Photographs, rendered in monochrome, from portraits by Colin Potsig, used by kind permission of the artist
I had a lovely chat with Colin yesterday afternoon, after he got back from retrieving a form at the Post Office. Colin used to work there, so I started by asking him if the Post Office had been his first job when he arrived in Allendale, some 13 years ago. “No,” he replied, “My first job was in Hexham at the Vauxhall garage, but after nine months I moved on to the Post Office.” I wondered then if his first exhibition had been of the portraits he’d garnered from every corner of Allendale, which was how he’d cornered me, and sure enough, his first Allendale show ‘Home’ was hung in the Forge Studios, a set of 44 portraits of some of Allendale’s individuals, mostly looking directly into camera, though Tony, as iconoclastic as ever, was one of the exceptions that proved the rule.
I had sneaked into the Forge Studios, near to the end of Colin’s exhibition, to see and be appalled at (well, that’s de rigueur, isn’t it? of anyone?), my own portrait, which Colin had set up with a minimum of fuss, using light coming in from the roadside window in the Village Hall. Looking at it now, at my five year younger self, I can see how worn out with care I really was, but struggling to be equanimous and cheerful. And still another three years of hall worries to go! I hate to think what I looked like by the end!
Michael, by contrast, is as hard and fierce as any braw Scottish warrior, and yet, and yet I can see a twinkle there in his eye, maybe just out of reach, but there nevertheless. Colin’s portraits (both the first ‘Home’ series, and all 22 of the second ‘Home Again’ series, also exhibited at The Forge) have this sense of timeless ease, I guess, which he achieves by a kind of calmly focused real-time working, getting on with it, which his subjects seem to relax a bit in, and suddenly he’s got it. . I’m not sure how much of our real selves are revealed, but there’s something going on, as we stare into the eye of the lens.
It’s that stare into the unemotional lens, that Colin has used to capture many of his newer subjects, in his ‘Autism’ series, for example, which showed at Newcastle’s SIDE gallery, all straight to camera, so moving in their simplicity and unadorned honesty. Same as the next series, which he’s now exhibiting, called ‘Autism Too’ featuring celebrity and performer subjects, all of whom have encompassed their autistic disorder and were willing and eager to participate in his photographic adventure, though as Colin says, “Autistic people don’t like to make eye contact, at all.” But the camera lens is an unfeeling, relatively inert ‘eye’ and so perhaps easier to look at, for any of us. This exhibition is showing in Leeds at the moment, and will then move on to Wakefield, Nottingham, making its way, he hopes, back to Newcastle in due course. Both Autism exhibitions have been accompanied by 32 page newsprint programmes which cover the exhibition in its entirety.
Colin himself, as we have come to learn, is on the autistic spectrum himself, as he describes so eloquently in his sophisticated interview with ‘Autism Articulated‘, and he lives somewhere in the high-end functioning Asperger’s Syndrome range.
With all of these exhibitions, past, present and ongoing, I asked Colin if he had any other jobs to keep the wolf from the door, but no, it turns out, he’s self-sufficient as a photographer only, pursuing his career steadfastly and conscientiously, honing in on his subjects (he may need to travel to America to capture new subjects for another series, projected but not yet fully developed) and enjoying his art. Similarly, he’s eager to complete another ‘Home Return’ series, of individuals not yet collected from around Allendale, and is hopeful of suggestions from folks reading this piece. Allendale, he told me, was home to him, as home as a native, as home as anyplace could ever be home.
I did ask him about the art: do you do any digital enhancement then, Colin? “Well,” he replied, “Yes, and it’s the same as when photography used the shading and shadowing techniques in the developing and fixing fluid in the dark-room. Not cheating, but enhancement, as artists do.” I was happy with that explanation, as long as he doesn’t use a stuffed ant-eater and a termite mound as a subject, which he agreed really was cheating!
And so we said our good-byes and the interview finished, but I was delighted to have had the chance to try to get some sense, in a verbal if not image way, of Colin the photographer, much as he must have tried to get some sense, in an image way, of me.