John Myers is back with new book called Looking at the Overlooked – a good title for a photographer who specialises in images of the unremarkable, and who himself nearly fell from photographic history. Working in Britain’s post-industrial Midlands from 1973-1981, Myers created an archive of the unspectacular that attracted attention at the time but then lay undisturbed for 30 years until a chance meeting with a curator. A solo show at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery followed in 2011, kick-starting a comprehensive reappraisal at his work that’s resulted in more solo shows and several publications.
Looking at the Overlooked is published by RBB Photobooks, which also published a collection of Myer’s portraits earlier this year. But where The Portraits focused in on pictures of people, Looking at the Overlooked is a glorious compendium of “the claustrophobia of the suburban landscape in the 1970s”. Focusing in on substations, shops, houses, televisions, and so-called “landscapes without incident” – or as Myers puts it, “boring photographs” – the images are all recorded with a deadpan aesthetic that’s won Myers comparisons to the celebrated New Topographics movement in the US.
“It was a different time to now, it’s hard to remember just how scarce images were,” says John Myers. “Now you can get things on screen, in the early 1970s there was only a smattering of images available. When I give a talk, I often start by handing out a sheet of paper with a list of interests and influences in 1972-75. The names run across just half a side of A4. There aren’t that many on it, and it includes people I was interested in on the basis of one or two images.” But for Myers, this scarcity was part of the allure. After studying Fine Art with Richard Hamilton, he got into photography in 1972 “because I had never done it”; initially only familiar with Bill Brandt and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, as photography rapidly gained recognition in Britain he soon had access to much more. “I was so excited to come across people, when photography suddenly started emerging from the shadows and books were being published,” he says. Myers started shooting with a Mamiya but, finding it “odd” to be looking down at his waist, moved to a 5×4 plate camera and soon found his stride.
“The term ‘Britishness’ has changed so much over the last ten years, I don’t really know what it means anymore to say ‘I’m British,’” observes Scottish photographer Niall McDiarmid, who has spent almost a decade photographing people in the street across Britain. In 2011 he started work on his latest series, Town to Town, which has just been published as a book and which will be shown at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, UK from 31 January-12 May. Initially focussing on London, it soon expanded beyond the capital city and ended up covering 200 towns, tracing a journey around Britain and its diverse inhabitants.