This series of photographs were all recorded one evening at full moon during a program on Channel Four, called ‘Frank’s Secret’. The TV program was a documentary about Frank Sinatra and the suspicion that the notorious mafia boss Lucky Luciano gave him a golden lighter which he took with him to his grave. That was Frank’s secret, as well as the official secret that he was connected to the underworld during his singing career.
Photography as a practice as well as a document and an object of desire can reveal secrets of things, people and events from the past as well as the present and the future. For example, within the justice system and indeed in the intelligence communities’ photography is used as a surveillance tool to record and witness transactions both physical and electronically often covert and often obtained illegally. A paparazzi also ‘steal’ secrets from the private lives of celebs whom they chase endlessly in their pursuit for high prizes paid by the tabloid press to satisfy a public appetite for gossip and entertainment. People looking at pornographic images often keep this activity as a secret from family, friends and colleagues. A street photographer stalking cities and urban populated areas are looking to reveal unnoticed and surreal moments of the poetics of daily life. Revealing secrets are fundamental for the socially concerned photojournalist who wants to ‘show’ us hidden human elements of our complex social structures of groups, types and communities. We are all voyeurs getting pleasure from looking at the visual world through pictures and photography as a secret activity and the photograph as a secret document will carry on without limits.
Using the idea of secrets as a metaphor, the secret in these photographs is somewhat more ambiguous and complex. The secrets here are manifold as the people living in the house may be watching the programme about Frank’s secret or indeed have secrets of their own. On the other hand it may be that it is the photographer who has a secret; he is secretly photographing houses at night taking up a position akin to a peeping Tom or a spy. Indeed his secrets may be compulsory, contrived or of an invested interest. But perhaps more so, the voyeur is in fact the viewer who is looking at these pictures and whatever secret he or she may bring to the work. As in all art the work only exist if there is a viewer, or as French philosopher Jacques Derrida reminds us, ‘that there is only a text if there is a reader’ and all works of art needs a counter-signature for it to be validated and exist in the world.
What the photograph shows us is a house at night illuminated by the twilight of the full moon, which is contrasted with the artificial light coming from inside the building. This almost cinematic light is greatly influenced by my obsessive interest in films – and particular cinematic experiences and frames influenced the compositions e.g. Norman Bates old dark house on the hill next to the motel in Hitchcock’s Psycho or David’s Lynch’s surreal and eerie depictions of a perfect picture-postcard small-town in his celebrated Blue Velvet. In the photographs the perspective is low as if the photographer was hiding inside the garden but in fact the point of view is fully legitimate from a public walkway that runs alongside these houses and the adjoining sea. Issues of public and private space are complicated further as the people who live in these houses have the fortune to live so close to the sea and have privileged and spectacular views over the sea from their seaside palaces. Indeed most people who come for walks along the water’s edge choose to look towards the sea, away from the island as this instils a sense of romanticism and sublime experience. The British love of nature is sentimental.
But on this particular full moon I chose to look at those houses that parade the waterfront rather than the ocean itself. It is in the man-made world that I find inspiration and beauty and I have a constant fascination with how we control, regulate and construct the environment we live in. These photographs as documents show us the vernacular architecture of seaside villas that is unique to Jersey and other sun-drenched islands in the south of the British Isles. The series of images is a typology of buildings where you can compare one structure to another and compare how some people live compared to others. Our houses and where we live represents our status in the world. They are signs of wealth - or lack of it.