John Hilliard

Across the Park


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John Hilliard born 1945
8 photographs, black and white, on paper on card
Purchased 1973

Not on display

Display caption

Hilliard chooses subject matter that can function as part of a model set up by him to test various aspects of photography. He demonstrates how the way we understand a photographic image may be influenced and changed by the way it has been technically created, edited by the artist, and presented in the gallery. All the images shown here are in fact parts of the same single photograph. The man walking is repeated in each panel, accompanied by a different detail of the photograph, so the whole scene around him is gradually revealed. At each stage the viewer's interpretation of the image will change as new information is introduced. Hilliard worked out the shot in advance using a grid on his viewfinder.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

John Hilliard b.1945

T01732 Across the Park 1972

Not inscribed.
Eight black-and-white photographs each laid on a sheet of white card and framed two per frame. Frame size 41¼ x 20¿ (105 x 52.5). Frames to be hung either with equal gaps of their own width (overall dimensions 41¼ x 144¾ (105 x 367.5)) or one frame per wall in a 4-walled room.
Purchased from Arthur Tooth and Sons (Grant-in-Aid) 1973.
Exh: Critic’s Choice, Arthur Tooth and Sons; March 1973 (no catalogue numbers; two details repr.); From Henry Moore to Gilbert, and George, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, September–November 1973 (124, repr).

The following notes, based on a conversation with the artist in April 1974, have been approved by him.

Each sheet of white card on which a photograph is laid measures 20 x 20 in. There are two such sheets per frame, placed one above the other. Each of the eight photographs shows, same size (6 x 6 in.), the image of a man walking across the field of view. This identical photograph appears, centrally placed, on each of the four upper sheets. Each of the photographs on the four lower sheets is a rectangle measuring either 12 x 6 in. or 6 x 12 in. according to its orientation. Half of each rectangular photograph is occupied by the same 6 x 6 in. image of the walking man that appears in the photograph above it. This image is a detail from a negative showing a more extensive scene. Thus the other half of each rectangular photograph is occupied by a 6 x 6 in. extension of the repeated image. Reading from left to right of the four frames, the rectangular photographs extend the common image downwards (showing two white lines which Hilliard had painted on the grass), to the right (showing a girl walking ahead of the man and in the same direction, but turning, smiling, to look behind her), upwards (showing a balloon), and to the left (showing a man running behind and towards the walking man, holding a stick with which he appears to be about to assault him).

The photograph used in T01732 was taken by John Hilliard in the early summer of 1972, on Hampstead Heath (below Kenwood) near its point of entry from Millfield Lane. The walking man is Gavin Charlton-Brown, the girl is his wife, and the running man is Dr Howard Swatland. Like the photographs in T01731, this one was taken with a Yashicaflex twin lens reflex camera. Hilliard had worked out in advance what the figures should be doing in the photograph, and their positions relative to one another and to the other elements. The balloon was attached to a string, barely visible in the photograph, which the central figure held as he walked. On his camera’s square viewfinder, which was of the same format as each negative, Hilliard made a linear grid which divided it into nine equal squares. The elements that appear in T01732 had to fall simultaneously into the correct positions in the five of these compartments that made up a rectilinear cross. Twelve exposures were made, from which one picture (with the most satisfactory conjunction of elements) was selected for use.

In his ‘Notes from 1972’, published in the catalogue of the 1973 Critic’s Choice exhibition cited above, Hilliard wrote:

‘Photographs make assertions in reference to putative locations, durations and events, usually involving the artist. The requisite reading of the asserted information is inferred by the (art) context of the photographs, and by support information such as descriptive texts or captions.’

‘This accompanying material is instrumental in determining the percipient’s response to the image. Similarly, the meaning of the presented image may be affected by the addition (or subtraction) of adjacent parts within a total available picture area (from which first the camera, then the enlarger, make selections). In both instances interpretation is conditioned by the presence (or absence) of supplementary data.’

‘As with the (1970/1) photographs deriving from camera-induced variables, a “control” image is employed to assess the manipulative effect of two devices— editing and captioning. In the latter case, a series of different but equally credible descriptions is brought into conjunction with a repeated picture. In the former, the viewer is offered a priming image which suggests a certain kind of interpretation. This interpretation is then challenged by the introduction of a second image. In this succeeding photograph, and in subsequent others, the entire priming image is held as a constant, but is enlarged upon by the disclosure of material that hitherto fell outside the frame. Challenges are made by extending the frame to include extra information which, as a result of its relation to that (constant) part of the photograph which was the priming image brings the original reading into question.’

It was important in Hilliard’s concept of the contrasting readings possible for a single photograph that the viewer’s perception of each rectangular photograph in T01732 should be a separate experience. Thus his first idea for this work was for a book format in which the first double page spread would show the walking man image on one page and the four subsequent double page spreads would show one different rectangular photograph, on one page, per spread. Hilliard has a mock-up for this unrealised project. For display in a gallery situation, Hilliard’s ideal would be a five-walled room with one photograph on each wall (the 6 x 6 in. walking man image appearing by itself once only, on the first wall, and the other four photographs being its rectangular extensions). Hilliard made the version owned by the Tate Gallery for display either in a four-walled room, with one frame displayed on each wall (its ideal situation) or on a single wall with the frames separated by spaces equal to their own size. T01732 is the only realised version of this work. It and ‘Through the Valley’ 1972 are the only works by Hilliard in which a ‘control’ image common to all photographs used in the work is repeated above each new extension of it that is seen.

Although T01732 and several other works by Hilliard depict dramatic situations, this is not because of any predilection by Hilliard for this sort of subject. As in T01731, the choice of depicted subject was dictated by the need to find a combination of elements that would be plausible both individually and collectively, and productive of widely different interpretations of the ‘common’ image when seen successively and cumulatively. The narrative meaning read into them by the viewer is the prerogative of each viewer individually. Hilliard neither aimed that the work itself should assert a particular interpretation nor considers that any one interpretation is preferable to others.

As also in ‘Through the Valley’, Hilliard considers the preposition in the title ‘Across the Park’ to be very important. These titles draw attention to the fact that the works are evidence of the action or activity of a person, and to the relationship between the person performing the action and the environment in which he is performing it. Hilliard’s demonstration in his works of the variables that affect the exact component marks of a photograph or the way it is read developed in part from his awareness of the inadequacy of a single photograph of a sculpture to convey its full visual reality. Such photographs are used as evidence that an artist has produced work of a certain character. By extension, many artists working in modes beyond painting and sculpture use photographs as part of a work, as a kind of testimony of their having carried out some specific activity in time and space. In showing figures walking through a landscape, in T01732 and in ‘Through the Valley’, Hilliard was depicting this convention as well as the specific elements in the photographs, even though in so doing he was not seeking to direct the viewer to any specific conclusions about this analogy.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.