Jonathan Miller has an international reputation as one Britain’s most versatile figures in the arts. He qualified as a doctor, came to fame as a satirist and performer, directed a television film ofAlice in Wonderland, and wrote a slim volume, sharp as a stiletto, debunking Marshall McLuhan. His 13-part TV series on the history of medicine, The Body in Question, is a milestone. In his spare moments, he has directed more than 50 opera productions in London, New York, Paris, Florence and Berlin.
What we had no way of knowing, until the publication of Miller’s book Nowhere in Particular, is that for nearly 30 years he used a cheap automatic camera to take photographs of details — “pictures of bits,” as he called them — in the street. Nowhere in Particular shows dozens of images of torn, scuffed, battered, rusted, cracked and peeling surfaces. Miller describes them as “negligible things to which one would normally pay no attention at all. Nevertheless,” he continues, “these fragments and details attracted my eye and I felt the irresistible urge to record them.”
In his introduction, he draws comparisons with the scenic details painted around the year 1800 by artists who felt them worthy to be pictures in their own right. This is interesting, but gives little sense of the contemporary context for an activity that Miller seems half inclined to play down as “random scavenging.” What he doesn’t mention is the degree to which such “bits” seduced many artists, photographers and designers in the twentieth century. The torn posters on the cover of his book — one face appears almost to be dreaming the other — belong to an established, though admittedly offbeat, genre of image-making. Part of the fascination of Nowhere in Particular lies in observing this poetic way of seeing being pursued for many years, almost obsessively, by a casual, non-professional photographer with no immediate artistic use for the images in mind.
The American photographer Walker Evans was one of the first to focus on street posters and signs as sources of insight into the society that created them. In Torn Movie Poster, taken in 1931, the movie stars’ glamorous heads are divided by a gash that begins in the top right corner and narrows to a fissure across the starlet’s face... Read more.