This archive is founded upon an extensive collection of photographs of Italy produced over the last 30 years and covers a broad range of places and subject matter, both ancient and modern. Further work covers large parts of France, UK and other parts of Europe and the USA from the mid 1970s onwards. The galleries group together the main strands of my diverse work and in the background there are many more images which may be viewed by using the search option to target a specific place.
Documenting the same place over an extended period of time is one of the most satisfying applications of photography and here I have assembled images of Paris produced intermittently over a 35 year period. The centre of the city still confers a great sense of warmth as well as a feeling of familiarity and in general it all seems to look very much as it did (excepting the latest redevelopment of Les Halles). But the act of revisiting the same location does make me wonder to what extent the place itself has changed or are as many of the changes within myself; does the sense of familiarity I now feel give me a clearer insight or does it conceal a truth that is only evident when a place is encountered for the first time ? One thing is certain, my memory may have been sullied but the buildings have definitely been cleaned.
What began as an exploration of the geographical and metaphysical centre of France has developed into examining the rapid pace of change that this country is experiencing both in terms of the built environment, but also the Gallic characteristics we all thought we knew so well. The pace of change brought about by globalization, new technology and combined with the ravages wrought by the recent economic crisis means that the world seems less familiar, less certain than just a few years ago. This is not a wistful, nostalgic glance backwards, nor a sense of horror at what France is becoming, but a series of observations over time that bear witness to the old being eclipsed by the new, an emotional response to the distinct fabric of French culture, its symbols, its sense of design and colour as well as its distinctive regional variation. To me the photographs unpeel shards of time and highlight mundane details, illuminating the spaces in between, sometimes looking at virtually nothing, just framing and re-sequencing the prosaic facets of everyday surroundings.
I have explored Italy over many years and have developed a fascination in how this country still seems to embody the very essence of history itself. My book, "Roads to Rome" published by the Getty Museum in 2005 is a visual exploration of modern Italy in the context of its ancient backdrop using the network of Roman roads as its structure. In his Foreword, the eminent curator Colin Ford wrote, "Heseltine's beautiful black and white shadows of the distant and recent past powerfully summon up the great Roman roads of Italy, the material with which they were built, and the mean and women who have used them - and continue to do so. In these pictures, ghosts really do come to life."
In another time, another life, I followed him day and night, I squeezed the shutter as he stopped to stare, bewitched by the marble's exotic charm... "Italian Hours: Henry James' visions of Venice", by John Heseltine
Our feet are placed on solid (Italian) earth, or at least we like to think so. But earthquakes, erosion, floods and the hand of man conspire to threaten this apparent solidity as well as the history and mythology layered upon its varied surface.
It is striking how on the edges of towns and villages all over France fields are being transformed into housing developments. A field becomes a place where homes appear as quickly as nomads setting up camp so that residents can live, dream, propagate families and personalize their indoor and outdoor spaces in ever increasing numbers. I have used the destructive character of these Polaroid images as my personal wrecking ball
"I turn my gaze inward, I fix it there and keep it busy. Everyone looks in front of him; as for me , I look inside me; I have no business but with myself..." Montaigne.
No blood, no bodies, no screams, no explosions, just silense and a heavy lingering memeory that still haunts this part of Picardy in Northern France where my grandfather was killed in the last days of the war. In these images I tried to follow the movements of his batallion as they edged towrds their doom.
I have limited nostalgia for grimy streets and sub-standard housing, mean shops and low-life and much of my memory of London in the 1970s and 80s is coloured by a sense of shabbiness and hardness. The area around my old studio behind King's Cross Station had plenty of this grimness but it is now unrecognisable and I find myself lamenting the wholesale modernization of London ...
"As dark shadowy outlines we stumble through an unrehearsed life, some with dear friends and family, but all of us alone. Just as previous occupants thought their time was forever, their world happened just once and is gone." John Heseltine, Lives of Others, 2011
In 2006 I turned my attention to photographing the prosaic, to focusing on the paved surfaces we use every day but without giving particular attention, except in obedience to the power of the symbol. This project lasted a year and the intricate prints that resulted reflect an internal struggle to impose unity and order on the chaos that surrounded me at the time.
I use my every part of my house in France as a backdrop to my work and find that everyday things and situations suggest new thoughts and renewed memories presenting tactile links to the inevitable continuum of history.