Terrific piece in the Guardian today about George Plemper’s Thamesmead photographs. Kevin alerted me to them, saying it was like looking at ghosts. He’s right, and I see these very much in the light of John Carney’s The Outside Of Everything – evidence of another world beamed in from the past. A memory of a past that is often at odds with the ‘officially’ remembered versions. Like Dave Haslam’s Not Abba, or even Life On Mars to some extent (but not Ashes To Ashes), it goes against the grain of the accepted collective memory. What’s also really interesting to me is that Plemper had these photos unpublished for three decades before he was able to share them through his Flickr pages. And it is in sites like Flickr that there is that interesting relationship between the global publishing power of the Internet and the personal scale of things. The personal becomes public. Or vice versa.
I do not agree with Plemper’s statement that you cannot be an idealist in teaching though. I think that teaching is the perfect way to have idealism challenged, as you inevitably come into contact with so many different people with different stories to tell. Things suddenly don’t seem to be so black and white. It does not mean that you suddenly become a hardened realist, but it does make youthful idealism sometimes seem pretty silly. Or that at least you are mde to modify that idealism and consider how it can be put into practice. It very much challenges you to think creatively about how you can do what you think is right. It’s one of the reasons I love the job so much. I think Plemper also acknowledges this on the last slide in the Guardian article when he quotes Dylan’s “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” line.
The other thing that strikes me is that you could really not get away with taking these kind of photos now. I’ve had this conversation with people before, about the fear of photographing young people. It will be interesting to see what the visual record of young people in school today will look like in another three decades. Will it be reflected in rigidly posed press release images and/or scrappy candid snaps and video taken on mobile phones? And whilst that just doesn’t sound so appealing now, will the patina of time make it seem quaint and vaguely old fashioned?
Wait and see.