Gary Kirkham is a freelance photographer and lecturer based in the West Midlands. He has exhibited in the area since the mid-1980s including one-person shows at the Bond Gallery, Birmingham, Ikon Gallery and Walsall Museum and Art Gallery.
The 'Icons Series', which consists of the thirty images displayed on the following pages, explores the role of photography in representing history, in particular Britain's urban and industrial heritage. Before becoming a photographer Kirkham worked in heavy industry where he became fascinated with the Black Country and with its power and potential beauty. Tools and machinery are used in museums to represent past communities and their working lives. Kirkham takes these tools as his starting point and suggests that these are inadequate 'evidence' of industry, his work deals with the problem of how to represent industry and its workers.
He is also concerned with the manipulative potential of the photographer and the seductive nature of an image. Gary tries to break down the glossy surface of the image and draws out details, textures and shapes. He forces us to look closely at each tool and they become objects of admiration and beauty. Although the images are not sentimental a tension is created between celebrating the objects as subjects for art and the misfortune of those who used them. The small and intimate images remove the meaning of the objects from the grand scale of industry, reflecting the personal history of these tools. The use of clean and white hand-made paper creates an opposition to the imagined dark and dirty world of the workplace it belonged to.
"He presents us with perfectly formed images of each tool, one by one, in its own frame, leaving us to wonder what the tool is for, who designed it, who made it, who used it, how hard it was to use, what it produced-the kind of questions museums most often fail to answer." Peter Jenkinson, Walsall Museum and Art Gallery, 1992