ln English photography, Raymond Moore represents something of a phenomenon.
For the past twenty years he has been using the medium as a serious expressive vehicle for visual and philosophic ideals that are far removed from our overriding national concern with journalism. With a burgeoning school of landscape image—making and a growing understanding of the metaphor in photography, it is only now that his work is gaining the fuller recognition that it deserves.
Ray Moore was born in Cheshire in 1920 and was originally a painter. He studied at Wallasey College of Art and the Royal College of Art and began to photograph seriously in 1956. Since then he has had major one-man shows at the Welsh Arts Council Gallery in 1968, the Art Institute of Chicago and George Eastman House in 1970 and the Photographer’s Gallery, London in 1973. Most recently his work formed part of The Land exhibition first seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London and now touring Britain. His photographs have been published by Creative Camera (Nov. 1968, June 1972 and June 1973) and in several books on photography. A monograph Photographs by Raymond Moore was produced by the Welsh Arts Council to accompany his show in 1968.
The following interview has been extracted from a longer conversation with Peter Turner. For the sake of clarity, comments and remarks from different parts of the discussion have sometimes been linked and many questions have been removed. We begin, however, with a quotation from the statement that Ray Moore made to accompany his portfolio that appeared in the June 1973 issue of Creative Camera.
“The single perceptive photograph can suggest the presence of a world that remains almost invisible because of our human limitations defined by time and space. Human fragility and the practical demands of life, seldom render us capable of reacting with sufficient awareness to record the image of a happening at maximum intensity. ln fact we spend most of our lives in blinkers, insensitive to the import of what is around us.
If we were only capable of transcending our space-time limits to some extent, we could witness happenings undreamt of. At this moment there must be fantastic relationships between the things we call objects, but no one there to record them. Natural happenings eclipsed and lost in time. All we can do is to cultivate a state of awareness within ourselves, and allow the images to come through unfettered. Amongst the dross the pertinent ones will serve as hints or signposts to a state of greater visual perception.
Photographs, and particularly groups of photographs, can serve as catalysts to thought and feeling, their limits are measured simply by the person taking them. Whether the viewer’s reaction is exactly the same as the photographer’s is immaterial, as long as the photographs are sufficiently provocative to produce some reaction and increased awareness. They occur through the person (both photographer and viewer), just as much as the image is created through the lens. The person is like a very particular lens. Keep the lens clean and uncluttered by preconception. The more preoccupied you are the less freedom you have to act. Only the relaxed mind and body can truly react. Conscious preconception means insensitivity to the ever-present NOW.”
“The first thing to consider is your background in painting and how that led to your photography.
What kind of painting were you doing ?”
“l had always been involved in photography, even before the war when l was an art student in Wallasey. l was very interested in architecture and l carried around an old folding Kodak and photographed parish churches and details of sculpture and wood carvings. My father was a very good and enthusiastic amateur – my grandfather was even better—so l was interested right from the beginning. After the War l went to the Royal College, to the painting school, and after this l got a job at Watford College of Art. At this point l was determined to be a painter. l was interested in experimental work, doing abstracts, and as time went on l became concerned with the ephemeral qualities of things and at about this time l became aware of what people like Weston had been doing with photography and l decided to experiment with this medium which seemed a more intelligent way of expressing the things that concerned me. Then. as luck would have it, in about 1956 I was asked to set up a photographic department at Watford. It was rather terrifying because l didn’t know that much technically. l used to take the equipment home with me at the weekend and teach myself. I bought Ansel Adams’ books and devoured them and slowly began to discover the ABC’s of photography.”
“I can understand your fears. It must also have been rather disconcerting trying to involve yourself in photography when their was no ‘system’ like the one that existed to support painting. Did you intend to carry on trying to use that system but show photographs instead, or what?”
“Well, I was so engrossed in producing pictures I didn’t really think about it. I would just store my prints up in boxes. If it hadn’t been for someone pushing me I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I was photographing much the same things that I had been drawing and painting and a friend organised a show for me at the school of architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic and I got a great deal of encouragement from Eric de Mare. Then in 1962 I had a show at the A.I.A. Gallery with Malcolm Hughs the painter who had pushed me into the first exhibition — there was also a sculptor involved. I was looking through the visitor’s book at the end of the exhibition and I saw, to my astonishment, that Helmut Gernsheim had been along to see my work. So I wrote and thanked him for coming and he wrote back and asked me to come and see him and bring him more work. I went and he bought some prints for his collection, then later on when he was producing his Concise History of Photography he asked me for more work for that and from then on the ball just seemed to start rolling. But even before that Norman Hall had used my work in Photography and in their Yearbook. I also took part in the Modfot show and had a couple of one-man exhibitions in Wales and through one of those the Welsh Arts Council offered me a show that they later toured. It was, I believe, the first Arts Council show by a living photographer.
That was in 1968 and in 1970 I came across something in an American magazine about Minor White. I was already aware of his work and interested in Zen, so I thought I would get in contact with him. I also thought it was about time I had a sabbatical from Watford and I decided to go to America. As well as Minor’s pictures I had also seen things by Siskind and Callahan in books and they all excited me greatly. When I went, Minor very kindly put me up in his house and I found that my philosophical ideas were very much in tune with his. It came as something of a relief to find that people felt the same way as I did. I had been interested in Zen for a long time, even while I was a painter, and it was very exciting to see how this had been developed in photography.
In this sense I now find much of my early work rather stilted, the later things come through much more smoothly and fluently — almost despite myself. But I believe that one is only an agent, photographs happen through one, you happen to be there in a particularly sensitive condition and feel capable of receiving things and you operate the camera. But it’s almost as if someone on high was pressing the button. You are an extension of the camera — it’s not, as you hear so frequently, the other way round.”
“Are you, then, trying to express what you feel rather than what you see?”
“l can’t divorce one from the other. I think what you see results in what you feel and what you feel probably results in what you see, or choose to see—almost without you realising it. They’re so dovetailed together. But I’m violently against ‘self-expression’ that is self(conscious) expression. I think that whatever we photograph, even if it’s a piece of machinery for an advertising shot, there must be – if we can find it – a minute element of ‘self’ there. It’s the phenomena of choice; you must make a choice and you as an individual govern that choice. The ‘self’ must come through.
I’m just a go-between, things discover me, I don’t discover them. But in them I can find myself and grow. It’s a case of the sublimation of self to gain realisation of self.
In a way using this process one can ‘feed’ from one’s photographs — and from other people’s. I love Kertesz, Weston, Friedlander, Harbutt, I think the world of Cartier-Bresson — not that my work is like his, and I’m also very fond of Siskind and Callahan.
I can use their work as well as my own as part of what I gain from photography. It’s a kind of recognition. It’s like the moment when you feel compelled to press the shutter – hopefully it’s the same moment when you’re in tune with yourself and the thing you photograph. To be able to feel this and preserve it is so important.”