Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Here Comes Everybody by Chris Killip

Chris Killip is not an easy man to predict. His follow up to his first book, Isle of Man - a lyrical portrait of his homeland - was an unexpected molotov cocktail thrown in the face of the political establishment, In Flagrante. Almost twenty years later arrived Pirelli Work which some saw as an extension of the same Northern English community now engaged in the long desired employment after a decade of humiliation. His newest book, Here Comes Everybody, departs to attend the annual pilgrimages to Croagh Patrick and Mamean in the west of Ireland.

For many, the modern enactments of ancient religious rites such as pilgrimages can often seem more observant of the familial tradition to participate than the goal of observance or serving penance. Where as Saint Patrick's ascent on Cruach Phádraig was followed by his reputed forty day fast, the discomfort today is offset by snack food and mylar blankets - small comforts should the journey become taxing. It can be a festive outing cloaked in seriousness. The usual penance - a scuff on the ankle after a slip on the shale.

Through Killip's images, both can be found. The hardcore penitent that walks barefoot up the steep slopes covered in loose rock to the family struggling with grouchy children in tow. The contradictions of past and present abound with many pilgrims carrying wooden staffs to assist in their journey like Saint Patrick while the modern accoutrements of Addidas trainers are more assuring of steady footfalls.

Killip has been photographing these Catholic pilgrimages in color and black and white for a dozen years starting in 1993 and initially thought it 'not his territory' until a visit with his mother in the Isle of Man revealed that he was one quarter Irish. The bigotry against Catholicism his mother had endured had stifled all discussion of her childhood or origins until then. By familial ties, these pilgrimages and community would become his 'territory;' a call to explore these rites from which he had always been distant.

Stylistically there will no doubt be naysayers who see Killip's turn to this calmer subject and his addition of color as problematic when compared to his past work. This is not In Flagrante with its exploration into tension and frustration, nor should comparison be made. Here Comes Everybody is a turn from the outward gaze inward. As Isle of Man was a loving portrait of homeland, Everybody is an exploration back into family but a family he never knew he was linked. Photographers have flocked to these pilgrimages for "good" pictures and at times almost outnumbered the participants but this album seems to have been conceived to make these rituals a part of his own life. This book is a facsimile of a photo album he made and dedicated to his mother who died at 86 years of age in 2008.

Killip's discovery of landscape and tradition is felt throughout. Fences of loose rock piled to delineate property or path are described with the same eye towards beauty as the pastoral views and fog shrouded mountain tops. His pilgrims ascend in small groups and pause in a landscape so idyllic that they teeter on the purely romantic. This is where his construction and sequencing become the most important element holding this book together. His juxtaposition of black and white and color slyly keep us jumping back and forth from past to present, from old tradition to new, preconception and reality. His penitents in their misty struggle upwards are faced on opposite pages with clarity and heavenly crisp light. 'A fiction about metaphor' as he has said of past projects is at work here too.

My full engagement with his journey is unfortunately slightly belied by the quality of the production - the publisher Thames and Hudson hasn't shown full effort with this book. Chris's other volumes have been exquisitely produced where the richness and quality strike the viewer immediately but here printing and poor choice of line screening tarnish his efforts. Like some of the pilgrims, Killip's long awaited achievement has come down from its journey needing a band-aid. Perhaps the very affordable limited edition in which every photo is tipped onto the page in true photo album fashion will allow a fuller realization of this project.

At the end of Here Comes Everybody, Killip relates a story from childhood of returning home early one day from school and discovering his mother playing a piano and smoking. Surprised, he said, 'I didn't know that you smoked or that you played the piano.' Her response was, 'There are a lot of things in this world that you don't know. Now, why are you home?'

There were indeed many things he didn't know which may have been why he turned to photography. This exploration may also be another question that he is asking of himself upon his discovery of Irish roots - Now Mr. Killip, why are you home?


Stuart Alexander said...

I have hiked to the top of Croagh Patrick and it was just like these pictures, shrouded in mist. The experience will make you a believer.

I was surprised to see the pilgrims in the photographs walking. The plaques along the way say that the pilgrims climb up on their knees. I think they would end up with what looked like a stump with a bloody mess of ground meat. The way up is very rough, the rocks jagged and sharp.

Thanks for the alert. I look forward to seeing the book.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the quality of reproduction, I guess it takes a trained eye, I don't see that at all - all seems crystal clear to me.

Other things to mention: the parallels between the rising and falling tide with the ascent and decent of the pilgrims. Perhaps, it's just me wanting to see more than there is, but do the color images meet the black and white 3/4's of the way through, I mean, in bringing past and present together at the summit of the mountain, St Patricks bed? Plenty of details like this to find...

Anonymous said...

Great review, bright and insightful

Anonymous said...

recently went back through isle of man and in flagrante and struck by the fact that i had never noticed before that isle looks exactly as if photographed by paul strand and flagrante as if photographed by bill brandt.

btw, publishers of a particular author don't usually review that authors work. it's a little unseemly.

Chris Livsey said...

Just a delight, the book that is, but the review is fair and not in any way "unseemly" (What a stange choice of vocabulary).
The images feel very graphic to me, bold, simple lines that carry detail within. Lots of contrasting elements as well, colour/B&W, Mist/very clear, landscapes full of people/devoid of people( but not their influence).
I like the album as it is presented without text (in the main body) and agree as to the poor paper choice. Perhaps a more matt finish on the "mounting" paper to contrast better with the "gloss" of the prints ?
You omitted a comment on the colour, that should be COLOUR. Very saturated in a Martin Parr style. This work will repay repeated study and even so soon in its acquaintance I find much to inspire me.

Jeff Ladd the trusted source since 2007 said...

Anonymous at 11:56. I always like hearing from people whose eyes have a flair for over generalization and simplicity. You're quite a sophisticated study of imagery although I bet you can't see the forest for all those trees either. That would suck.

Also, as to your "unseemly" question of my impartiality, I will remind you that you're reading a blog...not the New York Times. It's a blog.

Chuck Shacochis said...

"btw, publishers of a particular author don't usually review that authors work. it's a little unseemly."

Jeezus, what fantasy world are you living in? A Bertie Wooster novel? Who are you trying to kid?

Sebastian said...

I was a little disappointed at first,(the paper the printing the way the numbers sit on the pages the cover the typography) thank you for discussing it at length - it's beautiful - (I'd say ((rather than comparing the work to that of other photographers)) it achieves nearly an anonymous quality) and quietly so.

Chuck Shacochis said...

There are some great photos. It may not compare to In Flagrante but not much does.

Anonymous said...

"Other things to mention: the parallels between the rising and falling tide with the ascent and decent of the pilgrims. Perhaps, it's just me wanting to see more than there is, but do the color images meet the black and white 3/4's of the way through, I mean, in bringing past and present together at the summit of the mountain, St Patricks bed?"

Nice observations. It's refreshing to hear your readings. Chris takes great pains with his work so I am sure there is a lot more to be gleaned over time with this one.

dolphin said...

I got the book today, but I can saying that this book is not my food. >.<

Yes, printing is really not good because small picture in the big
book. : )

Shall I buy the limited edition?
But no money to buy the limited edition. >.<

cosimo d'aprano said...

i loved this book. the narrative is beautifully told by an expert story-teller, you can see the work and thought that has gone into the layout.
the experience was akin to the feeling of pilgrimage and i shut the book feeling that i too had taken the journey.
very simple images with no real stand out shots but as a whole the book really hits the spot.
the print quality lets it down a bit but to be able to release an affordable edition means that the good far outweighs the bad.