I guess when I started in the ‘70s I worked first in black and white and I was documenting a small town called Hepton Bridge in Yorkshire and at that point I was more interested in the whole idea of photographing the traditional lifestyle that was found in this small town. Then eventually I guess when I moved to colour in the ‘80s it became more of a critique so from then on I started to take photographs with a probably slightly different mentality whereby I was trying to show not what’s wrong with society but to try and be, you know, critical and affectionate at the same time whereas previously I was entirely affectionate.
During the early part of the ‘80s I sort of began to look and examine really the whole notion of documentary photography in the United Kingdom and it struck me when I looked around that you tended to have the very wealthy portrayed and the very poor portrayed and this sort of territory in the middle which is basically you, me and your viewers, tended to get sidelined and overlooked. Now I am so middle class it’s typical and of course Britain itself is a very middle class country all the more so now as you feel that it is almost like the most dominant class size that we have in the UK. We become wealthier, we are all going on holidays, the middle classes have expanded and if you like the main thing I am photographing are examples of the western wealth and of course the UK is no exception as we’ve become in the last ten, fifteen years a much wealthier country.
So really that’s ultimately my agenda now is to photograph the wealth of the West in the way that a photographer would traditionally expect to be going to a famine or a war or to document something quite remote or in the third world, my main agenda is to photograph the first world and the wealth problem.
I guess my work is somewhat orchestrated and although it is based on reality it is a form of fiction because I am controlling things, but you know its meant to have some sort of ring of truth to it if you like but of course I do understand that I am entirely controlling what I photograph and how it’s depicted so I fully accept that it is a form of fiction but it’s no more fictional than all the other photography we are surrounded by which often by its propaganda nature has agenda whose job is normally to sell an idea or a product. What I am trying to do is to puncture that and just show things as I find them and to show things as I think they are rather than how people expect them to be.
These despite their bright colours, it’s ordinary C prints, I mean if anything I have been talking to Conor, my assistant, that the colour should be coming down a bit. They are almost getting to the point in these particular prints, this is for a big montage on a wall, so it’s fine we can get away with it. I never want the colours to be super-exaggerated, I just want them to be bright in the way that advertising is bright. I collect not only photographic books and I have done a big survey on photographic books for Phaidon, I also collect, you know this is the things that arrived today from the…you know about my Gagarin interest and eventually I will do another book and an exhibition of these collections. There is Saddam Hussein Watches, and I regard really my own photography as a form of collecting.