Robin Cracknell is a London photographer who works exclusively with film and broken or malfunctioning SLR cameras. Formerly a fashion photographer in Milan, Robin moved to London in the late 1980’s where he spent 10 years producing photographs for book covers. That career was interrupted when his son, Jake, was born but parenthood was also the decisive moment that prompted him to abandon commercial photography and devote his time to his son and, later, his own photographic projects.
In 2006, a series of photographs documenting his son’s early years was selected for the top 10 of 12,000 artists on Saatchi Art for a show curated by readers of The Guardian as well as noted gallery owners, critics and artists. Shortly thereafter, photographs and notebooks from that period became his first solo exhibition entitled ‘The Camera Suture’ at The Whitecross Gallery in London. Since then, his work has been widely published and exhibited including, notably, Eyemazing Magazine, The Michael Hoppen Gallery in London and, most recently, a solo show at Sous Les Etoiles in New York. A selection of his notebooks is featured in the acclaimed 2014 Thames and Hudson publication, ‘Photographers’ Sketchbooks’ with further work from his ‘Childhood’ series in Thames and Hudson’s ‘Family Photography Now’ published in Spring 2016.
Before his 2007 solo show at The Whitecross Gallery in London, Robin Cracknell’s notebooks had never been exhibited nor, in fact, shown to anyone. These small pictures and notes taped to the pages of old stamp albums were private dialogues between the artist and himself; a sort of self-analysis with no purpose beyond being simple meditations on abstract themes like love, death and loneliness.
“I worry about photographs being pretentious; large, glossy, lovingly framed, impressive somehow only because they vaguely resemble something that came before or for sheer scale alone. These small, dog-eared notebooks resist all that. I want people to come closer and wonder about them rather than step back and ‘appreciate’ them as some sort of sophisticated ‘statement’. They’re just my way of working out what I am saying and why I am saying it.”
To understand these notebooks, it helps to understand Cracknell’s fixation with the concept of ‘suture’. Suture, the way film-makers ‘stitch’ an audience into the actions and emotions of their actors, is central to the substance of these notebooks and to Cracknell’s work in general. For him, the camera is less a recording device and more a mirror, reintroducing the artist to himself. Every portrait is a self-portrait. The identity of the boy wearing the water-wings or the girl in the chair is unimportant. What is important is why the photographer chose to take that picture and why we respond to it. The scratchy, pencilled notations and drawings of these notebooks show the searching and unravelling of these motives. The themes of drowning, violence, loneliness, shame, vulnerability all surface in various guises but the final meaning — if there is any — is deliberately unclear.
“What I like about the notebooks is that they were never meant to be seen by anyone and they can’t be editioned. Photography is all about endless reproduction so I suppose I’m trying to subvert that by making my photographs more like drawings or diary entries. Although they have been exhibited and published over the years, they remain quite private to me; private moments with marginalia and text that means much to me but probably indecipherable to anyone else.”
To view more of Robins work please visit his website.