< Art Photography pioneer JAMES ELLIOTT on Fine Art Photography
El when he wrote this in 1999, with Page 3's most famous exponent.
JAMES ELLIOTT

On his evolution as an Artist.
The formidable power of Photography. And perpetual creativity.



During an interview with a journalist from the Times, I was dynamically waxing lyrical on the wonders of Art when suddenly my 200mph monologue was abruptly interrupted. "That's you!....that's you!" he exclaimed, as if distilling in a moment of lucid enlightenment, the quintessential foundation of my entire persona. This startled me somewhat as I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, so later when reviewing the interview I made a point of focusing on exactly what had elicited this reaction and conclusion.

Here's what I had said: "Now.....what you have to understand about me is that I have evolved in a totally pure, natural way and I haven't been schooled.... and I haven't been told about "isms"... I haven't been told that this should be X .... I haven't been told that this should be Y ....I have purely evolved and done the things which I believed to be right."

Reflecting on this dialogue later, it synchronised beautifully with some philosophical contemplation I had indulged in recently. I had often postulated the question "What is talent?" "Where does it come from?" and in a quest to understand the plight of a million burned out supernovas, "Where does it go?"

As a young man I had gazed agog as I watched one rock star after another metamorphose into mediocrity. Ditto with artists in the visual domain. The spectacular and meteoric rise of one pyrotechnic talent after another was only eclipsed by the deafening clatter of their demise. Nothing left but silence and a ringing in your ears. I don't need to cite examples as it is hard to find one who doesn't conform to that. When they were young they created work of incredible stature - and now they're making bloody disco records?! What gives?

So I investigated that. I dug deep because I wanted answers. I knew in my heart that this was not my destiny, but perhaps if I could achieve an objective cognisance of the causes and effects at work, then I could ensure it never would be my fate.

I found myself mentally fencing, with many notions, concepts and clichés. "They do their best work when they are young / hungry, etc" "Life has a declining energy coefficient", and so on. But I knew these were just the most obvious answers. Factoids rather than facts. Pub wisdom at best. More to do with social conditioning than truth. Life and a decade of studying Psychology and Philosophy, had taught me that answers are rarely obvious. Simple - yes! Obvious - no!

Here is the answer.

Most people find their identity at some point in Life. I found mine at 13. Somewhat early perhaps, but I was genuinely astonished at the educational system's attempts to suppress individuality.

Didn't work.

Water under the bridge, so I won't dwell on that. But perhaps it strengthened my resolve early. Who knows?! The point to be made is that from the moment a strong persona forms, a process of creeping osmosis begins whereby almost everyone you meet attempts to destroy your identity and suck you into that paragon of homogeneity, which is human existence. Although not human life.

Having learnt that school requires organised rows of cabbages and sheep - I avoided art college at all costs. I knew my ideas were too radical for them, even then. Can you imagine in a climate of black and white photojournalism, landscapes, portraits and fashion photography, me handing in one of my early colour masterpieces like 'Metasphere' or 'Remorse', to a teacher? There's a sitcom sketch in there somewhere. In England at the time, there was what the old guard called "a strong documentary photography tradition". I called it "snapshot crap" and that is pretty much what it was. People trading laziness for acclaim by smoke-screening their mediocrity with pseudo-intellectual twaddle. Later I discovered that much of the art world is like that.

I am certainly extremely fortunate not to have been brow beaten with the Catechism of Contemporary Art at a college. CoCoA, let's call it that. The pseudo-validational dictum wouldn't have stuck with me anyway, but it's amazing how much it does in general. It would be impossible for me to go to an art fair say, or on a gallery crawl, without seeing the homogeneity of it all. I wonder if most contemporary artists realise just how much they are all saying the same thing (i.e. nothing), using the same tired old Visual Esperanto, which has never been adopted as a language anyway and never will be. It really does look like they all went to the same art college somewhere and came out cloned.

So looking back from this point in time, I can see how hard I have fought to protect myself from what I consider to be adverse external influences. Wherever you see a spirit running free on full power you will always observe something beautiful and amazing. It was THAT which one could observe in the early works of those musicians and artists. The reason it faded was that they slowly became homogenised by everything else. Lovers, agents, managers, lawyers, dealers, the establishment, money, opinions, greed - the quest for consensual validation. And they unwittingly became shadows of who they once were, because of it. A fleeting spectre of creativity lost to time.

I have fought very hard against all that. You pay a heavy price in some ways, but it's worth every penny. Few understood my vision early on. Intense, radical work in a powerful new medium was a bit much for the grey cardboard art world of the Seventies with its imbecilic minimalism and crass conceptualism.

You know if a dealer or agent ever says to me "Look James..... maybe some vases of flowers.." I am going to say "YES! Exploding vases of flowers! Maybe a bitch throwing a vase of flowers at another girls back!..... Neon flowers....! Atomic flowers!...... rain-drenched roses on gravestones in a thunderstorm!..... Roses on fire!... Aaaaaaaaaaaargh!"

3.§0

.!cv 5too9 7;p

(I dropped the keyboard)

Growing up as a teenager in the glorious West Country of England I was exposed to very little art. Thank God for that! My originality originates from there. Note the similarity of the words. There's the rub. The question I should have been asking was not "Where does talent come from?" but 'Where does originality originate?". The answer is in the question. It is a matter of how it all begins.

My inspiration came from Life and not from art or academia. Thank the Gods! It enabled me to evolve in a completely pure and original kind of way. In the West Country there is very little pretence. None of this "Oh you just don't understand it!" (Invariably followed by people feigning appreciation and understanding of what is essentially, utter rubbish). Either it is exciting and brilliant or it's bollocks! And you can keep the pseudo-validational theories. There is no such thing as incomprehensible art. Not to me anyway. And my mind cuts through pretension and insincerity like a laser melting ice.

There is, of course, one other reason that people sometimes think an artist's early work is the best. Especially if the artist is an innovator. When an artist is young, the ideas are simpler, easier to comprehend. Nearer normal. My own work has become more complex with the passing of time. And in every way, from the ideas and originality to the creativity and technique. It is all exponentially evolved.

Acknowledge the simple fact, that if you take people forward a few steps, they love it. Take them forwards in gigantic leaps and bounds and most people switch off. The innovator must ignore this. You cannot innovate whilst seeking consensual validation. The two things are mutually exclusive. Unless you are talking to another innovator. So sometimes the artist evolves, but there is a time lag before the audience does. Some of them get stuck in their ways and never do. So it's "Give us the big hits!" This has more to do with familiarity than superiority. You'd be amazed how many people love the music they grew up with. Teenagers are far more impressionable than adults, so that is also a factor.

It's not coincidence that my Art took decades to be partially drawn into mainstream culture. With the Cyber Art, it is the same pattern. As I write this, no-one is making the sort of computer driven masterpieces which I am creating. But countless photographers and artists have now followed my early photographic work, which I ceased to create late Eighties (other than the erotica, as Photography is the best medium for that). So it can happen that the artist evolves ahead of the curve.

Back when I was a teenager, I had of course seen art reproduced in books occasionally, but even people like Picasso and Van Gogh only gave me a lukewarm buzz. Later when I saw the originals I felt no different. I had no idea why.

I eventually realised that no-one was creating the Art I wanted to see - so I would have to create it myself. When I started to dig deep I realised that Photography had massive potential as Art. It also rapidly dawned on me that no-one seemed to share this vision. This new medium - the first real, new art medium in centuries - was where the great potential for Art's future lay hidden. Deviously concealed behind a veil of omnipresence. Hidden in plain sight. Photography had become so much a part of the masonry that it's true potential was being overlooked. As I said answers are simple but not obvious.

It felt as if no-one had seen it! Like this huge treasure chest of diamonds you stumble upon whilst strolling along the seashore. You look around furtively and start thinking "Oh my God, nobody's seen it!" and it just makes you want to take it and run with it!

In those dark distant days I felt like the only person in the world who saw Photography as the powerful new Art of the future. Like a voice in the wilderness howling into oblivion. It was not accepted as Art at all then. This seemed bizarre and irrational to me.

Anyway, I always seemed to have this critical and analytical ability, perspicacity if you like, to honestly see when something was superior. It is a critical ability which was just always there. Even as a teenager. Although it is, of course, now exponentially evolved. In this Media Age of mass cultural delusion, in a world of bludgeoning art world hype, it is something I fight very hard to protect.

This continual quest for an Art of honesty, originality, beauty and substance, is the basis of my evolution as an Artist. And in a lifetime of creating it, nothing has ever changed my trajectory.

I evaluated Photography in the same critical but unprejudiced way. I asked two crucial questions.

First - what are the ultimate extremes of human experience?

The answer came back: "Pleasure and pain best epitomised by sex and death".

Second question. "Would these phenomena be more powerfully expressed by Painting or Photography?"

The answer is obvious. The quintessential verisimilitude of photography is the essence of its power.

Photography is quite simply a superior form of imaging. A more powerful form of Art.

Photography is the future.

Written by JAMES ELLIOTT
1999
Hampstead, London.

1950 words
© COPYRIGHT JAMES ELLIOTT