Ancienne ile formée sur le rivage de Kent par la mer et une petite rivière qui se sépare en deux bras, Thanet est dans les années cinquante une destination de vacances privilégiée des londoniens. La mine et la sidérurgie donnent alors du travail et la région semble bien être "le jardin de l'Angleterre" que vante l?office de tourisme du Kent, " l'endroit idéal où se faire des souvenirs". Mais les années soixante et ses séjours à bas prix sur la Costa Brava voient le déclin du tourisme, les mines sont moins rentables, ferment une à une, et la région a bientôt le triste privilège d'avoir un des plus forts taux de chômage d'Angleterre. Ce travail a été réalisé à l'initiative du Kent County Council et édité dans un livre "The Visit" accompagné de poèmes de Saviour Pirotta et d'un journal de voyage de Ted Walter. "LIVING FOR THE MOMENT?" Essai de Julian Rodriguez: For me a large part of the pleasure of looking at pictures is not just in chewing over the subject and the details unearthed, but in pondering on the challenges photographers face when recording time and place and considering the latent questions inextricably woven into a photograph by the simple fact that somebody actually stood there and "took it". The photographic content of this book brings some immediate considerations to mind. Did the fact that Gerard Uferas was a "Visitor" to the area affect the subjects selected, was he made welcome, what emotional and intellectual baggage was he carrying, was he working to a particular brief, were the images manipulated into life by a particular technical or stylistic device? The curious thing about photographs is that all these factors can work to conceal more than they reveal. Centuries ago the "lsle" of Thanet, at the eastern most extremity of Kent, was separated from the mainland. Even earlier the Romans bestrode its shores to begin their conquest of Britain (55BC). An "Island mentality" is said still to exist in the tight rural and seaside communities. The coastal resorts, once thriving holiday destinations and sea-water health retreats, have been badly hit since the boom in "Costa package" took hold in the 60s. This, combined with the collapse of the mining communities inland, has made the economic outlook for Thanet particularly bleak-unemployment is rife, rotting jetties lie idle, and the area has the further insecurity of reliance on seasonal employment. The tram (which once brought such prosperity to the coast) doesn't stop through the flat cash-crop filled landscape and as you enter the area you can almost taste the cabbages. Uferas is well acquainted with documentary and photo-journalistic work. He has undertaken worldwide assignments and had his pictures regularly published in Time Magazme,The Independent Magazine, etc... Responding to and making a meaningful record of such a diverse, yet distinctive region is however often an uphill battle. So here are some suggestions of questions the reader might like to ask... Should he have spent time immersing himself amongst local people and sensing the region's social/political landscape before even loading film? Should he have searched for key archetypal characters, buildings and landscapes which chronicle Thanet, sought out aspects of the region doomed to disappear, put under a microscope the public and private lives of a select few, or, should he - as he did - have used the time-honoured technique of extracting from the chaos of everyday life trapped moments which seem to encapsulate the Thanet experience? "The Visit" is not a collaboration in the strict sense, as Uferas and the writers never met and, therefore, in a way, worked independently but it's still a very welcome exploration of the underrated combination of image, prose and poetry as a documentary vehicle. Collaborations between writers and photographers have given us some stunning books in the past. Three of the most successful are James Agee and Walker Evans' "let Us Now Praise famous Men" (1941) which should have taken the US public by storm as it revealed the degrading toil of the sharecroppers (barely distinguishable from that of slaves) in rural America during the 30s depression, "The Sweet Paper of life" (1955) in which Roy DeCarava's sensitive and Iyrical pictures and Langston Hughes' novella bring to life the toils of an ordinary black family In Harlem, and Paul Strand and writer Basil Davidson's deep and searching book "Tir A Mhurain" which studied an Outer Hebridean Island community, taking the filmic possibilities of image and text to new heights. Strand had an uncanny knack of seeming to know what would be of historical interest to generations to come to recall Rodin's words "What is made with time... time respects". It's interesting to appreciate, whilst reading "The Visit", that the writer and poet can for instance choose to divulge their thought processes to the reader - why they are there, why certain things attracted their attention and the approach they are taking, thus: "Ted Walter and I spend the day exploring the Island. We are the tourists eager to find history and meaning in every pebble we see". Uferas, on the other hand, (like all photographers) had no choice but to concern himself with the visible. He could not be explicit about his motivations in the same way and had to make do with what he could imply. Uferas' style of documentary photography summarises a way of life rather than an event and in so doing reflects the strong French tradition of humanistic reportage. Looking through his Kent Images we see intimate moments, for Instance as a performer makes up before treading the boards at the famous but slightly sad Margate Winter Gardens, a sea cadet jokingly knocks his mate's cap off and a couple of old-time dancers take the floor In a chilly-looking community hall. Uferas takes us to tea-dances, the ubiquitous fruitmachines, a cabbage farm, sea cadet meetings and, of course, the promenade which up to the mid 60s seemed to offer the area such economic security. Uferas' tangible strength is in his benevolent and often touching approach. His photographs resist the "warts'n'all" treatment made popular by Martin Parr In the 80s and he wisely seldom slips into caricature. Instead he echoes more the preoccupation and stylistic approach of the great Tony Ray-Jones (1941- I 972) who incidentally, was also drawn to the Ramsgate promenades. Both portray the more general characteristics of the "British" at home. So we get the game of bowls, tea-sipping, a sing-song with Union Jack waving, rummagings at the car-boot sale and - the most British of habits - brazening it out on a damp, cold beach. Personally I would have liked to have seen more of the distinctive marshlands and muddied landscape, acknowledgement of the broken mining communities, the Georgian (much of it rotting) grandeur and the depressing effects of escalating unemployment. There is a lack of penetration into the public's private lives - most of the images being taken on the streets or in public spaces and institutions - but then again, "private lives" were not part of the commission. In fact, leafing through the collection of images in front of me, I find myself struck by the balancing act necessary between subject matter and the search for a "strong" picture. There is no doubt that Uferas has an eye for the latter. He creates finely tuned graphic images, using the usual range of techniques and compositional elements such as juxtaposition, frames within frames, geometry, "decisive moments", all best appreciated in the classic work of Cartier-Bresson. Bresson's approach (pioneered in the early 30s) was based on the spurious assumption that, by plucking out a special instant from the normal rush of life, the photographer can unlock the "truth" about a given situation: "If I go to a place it's to try and have a picture which concretises a situation, which in one glance says everything and which has the strong relations of shapes which for me is essential. For me, it is a visual pleasure". With these words and a stack of intriguing life-slices (until his intuition and luck ran out) Cartier-Bresson seized the aesthetic and moral high ground of ?reportage? photography. One of the reasons the approach has maintained such an aura is that it's almost impossible to replicate regularly, if at all. But, In many of Bresson's pictures, when one discounts the clever visual "structure", an emptiness is quickly discernable beneath the surface. The Viewer could perhaps consider here whether some of Uferas' work stands up to this test. for instance, in the pictures of men caught mid-punch testing out their strength on an amusement arcade boxing machine, Uferas' Interests seem too tightly focused on ritualised male aggression and competition, does this tell us anything about his subjects or what goes on In a Thanet arcade? In the powerful photograph of the man with close-cropped hair, this absence of context could lead to a pejorative stereotypical reading of "skinhead violence". This no doubt exists in Thanet as anywhere else in Britain but the ambiguity of this image in particular raises questions about how a photographer should explore social and political issues without playing on the audience's prejudices. Similarly, the "top hat and tails" wedding party raises issues relating to class, race and the invasion of privacy perpetrated by photographers (the strength of the scowl directed at Uferas creates a challenging dramatic moment). Was Uferas invited, what social class are the people from and what is the extent and status of Thanet's black population? One has to question whether the picture is simply parading these timeless concerns to construct an arresting image. A young couple share a sexy moment by the seafront whilst an older man stares out of the frame to the side of them. The juxtaposition of old and young, loneliness and togetherness, encapsulates a nice human moment. Uferas is clearly drawn to people's day-to-day affairs and the expressions played out on strangers' faces, but how much of Thanet, as opposed to any seaside expenence anywhere In the world, is revealed - or does It matter? Uferas' work reminds us that "reportage" images since the advent of Bresson's work in the 30s and the Expressionist photographers like William Klein in the 50s (whose wideangle distortions and unconformist framing elevated the images produced to "art objects") have become a battle ground between form and content. It's obviously essential that photographers employ stylistic and aesthetic means to grab the audience's attention or else they simply won't communicate, but as some of Uferas' key pictures prove, this need not be at the expense of saying something pivotal about the subject. In the final analysis the synthesis of photography, poetry and prose in this book really does succeed in enabling a fuller picture of Thanet to unfold. Like any really productive collaboration the component parts have more significance than each would achieve alone. Julian Rodriguez