The Broader Picture: A return to Victorian values

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The Independent Culture
IN 1989, the artist Noel Myles went to an exhibition of 19th- century photographs at the Royal Academy and was captivated by their delicate, tactile qualities: the way that the image appeared to rest on the surface of the paper and to occupy physically the fibres of which it was composed. He was so captivated, in fact, that he moved away from his habitual reliance on etching and drawing techniques and - with the aid of a grant from the University of East London - began to research Victorian photographic processes.

Our views on Victorian photography tend to reflect the prejudices we have about the Victorians themselves. We imagine crinolined, tight-laced, top-hatted types, exhorted to keep a stiff upper lip by a photographer hidden under a black veil. It all seems so static, constrained, restricted. We forget that one of the earliest uses to which the Victorians put their new visual technologies was in creating spectacles that created the sensation of multiple perspective: zoetropes; physioramas, nausoramas, kinetoscopes.

The modern photocollage pursues the same effect, but it usually has a brassy, mass-produced aesthetic: David Hockney has used thickly-layered wefts of Polaroids to portray landscapes and portraits of his friends. The Japanese artist Tomoko Takahashi has used butted and overlapped snapshots to convey the dense chaos of her installation pieces.

However, Myles's photocollage of a fir forest in Limoges, France, compiled with hand-made palladium prints and his own mix of chemicals, suggests a long, slow stretch of pastoral history - not the kiss-me-quick immediacy of most photography. "It is different from panorama and is the antithesis of the 'Decisive Moment' of Cartier-Bresson," he explains. "It can provide more information in a documentary sense than a single frame photograph." Wandering through the forest for several hours, he took photographs in all directions, then assembled them in his studio to form the illusion of an organic landscape.

An exhibition of Noel Myles's latest photocollages will be at Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, Suffolk, until 31 October, tel 01787 372 958