Paper, Ping Pong and Spilled Milk: Robin Maddock’s Absurdist California Portraits

Robin Maddock
Robin Maddock
From iii

Photographer Robin Maddock spent a couple of years walking around California with a 35 mm camera and black and white film, shooting three things: a ping pong ball, a blank sheet of white paper and spilled milk. The resulting images in his third book, iii, are playfully elegant one-liners about seeing and being.

Magnum photographer Martin Parr has described Maddock’s work as “surreal and individual. He has the enviable ability to turn nothing much into something quite profound.”

Parr was then writing about Maddock’s second book, God Forgotten Face: a personal, social, and economic narrative about everyday life in Plymouth, England. Rough and rebuilding itself since being devastated in World War II, Plymouth is a town Maddock knows well. His father grew up there and Maddock visited often from Singapore (where he grew up), but he still describes the city as alienating. Thankfully though, in God Forgotten Face, as he (and we) spend more time in Plymouth, dusty and stagnant encounters—passersby on the street, couples sitting on benches, birds perched on rooftops, sprawling sunbathers, outdoor diners—give rise to shimmers of humor and brilliance.

From Maddock’s point of view, it seems that everything—even a ping pong ball, pieces of paper and a puddle of milk—can be something. From California’s luminosity and reciprocal shadows, new and never-ending narratives appear as we follow the small sphere, blank square, and amorphous silver spill down winding streets, busy intersections, and driveways: the public phone that’s now forever off the hook; foliage persistently pressing over, under, and penetrating concrete; iced coffee that’s increasingly turning into tanned and lukewarm water. Ever kinetic, the ping pong ball and paper, too, take on lives of their own.

Occasionally Maddock inserts his own shadow into the images, recalling Lee Friedlander, who said of that exercise: “At first, my presence in my photos was fascinating and disturbing. But as time passed and I was more a part of other ideas in my photos, I was able to add a giggle to those feelings.”

This way of looking at the world, first through a camera, and then photographs, isn’t a process of disassociating. It’s an exercise in paying attention that can bring you closer to everything around you. And the closer you are, the more you’re forced to acknowledge and welcome how much you’re a part of all you see—the ugly, boring, brilliant, and the beautiful. The act of looking becomes more than receiving—it’s reciprocal. As Maddock says, “We have to get out there and be open to the world, as good moments don’t arrive by themselves, especially when you need them the most.”


British photographer Robin Maddock previous books are Our Kids Are Going to Hell and God Forgotten Face.

Sara Distin is a writer and editor based in Boulder, Colo., and Brooklyn, N.Y. Follow her on Twitter @sldistin.


Related Topics: , , , , ,

Latest Posts

U Ku Tha La, 38, head monk at Nang Mal Khon Phoe Pyar Monastery. Kaw Ku Village, Kayah State.

Transforming Lives in Burma, One Solar Panel at a Time

In Burma, where only a quarter of the population has access to electricity, solar panels can change lives, as Spanish photographer Ruben Salgado Escudero found out

Read More
Diana Walker—Contour by Getty Images for TIME

An Intimate Portrait of Hillary Clinton in Photographs

LOVED ONE LOST:NAME: Jabril BradleyAGE: 20DOB: 10/6/1990SEX: MaleDATE OF DEATH: 9/1/2011TIME: After MidnightLOCATION: 9th st and Ave of the States, Chester, PACIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER: Bradley was riding his bike home from a friend’s house on the east side of Chester, September 1, 2011, when an unknown gunman opened fire. He was struck in the back once and continued to ride his bike home. A number of blocks later he collapsed to the ground from blood loss. He bled to death on the street. Bradley’s family claim that he was shot because of mistaken identity. According to his mother, Bradley was supposed to still be in prison. He was serving a sentence for possession of a controlled substance and was allegedly released before his time was up. Within weeks of his murder, the FBI came looking for Bradley at his mothers house, claiming that he got released by mistake. IN PHOTOGRAPH:NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS: Sister to Jabril Bradley: Danita Harris, 30.Son to Danita Harris: Jah’lil Harris, 3.

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 23, 2014

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,658 other followers