Practice. Practice. Practice. Theory. by John Levett

 Hull & the Humber Estuary

I had a fine academic tour of the 1960s. I went through five universities. None of their modes of teaching fitted my mode of learning. Until.

In Leicester I discovered three characters who fitted. W.G Hoskins walked me through the landscape; H.J. Dyos walked me through Camberwell. Joan Thirsk walked me through manorial rolls prior to finding the manor. However.

My problem was reading. Not that I couldn’t, rather that I was disinclined. My first job was hedging and ditching for Bromley Council. I was dumped with barrow and tools first thing in the morning and left to organise my day between the job and the novel. Hedge, ditch, Camus. Hedge, ditch, Sartre. Hedge, ditch, Sagan. But.

What was missing (and stayed missing) was the theory of hedging and ditching. I was fine with the pulp fiction (seriously, what else would you call Sartre?) but the psycho-social processes I was engaged in whilst hacking, slashing and burying the remains was a world apart. Fade to black.

Fast forward half a lifetime. I’m in a darkroom somewhere in Cambridge listening to John Davies talk about fine printing and exposures and temperatures and mixed potions and the alchemy of the emerging image. I listen to him talk about his work; talk about the time he’s invested in it, his immersion in ‘A Green and Pleasant Land’. I never forgot the alchemy but I left aside the potions. It was John Davies’s dedication to the spaces he trod that took me up. So.

It was the treading that came to engage me. The treading, the march, the relentless slog through urban spaces that became my mode of engagement. Find a city, pack a bag, fire up the camera, step out. Fifteen miles a day; sometimes surprised by joy, sometimes hard graft. Keep walking; don’t linger; don’t know where I am; don’t matter. Why?


 After some years I questioned what I was doing. Why these places, why this city, why these tropes, why this light, why this urgency? Then.

I discovered Family Frames: photography, narrative and postmemory by Marianne Hirsch. I discovered the submerged, the evaded, the buried, the ignored, the recurring, the obsessive, the excluded, the passed-over, the useful lie, the construction. The life that I had manufactured was a useful fiction found-out by my personal photography. I began exploring the back-story directly. Marianne Hirsch opened-out other authors. I began with guess and speculation and opened into hypothesis.

Leading to. Refractory Memory. Why I photograph.

John Levett is currently a Visiting Research Fellow in CUCR and convenor of The Crossing Lines Group His current area of interest is in collective and collaborative curation; the Crossing LinesNOVEMBER blog records aspects of engagement.

Two-Way Street: practice into theory, theory into practice will consider how theory informs & is derived from urban photographic practice.

Hugh Look [Chair of LIP] & John Levett [Convenor of The Crossing Lines Group] will host a session for photographers with presentations from Claire Levy, Judith Jones, Michael Rodgers and Professor Christopher Wainwright  on Friday 11th October as part of Urban Photo Fest 2013.

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