Eric mentioned Flickr to me some months back, and today I finally got round to uploading a couple of shots to my account.

Despite the attempts of my A-level Physics teacher, I can remember very little of optics, which sometimes feels like a disadvantage. If I were to ever take up photography in a more serious fashion (more serious meaning “actually taking a photo more than twice a year”), I might drag out a couple of old textbooks and remind myself what refraction is.

Mostly it bothers me when I use a real camera, real in this context meaning an old SLR of my dad’s with lots of scary options and functions. Of course, I could just set it to ‘Auto’, but then I’d never learn anything. This photo of a Canada Goose, taken near Richmond Bridge, turned out pretty well; sadly I have no recollection of the settings I used, beyond the fact that I think I used some kind of polarising filter.

Thinking about photography reminds of an exhibition I saw a couple of years ago, in Sheffield. Kicking around the city centre for a few hours, I wandered into the Sheffield Central Library, which has some gallery space—the Graves Art Gallery—on the third floor. While usually they have fairly average work by little-known artists, this time they had an exhibition of photographs by Michael Ormerod, entitled States of America.

From the moment I entered, I was transported by the huge prints of Ormerod’s photos to another place entirely. I’ve started writing about my America, and that America was profoundly influenced by his work. Indeed, when I first saw it, it seemed to encapsulate everything I felt but couldn’t express. I have a few words now, but not many; I’m still tongue-tied by that vision.

I don’t remember anything past the first room, the first photographs. The only clear image that sticks in my mind is that of a car, bonnet open, floating in a roadside canal, abandoned. Telephone poles stretch into the distance, the merest specks of headlights glinting down the road. Then I was out of the gallery, overwhelmed, exhausted. I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered. Fortunately, I wasn’t so out of it that I didn’t get the book—something I’m eternally grateful for.

It’s an incredible book. In her introduction, Jan Morris tries to get some sense of where Ormerod’s America is.

We have some hints now and then. We see US 70 signed to St Louis, and the Golden Gate, and a cattle-ranch somewhere, and an outcrop that looks like Arizona, but in general it is an indeterminate, state-less America that he is unforgettably creating. It is as though all the varied excitements of America have abandoned the country – the thrill of the big city, the charm of small town life, the majesty of the open west, the ocean’s splendour. We are left in a kind of all-American limbo, where all the ikons are rusted and the vigour has ebbed away. We do not see the magic letters HOLLYWOOD standing proud above the great city: only an oil company name, silhouetted against a wasteland.

From this we can glean some sense of the images, but these are not pictures that can be paraphrased, reduced to soundbites. They are too big for that, too empty, too full of some indefinable quality that works upon the human soul. You can see a few of the photos here, but a few little jpegs don’t really give you a good sense of his work. Being able to leaf through a book is much better, but what I’d really like is a couple of photos, blown up to display size, covering a wall or two. According to this Art Circuit page, the exhibition is ongoing. The idea that those photographs are still out there, waiting to be shown, is tantalising.

Michael Ormerod was killed in a car crash in 1991. His last rolls of film were never found.