Spotlight - by George Slade
published in Black & White (April 2017)
How often does it happen that an architect discovers a compelling passion for photography while visiting factories in China? Tamsin Green's experience may not be unique; nonetheless, the results over the past five years have been singular.
Green's career as an architect, ensuing from bachelor's and master's degrees she received in the UK and Japan, had led to regular travels to Northern China. During a 2011 trip she discovered something unexpected. 'I would go for walks when my schedule allowed," she says, "and observe the fast pace at which the cityscape was changing". These walks left her with mixed feelings. She began to carry a camera on her walks and discovered that she could channel those jumbled reactions into image, with surprising results. "i felt I was communicating something... It was a very powerful feeling and it fuelled my thirst to learn about the medium." She took a sabbatical to investigate further, and is now embarked on a continuing photographic journey.
Her Chinese photographs, assembled under the series title UnBuilding, reflect on the physical and cultural implications of modernisation in China. Sometimes, as in her hovering, wide-scope photograph of razed -"sleeping"- buildings, the transformations are quite apparent. In other images, change is more subtle, sometimes even metaphorically implied. Many are hazy and dark, suggesting the mood of cities in the midst of change. A seafood vendor's octopus glows behind a clear plastic curtain, no doubt hung to protect the food from Shenyang's omnipresent industrial dust. Also glowing, in Green's photograph, are faces on cards hung in a different kind of vendor's booth- that of a dating service, a modern convenience for the busy young urban professional.
Sociocultural changes drives Sleeper, Green's subsequent work, which traverses more far-flung, disparate environs. "It's a story", she writes in a project description, "of high adventure and courageous travellers without maps setting-out to discover little known lands controlled by local rulers who were not always welcoming". Although Green is diligent about researching before her travels, she is unperturbed by being lost along the way. In fact, relying on her intuitions had led her to revelations; she admits that she is "not always sure why I'm drawn one way or a other. Only later, once I've spent some time with the images, do things begin to come together and make sense. "
These photographs, made during one long, linear journey through Central Asia, had an obvious destination. "From the beginning, I knew that it would be a book," says Green. Making the book allowed her to capture the irreversible nature of experience embedded in travel. In its way, the book reiterates the journey: "books are about individual experiences with a physical object, with each person setting their own rhythm and pace. I felt that this was the appropriate medium for this project."
Both Sleeper and UnBuilding evince cautious nostalgia, a sense of yearning tinged with loss. There's not a lot of sunshine in Green's photographs. But her motivation is focused and clear: "I am drawn to work that is authentic. Work that comes from a dedication to exploring something that only that person could create." One architect who inspires her is Le Corbusier. Green describes his last project, a church in the French city of Firminy, as "a magical little building that channels light to dance on its interior. A masterclass in composing light and space."
The passage of time is at the core of Green's photographs. "I have a real fascination with time, and with lack of it". She cites Milan Kundera's 1995 novel Slowness. "Kundera ties slowness to the act of remembering, and speed to the act of forgetting. When one wants to savour, remember or prolong a moment, one moves slowly. On the other hand, one travels fast in order to forget a past experience. I really resonate with this idea, and feel that photography is my way of slowing down." By combining the urge to travel with the compulsion to remember, Green creates photographs that articulate the inexorable process of cultural change.