On the face of it they are ordinary and unremarkable, but through Chris Rhodes’ lens everyday objects and places come alive, and dazzle, demanding a second look. From a coatstand to a carton of orange juice, a plant leaf to a plughole, the subjects of his photographs, when framed in the way Rhodes frames them – often up close and tightly cropped – suddenly look very interesting indeed.
Yet he doesn’t sweat over the framing or composition, he says, choosing instead to employ a more spontaneous approach. “I used to shoot large format, which was a slow process, but then I started using a small format camera, which I took everywhere. I made work fast… I love the ease of being able to walk around and take a picture,” he adds. “I can go to the most dull and uninteresting place and find it fascinating because of the things it is possible to create there by pressing a button.”
A selection of Rhodes’ images from the past three years, shot all over the world, are currently on show at Webber Gallery Space in London. Rhodes, who recently signed to Webber Represents, named the series Hotel Mermaid Club after a hotel he came across while travelling. With its nondescript, almost surreal connotations, the name just kind of stuck, he says. Indeed, the title brilliantly sums up the mood of his eclectic images, which loosely hang together visually, but equally seem to spin on their own axis, each one a self-contained whole.
Inspired by America’s colour photographers of the 1970s – the likes of Joel Sternfeld, William Eggleston, and Stephen Shore – Rhodes found himself drawn to the States, in particular Memphis, and later Florida and the deep South – Louisiana and Mississippi – to continue his photographic quest. He has also shot in Japan, London, Sweden, and Colombia, often during breaks while on a commissioned job. His work isn’t really about a particular place, says Rhodes – at least not in a geographical sense. Rather, each image is a coming-together of elements captured in an instant before the light changes and the moment moves on. People rarely feature, but we see traces of where they have been. “My pictures are of things I’ve perhaps seen before but have seen in a different way,” he muses. “In the exhibition there’s a picture of a plughole – you see plugholes everyday, but I’d never seen one look like that before. So I took a picture of it. There’s a picture of an orange juice carton – I just liked the way it looked in the moment I saw it. They are off-the-cuff moments.”
While he shoots both in black and white and in colour, the images from Hotel Mermaid Club were shot using colour film because the colours are as much a part of each picture as the subjects depicted. “What draws me in are the colours of things, the way light hits an object, or how you can use a flash to pick out detail. That’s what I like about photography – it’s a fleeting image that is gone in seconds.”
Hotel Mermaid Club is running at Webber Gallery Space until May 16, 2017.