A Bigger Photo / by Graham Dew

Oak at Wormingford © Noel Myles

As day two in an indulgent long weekend enjoying art, this Saturday just gone I visited the opening of Noel Myles exhibition at the Gainsborough house in Sudbury, deep in rural Suffolk.

I had first seen Noel’s impressive work featured on a couple of occasions in the much missed Ag journal. Noel works on photographic collages or joiners, and picked up the joiner baton where Hockney dropped it, expanding the range and scope of what joiners can do, as well as bringing other photographic methods into the process. His work is primarily centred on the landscape and the natural world, and his most popular images are of gnarly old oaks that have been photographed over many seasons and from many viewpoints.

Still Film of an Oak, second version © Noel Myles

I got to know him well last year in the preparation of his talk at the 2011 Arena Seminar where he discussed his work and his evolution as an artist. I was keen to see Noels pictures up close. Apart from a treasured print that he gave me as a gift last year, I had only ever seen his work reproduced in magazines or projected digitally. It was a seven hour roundtrip by train to see these pictures, but it was well worth the effort because his pictures are visually stimulating and beautifully crafted. It is a splendid exhibition. 

Sea Wall © Noel Myles

There are examples of many of his groups of pictures, from exquisite platinum & palladium prints, to the mixed palladium/colour prints of oaks, to full colour composites of woodlands near his home in Sudbury. These were strikingly beautiful. Often taken in winter or autumn, these images displayed a rich palette of colours and textures, from blues and purples of frosted leaves in shadow, through silvery reflections of tree silhouettes on water, to bright red leaves contrasted against deep blue skies.

A Short Film of December © Noel Myles

Also of note were the recent Fenland marshes and coast made this past autumn. Quiet, reflective pools in a patchwork of heather and grasses are set against dark brooding skies. These images are both beautiful and sombre.

Autumn Wetlands © Noel Myles

Noel says that he works by photographing in profusion small details that interest him, and then composing and assembling the image in the studio, taking many hundreds or even thousands of photos,  eventually whittling them down to a couple of hundred constituent frames that make up the overall image. These days, all of his images conform to a rectangular grid, but he has previously experimented with free placement of images.

Three Trees © Noel Myles

By normal photographic standards, these images are quite large, despite many being made up from contact prints of 35mm or 645 medium format. The largest images were over 1m in their longest dimension, and feel big and impressive. Not size for size’s sake as you often find in the big photo exhibitions in London, but a natural, organic size. Oaks from many acorns if you will. His latest pictures have been shot digitally, but he still does the compositing from enprints. When the final layout is complete, he then reassembles the composition digitally in Photoshop.

Noel Myles

It is dangerous, but somewhat inevitable, to compare Noel Myles’ still films with David Hockney’s joiners from the 1980s. I would say that Hockney’s joiners were ground breaking, cutting edge back then. As physical artefacts, they are beginning to look dated. In contrast, Noel Myles images seem very fresh and of the moment. Most of his work looks both timeless and modern. It seems a great shame that his work is not more widely known, either in the photographic community or in the larger art world. One day, I hope that it will become more widely recognised. I suggest strongly that you take a day out to Suffolk and have a look for yourself.

Noel Myles: East Anglia and the Stour Valley, is on show at Gainsborough’s House, 31 March – 23 June 2012 www.gainsborough.org . For more of Noel's images please visit www.noelmyles.co.uk .