Raymond Moore – In His Own Words

CC November 1968

This article is reproduced from Creative Camera Magazine, November 1968. In it, Raymond Moore explains something of his approach to and feelings about photography at the time. It was published at the time that Moore had the first exhibition by a living photographer to be organised and sponsored by the Arts Council (Wales).

In this technological era when photography and allied techniques are being used increasingly in the service of science and industry, it is important not to lose sight of its capabilities as a vehicle of individual human communication. So much of photographic image making is thrust upon the public, much in aid of advertising of one sort or another. The results though often extremely skilled technically tend to deal in sugar-coated half-truths with sentimental overtones. In the field of photo-reportage much is inverse sentimentalism, a tendency to view life from an essentially seamy aspect—the bias is towards the grim and grainy. In neither case is this always the fault of the photographer. He is usually directed by editors devoted to the sensational, and to the advertising barons who use him as a tool—admittedly often a well paid one—to persuade the public into buying. So much of this has caused many people to think this is what photography is about and to dismiss from their minds its possibilities as a medium of serious personal expression.

Photograph of Ray Moore by Bob McClelland

The selection of particular images by an individual can be just as much a form of creative communication as any other graphic medium, and to relate these images in a book or exhibition can be a compelling revelation of a particular way of life.
Cartier-Bresson, Boubat, Eugene Smith among many others still seem to me to have used photography to create essentially photo-images, yet devoid of the gimmickry, technical and otherwise fashionable—this month’s model—approach. One feels a basic honesty and integrity that is missing from a great deal of today’s work.

Much of the rot has been caused by the present-day cult of impermanence, fostering a look-once-and-then-throw-away attitude. I get deep satisfaction at looking time and time again at even reproductions of significant photographs. To assume that because a photograph was taken in a fraction of a second it lacks the ability to hold the attention any longer is to my mind quite wrong.
If good taste and design skill are applied to the pursuit of the fashionable and with it’ the perpetrators and the public can be deceived into thinking this is a significant art form, and much of the bleached out high contrast glossy magazine look is only good taste allied to technical skill, though many of the photographers would probably hate to think so.
No — photography is primarily recording and when the recording is skilled and of something deeply felt it can be art with a small ‘a’. A selection from the life work of a photographer of genius like Cartier-Bresson would justify a capital.

Poster for the Welsh Arts Council touring exhibition of Ray Moore’s work in 1967-68.

But art or not, photography should be classed among the major means of creative expression not merely as a means of titillating the senses and pandering to human vanity between the pages of popular glossies, however skilled and inventive the techniques.

Of course the basic reasons behind all this lie in the nature of the twentieth century society, which while defending the rights of the individual, by the nature of its complex industrial structure compels the individual to become just another cog. He is rarely able to realise and express his whole ‘human beingness’ and achieve a state of deep personal responsibility at work, and in his leisure hours understandably succumbs to the dictates of the box and other methods of commercial persuasion. It is conceivable that in the future, apart from a few privileged professionals, only the gifted amateur (one who loves) may be able to keep alive this vitally important function of human expression.

The paragraphs that follow also served as Moore’s ‘artist’s statement’ in Modfot One, the catalogue of the 1967 show in which his work featured.

The strange, suggestive forms of rock and sand, the brooding presence of landscape and the almost surrealist interiors of old buildings are what provide me with visual equivalents to feeling, which I must have to justify a photograph. I am quite unable to explain why I choose particular objects in preference to others, it’s like asking a musician to explain or justify a series of notes. My concern anyway is often more with the shapes, tones and textures objects possess, rather than with any literary overtones they may contain. The message is a visual one.

I have been accused of being influenced by modern art. Of course I have, it’s better than being influenced by the nineteenth century. I am influenced by hundreds of things, all life is influence of one sort or another, one can’t avoid it. Influence is one thing, self-conscious imitation quite another. Anyone living at this time must be affected to some extent by the forces that have produced its painting, music and poetry, and if he is an honest photographer, this is bound to show quite naturally and unself-consciously in the work, governing his choice and treatment of subjects, whether near abstract or photo reportage. The photographs of Eugene Smith or Siskind could never have occurred at any other time.
The meaning and message lie in the photographs, it’s a visual matter and it cannot be translated into words. To me, they sing and celebrate life, or should do, and life is the extension of the person taking them. It’s the photographer’s uninhibited reaction to the moment that counts, not premeditated images culled from the stale air of the past. One of the greatest dangers is self-conscious originality, to try and be original is a sure way of not being. An empty self, childlike and uninhibited, is far more likely to make a truly original statement.

Technical matters are relatively unimportant. I use the camera I am happiest with, and that can produce the type of print I visualise; superb definition and ultra fine grain may be far less convincing than a grainy blur.

Light, from the gentle and persuasive to the harsh and strident, is the magical communicating agent, without it, all in life and the photographic print is black.

© Raymond Moore Archive / Creative Camera