A Conversation with the Past — ‘Based on a False Story’ by Al Brydon

What was old is new again

The images in Based on a False Story are a wonderful mix of beautiful double-exposed portraits of old friends and new, juxtaposed landscapes, and tactile images of balanced geometric shapes and forms. The images draw in the viewer and evoke a sense of recalling past places and people affected by the passage of time. ‘False Story’ is Brydon’s second book published through Another Place Press this year, and rounds out a full year of marvelous publications from this small-but-mighty publisher.

Brydon has worked with double exposed film in other projects, including a project with California based photographer J.M Golding. Brydon and Golding swapped rolls of film each other had shot in their respective haunts, and the resulting project, “Tales from a non-existent land”, have a strong influence for this new project. Both projects may be born from a specific type of photographic technique, but both also transcend and speak of something more than the photographic process itself. Brydon has taken it even further by addressing the landscape of the physical and metaphysical worlds.

Brydon has described his process of working on his landscape work through the analogy of listening while wandering and looking for images. “The dead sing songs, and I am trying to learn how to hear them.” With consideration to all the occurrences man has taken to alter the physical landscape surrounding him, Brydon listens and tries to interpret the history of the land, both past and present. In this way, ‘False Story’ is also a process of connecting one’s past and present. This applies to the personal as well as the physical.

This psychological evaluation of one’s current self against one’s past self reveals what we know to be true — we are not who we once were. By examining our past self, we change not only who we were, but who we are now. Through the process of creating ‘False Story’, Brydon’s conversation with his past self and destruction of his original images has actually revealed glimpses of his present self. We can only assume that his current work will foretell the work to be created in 15 more years — when he will re-discover who he is, and was, anew.


Cary: Would you please expand on the backstory or idea for the work that you used for this book… I would assume many photographers (me included) have a stash of undeveloped film sitting in a drawer — but I don’t think about doing anything other than develop it eventually. What made you decide to re-expose it again?

Al: I kept seeing the films every time I opened my man drawer. Then I’d shut the drawer and forget about them again. But one day I didn’t shut the drawer. I couldn’t tell you why. When it’s time it’s time I guess. They suddenly became a way of having a conversation with my past self. I just needed fifteen or so years to realise it. Who wouldn’t want to get into a time machine?

Cary: You worked with California based photographer J.M. Golding on a double exposure project in the past, and it resulted in some great work. Did your project with her lay some of the groundwork for ‘False Story’?

Al: Absolutely. Both projects were, and still are, about making a connection with someone. The work with her was the start of what has become a wonderful friendship. The ‘False Story’ work is a further development as the connection I was trying to establish was with a person, who for all intensive purposes, no longer exists. But the basic double exposure premise is of course the same. Two people looking at the world differently. Two lives lived apart, then for the briefest moment of a shutter click, joined together.

Cary: Until the recent past decade or so, a gallery exhibition was the main goal for most serious photographers — but it feels like this has faded severely. What are your thoughts about the role of a photographer as “publisher” and the recent increased push for photographers to publish photo books.

Al: Well, I exhibited the series first and then APP published it. I was lucky enough to do both. It’s just a different way of seeing the same thing — yet it does impact on how the viewer perceives the work. The book, for me, is a much more gentle way of viewing this particular body of work. I’d agree people now seem to make work to appear in books rather than on a wall. We, as a photographic community, are always in flux. I’m sure we all like to think we walk to the beat of our own drummer but at the same time we conform quite readily. I think if a publisher approaches you and it feels right (it doesn’t always) then go for it. Work on a wall is a fantastic thing too. Do both!

Cary: How many images did you start out with for ‘False Story’?

Al: Probably between 500 and 600. The hit rate for usable images was low. There’s only so much serendipity one person can muster it seems.

Cary: Were all the rolls the same formats, or a mix?

Al: They were all 35mm but I had slide, colour, and mono. I even had a roll of tungsten balanced slide film. Most available film types were present.

Cary: Please describe the process you went through to shoot, develop, proof and edit the work that resulted in the final book. Was it done independently, or did you work with Iain Sarjeant at Another Place Press, or another person as your editor?

Al: I was given a 35mm compact point and shoot by my father (which added a pleasing circularity to the series) so decided to use one camera for all the films. There needed to be a constant through the chaos. As for shooting, the pressure was off. I had no idea what was on the films really. It was more about a feeling than any compositional considerations. I tried to image the younger Al and I walking together while I was making the photographs. What would we have talked about? Would we have even liked each other? We are two extremely different people after all. I just walked and went to places that felt right. There were no rules and no deadlines. I was in the enviable position of freedom within the confines of a two dimensional medium and a limited number of rolls of film. As I’d exhibited the work before, Iain and I did a version of the book that I had hung on a wall, so I knew roughly how the sequence would need to appear in the book. In the end, I gave Iain all the images I wanted to include and he worked his magic to get them into book form. Working with Iain is always easy. He’s a gem.

Cary: ‘False Story’ feels like a departure from the majority of the landscape work you are best known for. I can still see the landscape influences in the work, yet there is this tactile sense to the work that really appeals to me as a viewer. Was this an intentional part of the process?

Al: Maybe a slight departure. I’d like to say everything I do is well thought out and totally intentional, but this is a falsehood. I make the work, then work out why as I go along. In this instance, the process did inform the end result. I was aware there would be some photographs on there that I would have liked to see without the addition of another frame over the top. Some of the last photographs I had of one of my best friends were hidden in the rolls somewhere, and I was worried about losing them. As it turned out, one of these particular photographs became the most successful in terms of delivering exactly what I was trying to convey. There’s a sadness to the work, but it’s necessary, and as it should be. But the world happens to be immensely beautiful, and I hope I’ve at least conveyed some of that beauty in the photographs.

Cary: Was there much manipulation to the images after processing?

Al: Because I was working with different films, and due to the chaotic nature of the work, I wanted a uniform aesthetic. They were scanned and converted to mono with slight adjustments here and there. I also added the scratches, but this was done by literally kicking the negatives around in my cellar. The act of re-exposing the negs was a destructive one and I wanted to continue that destructive process after I’d got the processed films back from the lab. I knew once the films had been processed and the work finished, that effectively it would be the end of the conversation. I’m not sure about the long term effects of the work yet. I’m interested to see how I feel about the photographs in a year or so. I did, however, keep one film back. This will be re-exposed in another fifteen years so I can have one more stern chat with myself. I will be 55 years old.

Al Brydon is a photographer based in the North of the UK. He is less tall than he seems on the internet. To see more work and projects, visit his website: http://www.al-brydon.com/

Another Place Press is a small independent publisher interested in contemporary photography that explores landscape in the widest sense, covering themes which include land, place, journey, city and environment — from the remotest corners of the globe to the centre of the largest cities. Iain Sarjeant is the founder and editor of Another Place, and Another Place Press.

Based on a False Story by Al Brydon
© 2016 — published by Another Place Press

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