Philip Larkin’s Photographs

Larkin-pg6-c-The-Estate-of-Philip-Larkin-copy-1033Tomas Unger at Threepenny Review:

If these photographs are invaluable for the way they send us back to the poems with new eyes, now and then you alight on a Larkin image that seems to stand as achieved art in its own right. There are some striking crowd-scenes, such as a photo inscribed “To the Match”: a procession of football fans trooping toward the grounds, some walking, some on bicycles, their backs turned toward us, any hints of identity subsumed by the suggestion of a common motion, so that the scene takes on the somewhat disquieting energy of dream-vision. For another picture, Larkin got in close to capture the streetside spectators of some public event (kept artfully out of view, indeterminate), their richly varied expressions—exuberance, boredom, anticipation, faint concern— showing the photographer’s sensitivity to the everyday drama of massed individuality. He wouldn’t have begrudged the fact that one girl in the group, only one, has turned away from the scene, a wary and kindred eye landing squarely on him (and now us). Larkin could draw as much emotion out of less peopled places, as in a touching take on Warwick Common toward winter, lined by commandingly bare trees, or of a boy standing by the Walls of Derry in what looks like a weather of shocked quiet, or of the window of a shop in Hull strewn with messily taped, handwritten notices advertising, say, Plentey of Sumer Cotton Top Skirts Cheap, or 60 Foot of Horse Rubber, or a Loveley Wedding Dress.

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