Ovenden, Graham. (1 of 5). Oral History of British Photography

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  • Recording locations

    BL, London, United Kingdom

  • Interviewees

    Ovenden, Graham 1943- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lau, Grace (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1. Born 11 February 1943 in Hampshire. Graham Ovenden (GO) enjoyed an idyllic childhood, pleasant countryside and family environment in school. Just after the war, petrol rationing and a simple lifestyle. Listened to Dick Barton on radio. Father was an aeronautical engineer with an understanding of the mechanical. He had an awareness of art at the age of six, and was regarded as a child protege as he was building harpsichords and played the piano at the age of four and when twelve years of age, was painting Gainsborough style. GO: "Technical virtuosity can be a great asset but also destructive. Going forward, when I first went to art college I had to virtually unlearn everything I had already learnt, then realised after that everything you taught yourself was actually the most important." (reference to Elgar who was self-taught, very rare for classical musician to be self-taught). GO was very much a loner as a child, and is still like that. As a painter, it's a long and introvert process. "I'm only now catching up on photography which I did 30 years ago. I was obsessed by the presentation process and platinum printing; all these old techniques are becoming fashionable now. I did platinum printing at the age of twelve." GO did a paper run at age of 9. "My latest book of photographs were taken when I was 13; I was a country bumpkin looking at the great towers of the city of London; it's the reverse of the vision of an East End child looking out into the pastoral countryside. I can understand the poetry that moved Dickins; I had a fantasy, to walk with Dickens through the streets of London. " GO:"I'm a profound believer in William Blake and the 'state of Grace' which a child loses due to education" (ref. Blake who said: I do not believe in education because of its corruption.) His family were not rich, nor poor. His father taught him the rudiments of photography. GO believes that contemporary collections in great museums are filled with totally academic art; the 19th century movement was to overthrow the academies and from 1910 we had great freedom from academic restraint in terms of aesthetics. "Now we have too much freedom and spiritual constraint. You can't have art in total freedom." GO refers to Tate Modern; Peter Blake told him its a fascist building; a vast Nazi monument with fascist space, used in a masculine way. GO believes a cathedral's interior is female, has organic relationship with nature. Influence of American fundamentalism which is spiritually bankrupt and materialistic. CIA's dictate is to promote an arrogant culture, it's in their manifesto. Americanisation of British institutions. Last 50 yrs, GO tried to persuade literate people that photography can be a powerful visual organ in communication. He collected photography from early age; "the human condition intrigues me from a compassionate point of view rather than purely as an analytical observer." (ref. Karl Marx poetry). Believes that modernism is a product of the 19th century involving poetry and vision, but it is lost in the 20th century. Refers to Fox Talbot as a visually educated scientist with no talent in drawing. Daguerre, on the other hand, was an accomplished painter who didn't understand the nature of photography. Talbot's work looked forward to the whole process of photography. GO collected Gustave de Gray's work, an important photographer of 19th century but tainted by tradition of 300 years of painting. Photography is a metaphor for light, its essence is seductive and imaginative; doesn't need to emulate painting. Refers to Vermeer's classical perspective; 17th century Dutch painters used camera obscura lens to paint through. Vermeer was first artist who understood the poetry of the lens and how things intensified through the lens; the first to understand the natural vocabulary of photography. Photography gives an accurate quality of light. GO also collected gramaphone records when he started collecting photographs aged 13, bought his first SLR camera in 1962.

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