Raymond Moore at the Hayward Gallery

The only major London exhibition of Raymond Moore’s photographs was held at the Hayward Gallery, London, from 24th April – 14th June, 1981.  It was only the second one-person exhibition by a living photographer to be held there. The first was Bill Brandt in 1970.
The exhibition was reviewed by Roger Mayne in the July 1981 edition of Creative Camera magazine, from which this article is reproduced.
Moore was interviewed just prior to the opening of this show and a transcript may be viewed here: Ray Moore Talking.

Raymond Moore’s photographs are the kind that should be seen in a gallery. So first I want to discuss the way photographs are displayed to the public. It is an important question. One man shows are getting shown in major exhibition spaces, and if these exhibitions don’t excite a general public then photography is going to lose the valuable foothold it has gained. Did the 42,000 record attendance of the Serpentine get full satisfaction out of the boringly presented Kertesz show (to be fair the Arts Council had to accept standard sized prints)? My reaction was to go home and look at the book in comfort.

The Raymond Moore display is nearly as dull (at least the single line is occasionally varied) in a context where it needs to be more inviting. Those who go to the Hayward for the Philip King will have to be persuaded to give time to the photographs (perhaps I misjudge English gallery going habits; there are many of course who must get their money’s worth and see every exhibit, progressing heads well to the wall from No 1 in strict order till they get to the end).

I was given a very good piece of advice by Bryan Robertson at the Whitechapel Gallery all those years ago — that the wall the public first sees has to be the strongest display. Now the first impression at the Hayward is nothingness — space and the rectangles of the heavy oak frames. I enjoyed the Welsh Arts Council show of Raymond Moore’s much better because the scale of the prints was much more varied. At this distance of time I cannot remember many details. Certainly “Rosebush, Peseli” was really quite large, and I wasn’t conscious of the framing.

I had taken a group of students, and I think they surprised themselves in appreciating original prints (after no doubt an exclusive experience of photography from reproduction). My deduction is that it was not just “print quality” that was responsible, but the effect of the larger images of a size beyond that acceptable to the print purist. I am surprised that Raymond Moore with his background as a painter does not appreciate the importance of scale. But neither did Cartier-Bresson in his disastrous decision to make his definitive print selection all the same rather small size. I remember how at his V & A show the 3ft enlargements gave a new appreciation of images that were well familiar.

There is no doubt that prints, especially monochrome, do present a problem. By contrast two of the most successful displays of recent years: Dada and Surrealism at the Hayward and “Objects of the V & A Collections” at the V & A had the great advantage of a wide variety of work to make up the exhibitions. However photographs do have an advantage nothing else has — the image can be printed to any size. Therefore a retrospective like the Raymond Moore could be thought of as a planned exhibition. Would there not be more sense in funding the photographer for a few larger prints, than paying to ship prints all the way from Texas and Chicago?

For my Photographers Gallery show in 1974 I designed the exhibition from the start, made prints varying from 4″ x 6″ to 28″ x 43″ and worked out the arrangement of the screens (some white, some dark brown). For my recent landscape tour I relied on my normal variation of print size; but when it was hung at Parnham House (in a room with a very high ceiling) I decided to remake six prints at a larger scale. It does not need too many larger prints to liven up a display. Paul Strand, who had the traditional attitude to print size and print quality, included a number of 14×11 prints in his retrospective, and with telling effect. He admitted to me that MoMA, when they mounted their Atget show, should have enlarged up a few of the plates to avoid the monotony of the 10×8 contact prints.

I think there is often a too great purity in the presentation of important artists, a fear of lowering standards by adding an element of interest. At the Hayward I also found the Philip King too austere, nothing at all on the walls — no working drawings or small works to vary the very solemn and a bit pretentious show. On the other hand I was fascinated, some years back, to see early works in the Bridget Riley retrospective and at the recent Michael Andrews. Artists don’t just hit their mature style — their life is a journey and we want to see where they start out. Michaelangelo destroyed most of his drawings because he did not want people to see the struggle in creating his art, Samuel Palmer’s son destroyed his father’s sketchbooks because they revealed too much. Do we applaud these decisions today?

After this digression — what of the photographs themselves. I enjoy them; they have a quiet, delicate feeling. They certainly sustain repeated viewing; but finally lack that drama I seek in the very best photographs, or an image quality that stays in the mind. It is hard to explain exactly what makes an “image”. You get them in photojournalism from photographers who may not see themselves as artists eg Capa’s dying man from the Spanish Civil War; but Edward Weston could create them as well. I particularly think of Nude 1925: back view, seated, leaning forward. The test here is that the photograph can survive, for instance, as a poster, where the scale is one Weston never would have envisaged and the coarse reproduction a travesty of print quality.

Certain forms seem to work for Raymond Moore. Chief of these is the rectangle. In a direct way it is the basis of “Whitehaven” 1977 (p43)* rectangles within rectangles; and also of the curious “Hardwick Hall” (repr Mar/Apr). In a slightly distorted way the rectangle appears in those mirror photographs: the well known “Alderney” 1966 (p29) and “Reading” 1973 (p83) “Blaenau Ffestiniog” 1974 (p81). More as a diamond shape in “Flatholm” 1959 (p17); and finally a disintegrating shape (which could suggest a face) in the foreground of the otherwise orderly garden scene “Penrith” 1979 (p55). Circles, a form common to many contemporary painters, aren’t so successful. In the Silloth series the subject matter gives the pictures a heaviness. I prefer the wit and lightness of “Nicosia” 1969 (p27).

Lines come into many pictures. Delicately in the short lines of the snow scene “Forest Town” 1978 (p69). Telegraph poles abound — in “Galloway” 1979 (p63) and the stronger “Galloway” 1980. Particularly I like “Raes Knowes” 1980 (p71); here with the sheep on the hillside, the knobs on the telegraph poles can be read as small birds sitting neatly. I like the Allonby series with its little Giacometti like figures in the background; the one I prefer is the more dynamic shot (p65) where the washing is lifted by the wind to cut the top edge of the frame — here again a double meaning: the boy has the illusion of walking on the foreground wall.

I think these motifs are necessary. Without them a photograph like “Kilkenny” 1971 (p72) becomes rather a jumble, acquiring that drabness that is characteristic of recent British photography. Again the reflection in “Hampshire” 1974 becomes rather meaningless without a firm shape to enclose it. Raymond Moore does have another way of organising his picture — that is to place a small white shape in a textured dark surround. It works particularly well with the hand in the enigmatic “Whitehaven” 1976.

There are not enough colour prints to come to terms with this side of Raymond Moore. The Pembrokeshire series are a kind of Siskind in colour. My preference however, is for “Milford Haven” 1969 a study of a Church Hall in pale, slightly acid, greens. There seems a prejudice against colour in the photography world. This is partly justified by the limitations of the printing methods, even those as true as Cibachrome; colour prints give more a feeling of staining than of pigment. However colour is another dimension, and so we mustn’t be too purist (in my experience of exhibiting it is not just the general public who go for my colour prints; it is painters as well, and colourists at that).

There are of course changes in the 21 years of work represented. Changes rather than growth, but Raymond Moore came to photography quite late. Besides, to keep working in a medium of scant rewards is achievement enough. The later work is less concerned with textures and details; it is also more delicate and subtle, and where blacks are concerned they are less heavy (the 1981 print of the hopscotch in the sand “Pembrokeshire” 1969 (p30) is more contrasty but at the same time lighter in feeling). But there are times when I very much like the dark, romantic mood of the earlier photographs e.g. “Bryn Hyfryd” and the two Preseli scenes (p31); there can be precision as well, as in “Sand’ Pembrokeshire” n.d. where the dark square shape is cut by two fine white lines — reminiscent of Callahan. The large print of the improvised fence “Blaenau Ffestiniog” 1966 has a strength that perhaps could have been got into “Reading” 1973 (p83) had that been made larger and heavier to emphasise the sinister figure on the left. For me “Reading” 1973 has a subject interest that the show as a whole lacks. In today’s art I think the balance has swung to too much form.

Although the new book of Raymond Moore’s photographs (‘Murmurs at Every Turn‘) is not the catalogue of the exhibition it uses many of the same photographs. We have therefore added to the text the page number of its illustration.