I’m going to take you forward from that a bit to one of the dominant media of your life that is your use of the camera. At the very beginning, and I think you started playing with a camera in the 1970s, why did you do it? Were you trying to fix images in your mind, or what was the attraction of the camera?
Because I’m interested in depiction, representation, therefore you’re interested in photography. You don’t ignore it. What is it? Does the world look like that? Most people think it does, even I did then. But slowly I began to use cameras and then think about what it was that was going on. It took me a long time; I mean I actually played with cameras and photography for about 20 years. It all took me back to the hands actually, that’s what it did, but it took a long time, er.
But at the time, was there any sense that, I mean it wasn’t developing your visual memory was it?
I probably would just take some little snaps at first, but as I began to go into it, I got more and more fascinated, but it took me a long time to understand this, I must say. And remember, I was in Hollywood.
It would have been strange not to use a camera, in Hollywood?
Well, I must tell you this. When I arrived there, even people there used to say this was a cultural wasteland, and I thought well, some of the great works of art of the twentieth century were made there, actually. Were City Lights, I mentioned, I thought, a lot of them I thought were actually works of art, pictures. They took picture making seriously. I mean meaning there was a side of it. I got to know technical people there, meaning the people who look through cameras, and things, actually making the pictures.
Did that help you change the way in which, how you constructed images, pictures?
Not in the sixties, when I was first there in the sixties, er, I used to go back and forth really. I never had a place, I’d just rent another, it was always easy in LA, just drive round the streets, you’d see for rent sign, it was very, very easy. In London I’d to keep the place in Palace Terrace, you know, you couldn’t come back to London and just see a ‘for rent’ sign there, and do it, so I didn’t get a house till the end of the seventies.
And that was when you produced these large photo collages of a realistic scene, one I remember is the lunch at the British Ambassador’s residence in Tokyo.
Well I started making collage photographs because I realised you could make a different space, you’re putting in time, and they began to be different and you got a different space. I got fascinated by that, actually, and spent a good few months just using, making complex Polaroid photographs, which are far more complex to make than they look.
Oh, I’ve never thought they were anything other than very complicated.
And what was interesting was, I knew it was a bit like drawing and painting. When you began I didn’t know where the edge would be, whereas most people looking through a camera it’s the edge that defines everything, so they grew outwards, it was fascinating, and I realised we see that way, we see in bits. And I realised you could even alter perspective, er.
Because each image gives you rather a different perspective?
Yes, each one is a different one. And I began to be interested in perspective which is a fascinating subject, most people thought it was just in nature, practically, whereas it’s not of course. But it seemed as though photography confirmed western perspective and so on. But actually that’s where it came from, optics, or so I found out later. It wasn’t confirming it, that’s..
But if I can just stay with that photo collage of Lunch at the British Embassy, because it’s a big work, it must be about eight feet by six feet or something, with a few hundred images, which presumably must all have been taken at one sitting.
Yes they were.
And therefore the question of you putting them together was just extraordinary.
And you think, this is what I thought was happening. You think you are sitting at this table. I knew in any photograph normally, you’re not quite connected with it, there’s a gap between you and the world actually, there’s an edge and that’s what the camera does. I was breaking that, meaning you could decide where the edges were like in drawing or painting. I got fascinated with it. What could you do with it. It led eventually to secret knowledge, it did, and that’s where it got me.