Last Updated July 13, 2018

Peter Marlow

British (Born 1952 - Died 2016 ) FREE LISTING Hot
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People and portraits

Peter Marlow's eye has been defined in relation to photojournalism, but he is not a photojournalist. Initially this was the path he chose, his early years marking him out as one of the most enterprising and successful of Britain's young news photographers. He joined the hard-nosed Sygma group based out of Paris, for whom he delivered the decisive news moments of their trade, but found he didn't have the right appetite for the job. The legend of the concerned photojournalist and the camaraderie of photo reporters turned out, in the Lebanons and Northern Irelands of the late 70s, to disguise dog eat dog competition between photographers hunting fame at all costs. Marlow didn't like war, and he didn't fit in. His portfolio from the Sygma years gained him access to the Magnum co-operative in 1980, for whom he initially offered what was expected of him: more of the same. But for Marlow the whole point of joining Magnum was to be free, and to use his freedom to exercise an independent vision of his own. Helped by the co-operative's brutal initiation process (involving the unrelenting and sometimes confrontational scrutiny of its young members' photography), Marlow found a different way to work.

Liverpool and Amiens turned out to be the sites of key moments in this process. A bleak period in Marlow's personal life led him to escape into his own world in Liverpool. Once the hub of Empire, by the mid 80s the city had became the epitome of Thatcher's downside; a wasteland marked by loss of industry, jobs and purpose. The fabric of its decay appealed to Marlow just as, paradoxically, the undiminished spirit of its people lifted his own. Here he found a place where he could be himself, making a body of work which allowed him both to meet the expectations of the social realist tradition of Bill Brandt, Don McCullin and his colleagues in Magnum, and to explore more personal concerns.

While the narratives of people and situations continued to take center stage in his work, over the eight years of the Liverpool project Marlow found a new visual relationship to the physical stuff of his surroundings; the most startling images involved an absorption in peripheral details - concrete, wallpaper and building materials. The tangential glance was taking over from the decisive moment; a fascination with the surreal and fragile physicality of transparently constructed things replacing reassuring story-lines. He began to understand how to work light in new ways, so that the air in these photographs has tangible presence something that required considerable technical ability.

Today Marlow's reservation about the Liverpool work is that he wore his heart too much on his sleeve. What happened was that while still working in the manner of the photojournalist he began to free himself from photojournalism's constraints.

In 1991 Marlow was given an open assignment by the French government Department of the Somme to make a body of photographs in Amiens. This became the opportunity for Marlow to begin to work in medium format, which proved to be a critical turning point. The slower movements of the medium format camera required a more considered image-making than the small, fast 35mm, the larger negative recording another layer of detail. And the square frame served his now-distinct compositional purpose.

Where Liverpool offered a unique sense of place (to which Marlow had a strong relationship), Amiens did not. The purpose for the client was to help grow the town a stronger identity through the process of commissioning new work. The identity Marlow lent it turned out to be that of his own photographic approach, rendering Amiens distinct not for its particular characteristics but for its surreal absence of character. Marlow's Amiens is absolutely his own, simultaneously defined by material, inconsequential detail and described as a landscape of the imagination. The studied non-place, featuring the absorbing non-event, described with enormous attention to details of no apparent significance this became Marlow's subject matter. This is...