No Love Lost: Michael Grieve

Jim Casper at Lens Culture has been busy lately, and I’m finding it hard to keep up with him. One fairly recent photo-essay on the site is ‘No Love Lost‘ by Michael Grieve, a visual project made in “sexual environments” – around “pornography, prostitution and stripping” in contemporary Britain.

Grieve describes his work as a “lyrical documentary metaphor in a
factual world about real fictional encounters
” which is a phrase I find some difficulty with (as I do too with environments being sexual.) But he certainly conveys a feeling of spiritual emptiness in these images, some of which are more peripheral to the actual encounters than others.

His pictures are of a world with which I have little in common, though many years ago as a student I did live in a multi-occupied house where two of the other occupants were prostitutes who entertained clients on the premises. One was a very motherly woman, quite unlike anything in Greive’s pictures, with whom I sometimes shared a sociable cuppa in the afternoon (though I’m not really a tea drinker) while the other would have more readily fitted into his work, with a kind of vacancy like that of his ‘Mistress Storm.’ (All of the pictures I mention are on the Lens Culture site,)

There is a peculiar sadness about ‘La Chambre swingers’ club, Sheffield’, a rather ordinary looking corner shop except for the covered windows and red-lit name (curiously also present inverted in the image.) Above the door the sign says “YOU TOO CAN HAVE FUN”, but in the sequence on Lens Culture is followed by one of the most depressing scenes imaginable, with a sickly green light, a filthy ceiling with straggling wiring and an off-white plastic fitting that somehow makes me think of a skull above three men in black masks. A second image from the same place, largely back views of several men in a rather dimly lit room with what appears to be a gloomily painted obscene mural is perhaps even less enticing.

Perhaps the most striking image comes from a porn shoot in Peterborough, and at its centre are three feet, two of a woman wearing nothing but a gold chain around her left ankle and red nail varnish, forms an incredible conjunction with a man’s foot coming down from the top centre of the image, the shape between them and the contact having a sensuous quality lacking in the other pictures.

Click for a larger image on Lens Culture

The woman, cropped to more or less a pair of legs, is posed with these open but her left toes squash against the back of her right leg just above her heel, her hand delicately hides the meeting of her legs, her little finger pointing delicately up. Another male leg comes in a the back of the others from the left, and on the right is a second woman, her knees towards the top centre of the image, feet tucked back underneath, the frame cropping her just above the waist. It is a picture of incredible geometry, a kind of ‘Edward Weston meets pornography.’

If you actually come to these pictures in search of pornography you will I think be disappointed, although there is one simple image of a naked woman looking at the camera who I do find rather attractive. Another which appeals in quite a different way is the last in the sequence, ‘Break in porn shoot, London, UK, 2003′, which appears to be a rather impossible to unwrap reflection in which a naked couple lie entwined with a touching tenderness.

I also find a certain curious appeal in some of the captions. ‘View from brothel, Slough‘, the roofs of some very ordinary suburban houses, seen through one of those front doors with a half-circle of window in a kind of sun-ray pattern of 5 panes. Like the view from many suburban halls out through the closed front door, but the glass is red.

Slough is just down the road from where I live, but impossible to think of without Betjeman’s “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!” (perhaps the red is their incendiary fires?) and John Bunyan’s “slough of despond” that hampered his pilgrim Christian’s progress. Despond is perhaps rather appropriate for ‘No Love Lost‘, an interesting body of work that reflects on one of the sadder aspects of modern life.

Grieve was born in Newcastle, England in 1966, and after a BA in Film, Video and Photographic Arts at the Polytechnic of Central London, he gained an MA in Photographic Studies at the University of Westminster in 1997. Based in London, he worked for two years as a photographer for the Independent newspaper before freelancing as a portrait and feature photographer for various magazines. His work is now distributed by Agence Vu.

No Love Lost is his first book project, and according to ‘Vu‘ will be published soon. He is working on a second project, ‘In Passing’, on motorway and airport hotels.

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