There’s something very American about Barry Cawston’s photographs. It’s odd, really, since none were taken in the US; instead they feature scenes from Italy, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil – even Bristol. Yet, be it in the contrasting colours of a Havana pool, the perfect clapboards of an Avonmouth cottage, or the crooked hat of a Tibetan cowboy, Crawston’s images recall both the New World melancholy of Edward Hopper and the dazzling modernity of David Hockney’s Berkeley days.
Cawston began his career in the early 1990s. With a degree in sociology and a diploma in photography, he freelanced while nurturing his interest in fine art. Winner of the Exeter Contemporary Open and the Chairman’s Choice Award at the RWA Photographic Open, he joined with a friend Al Deane under the collective pseudonym Boris Baggs to photograph a series of English Heritage buildings. Since then, he has opened the Drugstore Gallery in Abridge, North Somerset and exhibited around the world. Frequently, he says, admirers note the ghosts of American painters past in his subjects: “It all began with the photo of the pool. I just stumbled across it after waking up one morning and thought: that is a photographic version of a Hockney painting. Had I been an hour later, or an hour earlier, it would have been totally different. That is how photographs happen.”
Though occasionally dabbling in digital photography, most of his work is done using a Wista Field camera, complete with hood, wooden tripod and bellows. “To an extent what I do is social documentation,” he says.
“Though there was something in that Minor White which I really like: ‘No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photograph It has chosen.’ It’s the picture that is in control, really, not the photographer. I’ve experienced that many times.”