhaps it could be best described as ‘Figure as part of Landscape’, in the deepest sense. This picture is something of a rarity for Moore, as he seldom photographs the human figure: ‘I find that it seldom works into the sort of situation I am instinctively at one with’, he says. 

Window, 1963

In all his work, Moore achieves one of the loftiest ambitions of the medium – to record and reveal simultaneously. By selecting relevant images and endowing them with his personal technique, Moore produces photographs which are also experiences. When we look at his work, we see things as if for the first time – ‘Encounter replaces habit’, if I may borrow a phrase from Monique Fong. In their own specific way, these works are an affirmation of Baudelaire’s dictum that ‘The whole visible universe is only a store of images and signs to which the imagination accords a relative place and value’. When viewed as a complete entity, the work of Raymond Moore suggests that he is concerned with a Taoist vision of unity – from the morning of ‘Frost-Suffolk’ to the evening of ‘Benbecula’, Moore’s day is a full one, embracing all varieties of experience and revealing a world in which, whether hostile or friendly, sombre or joyful, everything does indeed ‘rhyme’.

Above all, his work signifies a re-evaluation of the medium, a medium which in recent years has been in danger of becoming too literal. Any art-form which hopes to attain status cannot afford to neglect that sphere of the spirit which seeks solace in the world beyond appearance. Like any other medium, photography has its limitations, but it is by appreciating these limitations that Raymond Moore has produced this very significant work which is entirely photographic in character, but which contains as much depth of vision – and rewards as much continued contemplation – as any of the arts of our time.

No matter what advances in technology are made, there will always be men given to the transcendental, to a longing for infinity. For such men, their insight will always take precedence over logical fact, their intuition prevail over their reasoning and ultimately, their pre-logical vision will appear in some form in their work. We probably appreciate such men because they are rare, certainly in the medium of photography at this time.

As for the future, one can only hope that the visionary light radiating from these prints will kindle some dormant fires which are at present being quenched by the damp air of cultism and ephemerality, and perhaps the day will dawn when we can all “saunter along and stop worrying….”.

© The estate of Bob McClelland / British Journal of Photography

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