This is one of a group of five colour photographs in Tate’s collection from the British photographer Peter Fraser’s series Everyday Icons 1985–6 (Tate P81066–P81067, P81071–P81072 and P81074). For this series, as he had in his previous series entitled 12 Day Journey 1984 (see Tate P81068–P81069), Fraser again adopted the idea of a journey; this time, however, it was not one continuous trip but several shorter walks taken over eighteen months and planned in advance. Historian and curator David Chandler has described the Everyday Icons series as epitomising Fraser’s practice and his fundamental belief ‘that looking intently in this way at very ordinary things, seeing them as plainly as they are, can become in itself freighted with an unexpected longing, and can conjure an image that is, in turn, the measure of something both achingly real and strangely ethereal, and stubbornly unforgettable’ (David Chandler, in Tate St Ives 2013, p.46). The titles of the individual photographs in the series locate whereabouts in England they were taken. Easton. Near Wells 1985–6 (Tate P81066) depicts a snow-covered garden with fields beyond. Cutting across the picture plane is a washing line, on which three items of clothing hang: a jumper, a checked tea-towel and a floral-patterned towel, all of which are subtly linked by their similar colour palette of pinkish-purple. In Cheddar No. 5 1985–6 (Tate P81067) two plastic buckets sit next to each other on a schoolroom floor. Both are blue, one lighter in colour than the other. Shot against the dark floor, the buckets appear to hover in a void, their colour, shape and form combining to transform them from banal, everyday objects into something more iconic. The image can be considered as a statement of intent with regard to the notion that colour itself could be the subject of photography. Wells No. 1 1985–6 (Tate P81071) focuses on a deep red suitcase stored in the overhead luggage rack on a train, its colour intense and conspicuous against the train’s drab interior. West Pennard No. 1 1985–6 (Tate P81072) a familiar, domestic interior is rendered strange by an unusually low camera angle, exploiting the defamiliarising properties of an unconventional point of view. Churchill 1985–6 (Tate P81074) captures the impact of contrasting textures: a string bag hangs limply against a sheet of corrugated iron, its sagging woven fibres appearing forlorn and vulnerable alongside the insistently vertical patterning of the metal structure.
The images in Tate’s collection from Everyday Icons were included in Fraser’s book Two Blue Buckets, published in 1988. This was Fraser’s first photobook and has come to be considered as one of a small number of important publications that defined what has been called ‘post-documentary’ photography in Britain, alongside publications by Fraser’s peers such as Paul Graham, Martin Parr, Jem Southam and Chris Killip. The book brings together photographs from four series of work: 12 Day Journey 1984, Everyday Icons 1985–6, The Valleys Project 1985 (see Tate P81065, P81070 and P81073) and Towards an Absolute Zero 1986. It summarised Fraser’s work between 1983 and 1988 and won the Bill Brandt Award, awarded by The Photographers Gallery, London for the best photographic book of 1988. Fraser has been at the forefront of colour photography as a fine art medium since the early 1980s. Less concerned with overt social documentary than Martin Parr (born 1952) and Paul Graham (born 1956), Fraser’s practice developed around a sense of revelatory encounters with everyday things or places, which he photographed with forensic intensity. His found still lives, as exemplified by the photographs in Everyday Icons, reveal the incidental beauty and strangeness in the visible world.
All the photographs from the series in Tate’s collection exist in editions of twelve and are archival pigment prints.
Rupert Martin, Maureen Paley, Two Blue Buckets: Photographs by Peter Fraser, Manchester 1988.
Peter Fraser, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2013.
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