It’s almost as if there’s a smell in the air and I’m being forewarned that a moment is approaching. So I need to have the camera ready. In a sense, I never set out to do anything other than make myself available, to allow that moment where there’s an upsurge of energy from the unconscious mind into the conscious mind, which is the moment when I know I have to make a photograph.
One of the first published groups of pictures I made was called Twelve Day Journey, which was a work I made in 1983. I just travelled for 12 days. I took 12 days out of my normal life. I ended up in Salisbury eventually. But to be able to concentrate for 12 days and nights, without interference, was such a delirious joy.
When I was in America, spending time with William Eggleston, ironically I was also thinking about England. And I decided to make a whole series of pictures from Bristol Cathedral, in other words, a very dramatic, physical expression of Christianity, and walk all the way to Glastonbury.
This is a photograph I made inside a school on a Sunday, totally deserted. And what I loved about this picture was the difference between these two blue buckets, which initially appear to be the same. But the closer you go in, the more you realise these two blue buckets are very different.
This points the finger at what’s so important for me about moving around in the world and making discoveries. Coming across scenes, situations that I’ve never, ever seen before. And it’s in that moment that a certain kind of intensity, a flash of recognition of the importance of what is standing in front of me, takes place. It’s got everything to do with the fact that I’ve never seen that scene before.
Everything in the universe is made up of small things, so small things are critical to why and how the universe actually exists. I think small things are the key. They’re the absolute key to everything.
With many of the pictures in material, I’m on my hands and knees. I might be sort of really…in fact, sometimes on my stomach, to get down to wherever some of this material is situated. But in a way, compared to the way I normally work, that was a joy, that was a real pleasure.
We’re in a room of a city in the mind photographs here, which came out of me re-reading Calvino’s remarkable book, Invisible Cities. I set out in 2006 to make a portrait of London as if it was a city that I’d never been to with my body, but I had in my imagination.
I must have made about 1,500 pictures, maybe 1,600 even, to reach 50 that worked at that level of intensity that was really important for me. And I knew that I wanted an encyclopaedic expression of a notion of a city in the mind. 20 wouldn’t have done it, 100 wouldn’t be necessary. 50 turned out to be absolutely right.
I think what’s really kind of amazing about being surrounded by all this work is the degree to which I’m confronted with a physical expression of my own unconscious mind, and the mysteriousness and scope and range of the unconscious is something that I think we’re seeing a very small expression of here. And it’s very, very exciting.