The photographs in The Portraits by British photographer John Myers were taken in the living rooms, workplaces and backyards of the suburban town of Stourbridge between 1972-1979. Myer’s subjects were the ordinary, often underappreciated residents of the West Midlands town where he lived. These unsettling and understated portraits were all mainly taken within walking distance of the photographer’s house on his 5 x 4 Gandolfi plate camera.
Myers had studied Fine Art at Newcastle University in the 1960s and his sculptor’s eye brings a spatial awareness to each of his images. Each subject is carefully placed in regards to the other objects in the frame – standing or seated they are usually shown full figure and a majority gaze directly, and unselfconsciously at the camera.
The black and white portraits are infused with social and historical clues rooting them in the 1970s – the houseplants, the capes and the corduroy, sofas and soft-furnishings, and the prevalence of domestic smoking. Myers was driven by his admiration for the work of August Sander, Diane Arbus, Eugene Atget and Walker Evans – these influences are evident in his deadpan environmental portraits. Unusual for the 1970s in which he was working, the images are driven by aesthetics rather than the social and political agendas of his contemporaries.
A selection of these photographs was first published in 1974 in the Arts Council funded book Middle England but it is only recently that his work has received renewed critical attention. Since exhibiting at IKON Gallery in Birmingham in 2012, his work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions and books.
Now you can enjoy the series in a new book entitled The Portraits. Published by RRB Photobooks, it's the first complete collection of Myer's portraiture. You can pre-order here.