OUT OF POCKET EXPERIENCES

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The Independent Culture
PHOTOGRAPHY sometimes captures intimacies that escape the naked eye. People look, and look away; the camera, by contrast, fixes the image that it captures, enabling it to yield new layers of meaning as time passes. Ordinary objects, frozen on film, often reveal, on subsequent inspection, secret, untold stories. The very permanence of photographs, paradoxically, makes them dynamic.

Over a short period last summer, I travelled through Lincolnshire, accosting complete strangers and asking them to let me photograph the contents of their pockets. Many refused; others, showing startling generosity with their time and privacy, were happy to co-operate.

It was a curious and rewarding project. The routine - unlike the results - never varied. My subjects would show me the items they were carrying and would then choose one or two for me to photograph; items which, they felt, were particularly expressive of who they were or what they were doing. The pose I asked them to adopt - hand held with open palm, as if in greeting - emphasised their trusting openness. These were strangers inviting other strangers into their lives, with complete good faith.

It had occurred to me before I began the project that there would be something intimate about it, but I was surprised by just how intimate it turned out to be. These images are doubly self-revelatory. On the one hand, they are voyeuristic snap-shots of the intimate baggage of people's lives, statements made without the expectation of an audience. On the other, they are also statements made deliberately: after all, the subjects selected the handfuls I photographed because they considered them a fair way of telling the world what sort of people they were; they are self- chosen symbols of self, the human equivalent of the corporate logo. If you choose to, therefore, you can imagine these pictures as revealing both the inner and the outer person: the person as he or she really is, and the person as he or she would like to be seen.

Curiously, the project also seems to succeed in its subsidiary aim: the expression of place. The work was sponsored by the Lincolnshire Photography Commission (in conjunction with the Eastern Arts Board and the Usher Gallery, Lincoln), and I chose the locations for my encounters with half an ear on the county's historic resonances. Boston, Skegness, RAF Coningsby, Market Rasen, the Fens, Grantham: each has its own background, and the local associations with agriculture, the military, tourism - even Conservative politicians - add an extra dimension to the photographs.

Or so it seems to me. Ultimately, of course, these are merely pictures of ordinary people in ordinary places, holding ordinary objects. But that is the great virtue of photography: there can be more to it than meets the eye. How much more depends on the viewer. What you read into these images - what histories you imagine, what details you notice, what inferences you make - is up to you: an exercise of your imagination rather than mine. And, of course, that process may tell you as much about yourself as about the world you live in.

! An exhibition of these pictures, 'Pocket Fiction', is at the Usher Gallery, Lincoln, until 17 March.

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