Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Lewis's Fifth Floor - A Department Story - Stephen King

I was recommended this book by my tutor and although it was hard to source (interlibrary loan in the end) I am so glad I persevered.

Lewis's Fifth Floor- A Department Story, by Stephen King
ISBN 971-1-84631-246-5

The books preface describes how the photographer came to find out about an abandoned floor in a declining department store in Liverpool. The closed floor housed some restaurants, a cafe, and an old hair salon, all mothballed since the 1980s and with most of their 50s design elements intact. King talks about how he approached the project and tried to find a point of view in order to make sense of the vast empty spaces. He decided to bring together existing and ex employees and photographed them against the backdrop of the abandoned fifth floor and these images are interspersed with the more graphical interior shots. The employees also provide some cracking insights to everyday life at the store in its heyday and add a richness to the book that further enhances the images.

King had to clear spaces that had been used to store promotional merchandise, racking, and all sorts of detritus that had accumulated over the years to uncover stunning Festival of Britain style ceramic murals and booths of coloured leather seating in the restaurants. The hair salon still had most of its old fixed hair dryers in place with funky wallpaper and an air of peeling and decay pervades the images.

I was so impressed with the compositional elements of King's work. The image on page 66 for example, a long shot of a corridor. Not only does King light the doorway from the interior of the unseen room, the light spills into the corridor and is framed by a strategically placed stepladder leaning against the opposite wall. The eye is then led further down the hallway to the lit double doors at the back of the shot. Compositional decisions can be seen time and again in the images displaying a strong visual effect. Another example is a pile of broken tiles (page 72) that are used as a visual device (the wall that they are placed against do not have any tiles missing) and the pile helps to lead the eye further into the image. A small table and a christmas bauble lying on the floor give depth to a flat bank of seating and the wall of ceramic tiles behind it (page 47.) Strong diagonals are used throughout even as backdrops to the portraits.

The strong colours are slightly muted and enhance the images. Lighting has also been strategically placed in rooms or lifts to light other spaces to maximum effect.

I found this book a joy to peruse from a technical perspective as a student and also just to enjoy the fascinating narrative that unfolds with the delightful images.      


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