Today’s choice of picture is for anyone who (like me) has the builders in at the moment. It is Toby Glanville’s photograph, Plasterer’s Mate, which was taken in the summer of 1992 in a basement flat in Notting Hill. I first came across this extraordinary and rather unsettling picture thanks to a friend, the late and deeply lamented Bruce Bernard, who was commissioned a few years ago to choose and acquire exactly 100 photographs, from all periods of the medium’s history, for the collector James Moores. Plasterer’s Mate was one of the few contemporary photographs to catch his sharp and sensitive eye. He added it to the Moores collection, which can currently be seen, in its totality, at the V&A.
In some notes made not long before he died, Bruce wrote that “Nothing can be such an abysmal failure in photography as portraiture, but nothing so magical, in the sense that it can make a person seem almost fully alive, even after decades…” I suspect that this particular photograph was on his mind when he wrote those words. He had only recently acquired it and thought that it was one of the most impressive photographic portraits he had seen. Bruce said he felt he could almost see the boy’s nervous system in the picture.
I recently went to see Toby Glanville. He is 41 years old, lives and works in London and is not yet as well known as he ought to be (although I suspect that will change with the imminent publication of the book of photographs on which he is currently working). He told me about the circumstances that led to the picture reproduced here:
“I’d been taking pictures of people at work for a while. It was a kind of ongoing series that had begun with...