public, and that I couldn’t be expected to get permission from the hundreds of people who lived in the flats, and that I had no intention of snooping on anybody.
Then what are you doing? Came their reasonable follow up (when you end up in such contorted positions as regularly as me you get used to this question). I explained to them about the staircase. I showed them the pictures I had taken, I promised them I had no specific interest in the individual lives playing out in the building, that it was the existence of the building itself that interested me. They gave me the look I have come to rely upon, the expression that says “you are clearly insane, but, on balance you are probably harmless”; then, they went on their way.
Urban Harmonies is one of my most popular pictures. People really respond to the patterns and the tones. The fact that I couldn’t get anyone to see the beauty in the actual scene, but everyone responds to it in the photograph keeps me believing that my work has a function in this world.
SDk: We understand the old Elizabeth Shaw Chocolate Factory in Greenbank, east Bristol, furnished you with another memorable experience, and we’re not referring to the exhibition you had for that series. Can you do the honours once again, please.
LF: It took me a long time to get permission to access the chocolate factory. I had several months of being put on hold and redirected as agencies
and managers passed the buck. In the end I walked down to the gates, wrote down the number of the security company and got in touch with the people on the ground (generally more useful than the people “upstairs”), who arranged to let me in.
On the day of the shoot I turned up with my friend Phil who often acts as my unpaid assistant and who’s main job is to keep track of my lens caps and phone for help if I fall down a hole. The security guard let us in to this huge derelict space with the caution, “There are some people in there, but don’t worry, they are more scared of you than you are of them”, a statement I found about as reassuring as when people use it about spiders.
For five hours Phil and I explored the dark, sticky, smelly, flooded factory. There was no electricity and the internal rooms were huge and pitch black. We would enter a room and stand stock still while I took a long exposure photo to reveal to us the scale and nature of the space we were standing in. The sensation of being characters in a horror movie kept making itself known to both of us and it was deepened by the indistinct sounds of shouting voices that filtered to us from distant parts of the building. We were accompanied by people who were heard but not seen.
It was one of the best days of my life.