Marc Atkins is an English artist, photographer, videographer and poet.
Marc has lived and worked for many years in London, and has also spent extended periods of time in Rome, Detroit, New York, Warsaw and Paris.
Atkins has presented his work and ideas on the image at lectures and conferences at venues such as the Royal Academy, London , UEL School of Architecture, London , Royal College of Art, London , Instytut Mikołowski, Poland , the New York University, Paris , The Photographers' Gallery, London , Université de Liège, Belgium and the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities at Cambridge University .
His solo photography books include The Teratologists, Liquid City, Faces of Mathematics, Thirteen and Warzsawa. See publications
His work is included in several international photography compilations including The World's Top Photographers: Nudes and Nudes, (which also includes work by Guy Bourdin, Bettina Rheims, Robert Mapplethorpe and Rankin), and has also been published and reviewed in magazines worldwide.
Marc's prose poetry has been published in three collections The Logic of the Stairwell (Shearsman), The Prism Walls (Contraband) and Silent Street (Shearsman), for further information see publications page
"Fundamentally my work is about a journey. Through landscapes, cities and rooms, I puzzle at the qualities of experience, perceptual misunderstanding, the elegant and desolate, and the disturbing nature of beauty. I am enticed by fleeting moments of intrigue, points of intricacies, a shift in shadows, and the interstices of place. My images are of curious encounters with the world, where a curtain might momentarily blow open and a glance of light exposes the activity of the room, indistinct characters fall from the shadows, texts from a book stream from the page, undefined structures become sculptural forms, frames of a lost film escape into their own story, or a silent performance of lives plays out. Observations form oblique impressions, cast images which immediately begin generating their own stories, seeping out over time back into the world. The curtain rests closed, the image is held."
- Marc Atkins
"More haunting are his odd images reminiscent of Man Ray's, of the human figure photographed in the intimacy of a curtained room. Atkins has worked the light over and over in the darkroom, burning away layers of detail, drawing down a veil that suggests roughed-up archive celluloid, transforming a person into an apparition."
- Tristian Quinn: ‘New Statesman’, Current Affairs Magazine
"The City Atkins sees is a sort of retro-futurist construct where ancient, all-consuming impoverishment abuts vulgar post-modern consumerism with no apparent contradiction. These are neither emotional nor social images. They are intended to stir uneasy, rootless feelings. They are not designed to prettify, preach or smooth."
- Melanie McGrath: ‘Evening Standard’ Newspaper
"Marc Atkins' Beckett-like scenario suggests the hell of isolation. A man sits at a table in a desolate setting, his head shrouded in cloth blown by a wind machine mounted on a supermarket trolley. A neatly conceived tautology."
- Sarah Kent: ‘Time Out’ London Magazine
"[Atkins] brings in the Blakeaen drive, the all-things-in-the-one-image idea, the single window open, looking out. But always a stalking of the multiple clarifies of the real, always the beautiful and the disturbing, of un-ease before the light, a strange movement in the shadows at the edge."
- Gareth Evans: ‘Entropy’ Magazine
"Atkins's nudes are always complex: there is a stunning emphasis on sculptural form, but equally there is always a tantalising - actually more teasing - emphasis on the mysterious narrative or scenario to which they are subtended."
- Rod Mengham, Poet, Author, Arts-Writer
"Atkins creates worlds that amplify and project the given atmosphere of place, exploring the hidden hearts the distilled reconstruction of their atmosphere being performed lit by time into the camera lens."
- Brian Catling, Performance Artist
"Doors open on rooms in which oblique narrative have played themselves out. The mouth watering precision of Atkins' prints, and the banishment of all unnecessary referents paradoxically, evoke chambers of imprecision, which refuse to obey the tedium of accepted physical laws."
- Iain Sinclair, Author
"Atkins' vision of London is crepuscular, even when it's broad daylight. There's always a sense that what you can't see is made visible in other forms. The creatures of the night have a transparency that nonetheless casts a shadow. Time past is contained in time future, and time future is contained in time past, as Eliot put it. Marc Atkins' images are evidence that the poetic thought can infect even the most perfectly scientific of discourses."
- Hotshoe International Magazine
"Marc Atkins is a dark-edged photographer of London's hidden places secret histories and sinister "characters". Noirish, morbid and dramatizing, Atkins' photography captures an urban state of mind"
- Jonathan Jones: ‘The Guardian’ Newspaper
"The photographs, infused with the light over London, capture derelict scenes, abandoned pathways split by weeds, the x of two contrails in the sky over grim concrete bunkers. He plays with the paranoia induced by surveillance cameras, becoming himself a kind of freelance surveillance device. All black and white the photographs reveal contemporary London in the way Stanley Greenberg's Invisible New York opens up that city beneath, between, and around the buildings of its overdeveloped skyline."
- Paul McRandle: ‘The Brain’ Arts Magazine
"I still think Atkins is our real discovery. There are bits of his photos that scare me. He sees things that I have never considered pieces of undisturbed debris and scatterings of lost thoughts that echo from windows high above. I shiver a bit. My mind takes hold of memories of people I have never seen, strangers, in the future as well as the past."
- Annie Morrand: ‘Rising East’ Magazine
The Logic of the Stairwell and Other Images
published by Shearsman Books
I took my time reading the Logic of the Stairwell, it's not a book you should get through in one go. Beautiful and moving, with a lot of variety in tempo. Some passages are so dense, so packed with potential meanings, that they just go by me, but I look forward to returning to them. I think that the greatest pleasure for me as a reader, apart from the imagery as such, was from the buildup of tension in a paragraph, and then the release taking an unexpected direction and form. A sly alteration, substitution, play on words and idioms, bringing Ashbery's procedures to mind. This is much stronger, to my mind, than the typically surrealist metaphors and the syntax they entail, and of which he has used quite a few. But these are just technical remarks. The book is wonderful, profound, real in the most intimate, emotional sense, without being obtrusive about this. A difficult pleasure, and all the more pleasurable for that.
- Tadeusz Pioro
Marc Atkins new collection of prose poems is entitled The Logic of the Stairwell and Other Images, and for me it was the most rewarding read of all three books. It is obvious from his visually detailed prose poetry that Atkins was an artist and photographer prior to being a poet and this is not a bad perspective to be coming from when writing poetry. His long flowing sentences take the reader into a different world, filled with detail and unusual metaphors. When Atkins is at his best he is direct and concrete, he occasionally gets lost in over the top language but these are infrequent and hidden by his skill to show the reader a new perspective on old themes like relationships. Atkins experiments with the form and structure of his prose poems, shortening the sentence structure with one poem consisting of only two words. 'The Shorts' section at the end of the book is an enjoyable section of poems. They are short sometimes only one sentence, with clarity of imagery. His use of repetition supports the content of the poetry unlike other poets where form is forced upon the content. 'The Damned' however is my favourite section of the book because of the highly visual atheistic used through the piece, such as this quotation: "I saw the two photographed a year ago. Set upright on a mantelpiece leaning against an enabled cigarette box alongside several others."
The certainty of these images and the detail of such items on a mantelpiece really appealed to me. The thick detail of Atkins language lends his writing to prose poetry, often with asides of short sentences, to add whimsy and ever more detail to the worlds he creates. His poetry shows rather than tells and the language is simple and bared down to the bone, in his best poems. However like all these collections it is not a completely effective in its entirety. Atkins sometimes gets stuck using phraseology and images that confuse and obscure the reader. Overall this is the best collection of poetry of all three books but it leaves the reader wanting more. I will definitely wait for his future collections with great anticipation... Atkins prose poetry allowed me to engage with language and his poetic voice successfully.
- Sam Murphy, Stride Books
Read complete review at Stride Books website → www.stridebooks.co.uk
"Fifty thousand greying silhouettes at the Falls of Terni found refuge in the dying heat of a damp Autumn afternoon" is the opening sentence of 'The Logic of The Stairwell', the first short prose in Marc Atkins' collection of the same title. It is an arresting image, but is it also a reference to Byron? Or perhaps John Reade? There is little time to consider as Atkins continues to dazzle and confuse: "Friedrich hid none too well the many shadows across his eyes as he spoke in lucid tone of the inequalities of the surfaces and how long a serious discussion should be held on the popularity of playing underwater with tubercular mothers." The fifty thousand silhouettes do reappear, but this time "in attendance at the burial of Leo Tolstoy" and, still on the first page, Virginia Sackville-West, presumably an amalgam of Woolf and Vita, searches once more for her lost sister. It is difficult to keep pace with Atkins' accumulating images, with his quick-footed avoidance of continuity. The impulse to try and find logic in his rapid and disruptive naming is hard to resist. Is there a pun in the inventor's name 'Reuse'? Or does the name Juliet Margaret (Julia Margaret Cameron?) suggest there are clues in the "shadows" of Atkins' photographs?Atkins' ability to conjure atmosphere of place is reminiscent of Djuna Barnes' Nightwood. His dark stairwell is haunted by morphed mirrors, strange umbrae and lengthening shadows and as "dawn pours from the hot tap" he wonders "if a photograph could be of shadow instead of its replacement." In 'Places Found and Imagined' Atkins' repeated use of the phrases "Fade to dark" and "Fade to black" draws attention to his cinematic treatment of landscape: "Lento the humming hours slide past in unmeasurable tones." "Fade to dark. Sleep on. Keep Looking." It is an elegiac piece, a post holocaust of place - "We slunk to a looted mall where all the world has come to laugh" - and of mind: "Nothing happened to me. My life is a story I once heard (...) Fade to black." 'Places Found and Imagined' is more accessible than 'The Logic of the Stairwell' and more dreamlike. It keeps the reader in the landscape and drenched as "A fine rain of thoughts has become a mist. "The pieces that follow create a similar mood and one of Atkins' 'Shorts', 'Event Horizon', reads as a coda to the whole collection: "A man standing in a dark room switched on a torch. He traced its light slowly around the walls. When the light hit the uncurtained window it illuminated a man standing outside in the night looking into the room. With both hands this man held a photograph of a face in front of his face like a mask. The photograph was of the face of the man standing in the dark room."
- Barbara Bridger, academia.edu
Read complete review at academia.edu website → www.academia.edu
‘Liquid City’, published by Reaktion Books
It is hard to describe just what exactly the book is‚ is it a travelogue, is it an exploration of the process of change constantly taking place in London or is it just a montage of pictures with a rambling sometimes connected discourse? Actually‚ it's a bit of all the above, but whatever it is there is a definite pull being exerted. Marc Atkins is a renowned photographer and his images of mainly East and South East London (though Temple Bar is in Herts) form the core of the book. What you won't find is a tourist trail. This book looks at things that we have forgotten (often with very good reason) or that have crumbled away with neglect. The landscapes are often stark and industrial, but sometimes close and intimate. The liquid refers to the Thames which although not ever-present, lurks in the background in all its mystery. Although not in any particular order, it manages to start on the M25 boundary at West Thurrock, but no views of happy shoppers at Lakeside‚ just the overgrown railway lines and towers of power stations and refineries. This sets the tone for a preoccupation with decay, be it tombs in Bunhill fields, the vast cemetery at Leyton or just modern concrete tombs of architects ideals of towers in the sky. Places such as Blooms are a welcome contrast when you turn the page. The writing veers between poetry and living diary‚ but still seductively pulls you in. Contrast or complimentary, whatever your viewpoint this is a work that along with "Robinson in Space" almost creates a new genre.
- Amanda Carrington
The 180 images in Liquid City demonstrate the ambitious scope of Atkins"s vision. From high on the roof of a mock-Byzantine temple we look down on the Thames, its brilliant sheen offset by a shadowy high-rise skyline - a modern monochrome Canaletto, huge but depopulated, empty of all human activity.
Atkins captures forgotten places passed by en route to somewhere else - desolate post-industrial sites on the edge of the river, a static caravan flying a Union flag somewhere on the estuary, the Dartford river crossing rising triumphantly into the haze. He revels in derelict back-streets and decaying monuments - the cracked surface of the John Bunyan effigy in Bunhill fields, or his own shadow falling across William Blake’s gravestone.
Alongside photographs of Michael Moorcock and Peter Ackroyd in the back of a cab or relaxing next to a street sign reading Dan Leno Walk SW6, Atkins portrays a litany of vanished writers. Some are dead (Kathy Acker, Derek Raymond), others are missing (David Gascoyne, a "natural psychogeographer" whose only novel explores Twickenham’s "sublimely ordinary surfaces") and others are denizens of pubs too far from Clerkenwell for them to have tangled much with the mainstream media.
As for the images themselves, Sinclair is right when he says Atkins lacks the "tender human curiosity of Robert Frank" - the portraits feel cold, the remoteness of the subjects unpunctured. More haunting are his odd images, reminiscent of Man Ray’s, of the human figure photographed in the intimacy of a curtained room. Atkins has worked the light over and over in the darkroom, burning away layers of detail, drawing down a veil that suggests roughed-up archive celluloid, transforming a person into an apparition.
- Tristian Quinn, ‘New Statesman’ Magazine, 5th July 1999
Marc Atkins and Iain Sinclair worked together on Lights Out for the Territory, though in that collection of essays Atkins" name appeared more often in the text than his photographs did on the page. Liquid City rights the balance, offering a couple hundred pages of images only occasionally broken up by Sinclair"s commentary. The photographs, infused with the light over London, capture derelict scenes, abandoned pathways split by weeds, the x of two contrails in the sky over grim concrete bunkers. He plays with the paranoia induced by surveillance cameras, becoming himself a kind of freelance surveillance device. All black and white, the photographs reveal contemporary London in the way Stanley Greenberg"s Invisible New York opens up that city beneath, between, and around the buildings of its overdeveloped skyline. But Atkins is also adept at portraiture; many are striking, framing, for example, the casual exhibitionism of a naked man in a hospital bed adjusting long stockings. But if Sinclair"s interest in psychogeography is an attempt to find something beneath London"s relentless self-promotion, he hardly keeps himself from using the cachet of its arts crowd to advance his cause. Happily, the modishness is little more than a flare at the edge"s of Atkins" dark work.
- Paul McRandle
Liquid City, an addendum to Lights Out, will be an easier entry point for all but the most rugged readers, if only because the text takes a back seat to the photography of Marc Atkins (...). Atkins's pictures and Sinclair's short bursts of text (mostly sketches of the marginal literati and eccentric academics that are his friends and/or heroes) operate independently, only rarely serving as illustration/caption to each other. But the deep affinity between the pair leaps off the page.
- Simon Reynolds ‘Down and Out in London’ August 17th, 1999, in ‘The Village Voice’ magazine
I still think Atkins is our real discovery. There are bits in his photos that scare me. He sees things that I have never considered, pieces of undisturbed debris and scatterings of lost thoughts that echo from windows high above. I shiver a bit. My mind takes hold of hold of memories from people I have never seen, strangers, in the future as well as the past.
- Annie Morrad: A Journey through London, "RISING EAST", Volume 3, Number 3
In their previous collaboration Lights Out For The Territory Marc Atkins' few dark, brooding photographs added focus to Iain Sinclair's dense, impressionistic, psychogeographical formulations about the city in which he loves to drift. Here Atkins' penetrating black and white portraits and his beautiful, troubling shots of a London we forget we know dominate.This attempt to articulate a truth about a space is an impossible project, and it is impossible to hold a fixed position on it - as the title Liquid City suggests. Sinclair and Atkins know this (Sinclair praises his friend for creating flux whereas his writing tries to "mould wriggling chaos") but the project proves worthwhile as it has produced words and remarkable pictures. This is a visual feast of contemporary photojournalism, in which Atkins's visions help the reader perceive a London that can.
- Mark Thwaite
‘Warsaw’ published by WIG-PRESS
Marc Atkins is best known for his photographs of London. Several of these were published in the collaborations with Iain Sinclair, Lights Out for the Territory and Liquid City, but they represent only a handful of the reputed 30,000 images of the city that he has created. These urban icons should be seen alongside the other aspects of his oeuvre: portraits (eleven of these, chiefly of maverick writers, are housed in the National Portrait Gallery); and dreamed-of scenarios and narratives, the most mysterious and least well-known area of his work. With his latest publication, Warsaw, arousing huge curiosity in the Polish capital, he has returned to urban iconography in a way that clearly invites comparison and contrast with his representations of London. The choice of subjects in the later series reflects a desire to re-frame the earlier work as part of a structure of correspondences. It becomes possible to pair off single images and groups of images as mutually defining.
One of the most revealing comparisons brings together the funerary traditions epitomized in studies of individual tombstones. The London variants are among Atkins’s most celebrated images; they show crumbling stone, infested with decay, absorbed into and overcome by organic growth which mimics and subverts the forms of statuary and stonemasonry. The monument’s passage through time is characterized by friction and granulation. In Warsaw, the stone is polished; marble is used, or composite emulations of marble’s smoothness, memorializing not so much the manner of death - as is common especially in eighteenth century inscriptions in Britain, recording the progress of the body’s disintegration and the soul’s resolution - but a phase of existence long before the moment of decease, during a period of health, vitality and self-possession. This aura of immunity is captured in a small portrait photograph that is sealed with a hard glaze, in a culture where the enshrining of the relic was superseded by the preservation of Lenin’s tissue. The architecture of death is cryogenic in Eastern Europe. It is the architecture of the everyday that is subject to dramatic forms of abrasion.
Image after image in the Warsaw series shows the flux and reflux of history; history hurrying in opposite directions; backwards and forwards at one and the same time. Large areas of the city are feral. Ill-kempt and overgrown farm-land survives less than a mile from the city centre; Atkins focuses on an agricultural penthouse, typical of the improvised architecture of the countryside, its only gesture to modernity an array of different-sized plastic buckets, the most modern of materials being utilized for the most primitive of necessities. The land-use demonstrated in the shadow of soviet-style tower blocks and the cranes of present-day construction adheres to the traditional mixed economy of the village. While one half of Polish society prepares for global postmodernity, the other half retreats into a subsistence recess. This photograph is not so much elegiac as prophetic: of a modernity that is less and less totalized, more and more likely to be cannibalized for spare parts; of history as a setting for divergences, which seems to be the implication of Atkins’s study of the Old Town, that epitome of post-war reconstruction, the occasion of national pride and self-confidence, portrayed here as a focus of uncertainties, a multi-perspectival grid of shifting points of view, absent vistas: a secret desire for impasse. The Atkins obsession with infrastructure, with competing forms of transit and transport, is distilled in a portfolio of depictions of empty or under-used thoroughfares. This badly-lit and vacated modernity, often jerry-built or apparently unfinished bears a family resemblance to Ilya Kabakov’s. We Live Here Now’, an installation in which the grandiose ambitions for a technologized future are abandoned by workers who live out their days in the prefabricated huts intended for use only during the period of construction.
Atkins’s representations of Warsaw push hard at the paradox of grossly overcrowded private space absorbing a stereotypical Polish gregariousness, while a false communality is identified with the unwanted abundance of public fora and meaningless concourses. A junction of darkened boulevards, catering to buses, trams and even cycle paths, is completely deserted except for two waiting pedestrians, whose twilit vigil is at the centre of a seemingly entropic system, with the batteries of modern city life running low, and the schematic outlines of bicycles curiously miniaturized marking the foreground like police records of a presence gone forever.
This Warsaw is a city of disappearances, of a history leaching out through the stone and brick of a fabric that could not be more distressed, whose patched and stained facades offer maximum resistance to the wipe-clean surfaces of modernity. In a city whose foundations lie in sands and gravels, the archaeology is all above ground, the record of past conflicts only skin-deep beneath a thin layer of badly-mixed plaster, apparently designed to fall away in time for each generation to have to rehearse its own strategies for oblivion. In many ways, the most haunting of these images is Atkins’s Breughel-equivalent version of a new Babel, a monument to unrestrained ambition, to the desire for endlessly upward mobility that could not be more weighed down. This is his portrayal of the new television centre. The amount of pressure per square centimetre bearing down on this structure is like that on the ocean floor. But this solidified vacancy, this shrine to the dead zone, is also something else; it is the Colosseum, exactly as dreamed of by Hitler.It was only after the visit of Hitler and Albert Speer in the nineteen thirties, that the Colosseum was cleared of the centuries-old colonies of flora and fauna that had learned to live in its shadow, including several unique species. All this had to disappear when the building became the blueprint for a new culture, for a barbarous form of civilization in which a ruin becomes the image of the future, not the image of the past; not a place that shows all the evidence of many cycles of growth and decline, of a process of continuous change. Photography is often thought of as a medium that fixes the moment, cryogenising it for future generations, but it can also become the means of showing how nothing is ever fixed, how the moment will always elude us, how all that can be recorded is irrevocable loss; and it is somewhere in the shifting sands between those two positions that Marc Atkins’s work is situated.
- Rod Mengham for "The Liberal" magazine
‘Thirteen’, published by ‘The Do Not Press’
Through its 176 black and white pages, 13 provides a juxtaposition of imagery and words: photographic nudes by Marc Atkins are "illustrated" with text commissioned from thirteen writers of note, two of whom are former musicians. The authors range from novelist Julian Rathbone to New York columnist Maggie Estep via Bill Drummond (best known for his part in confrontationist pop/art unit, KLF) and Groupie author, Jenny Fabian. Some, like Nicholas Royle and Stella Duffy, are rising stars of British literature; others, such as biographer James Sallis and journalist Mick Farren (formerly of 60s psych underground garage band The Deviants, 70s band The Pink Fairies and a contributor to NME) are seasoned veterans. All thirteen were given a nude photo and asked to write an accompanying piece.
The results are a mixed bag but always interesting and often provocative. Some of the prose seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the image that precedes it (James Sallis), while other authors seem to have gone to great pains to make their words entirely in keeping with photo (Lauren Henderson). Mick Farren"s poetic entry is short yet sublime, former KLF mad man Bill Drummond muses over nudes from Ancient Greece through to Asian Babes circa "98, Maxim Jakubowski"s Parisian sojourn is almost pornographic and Miles Gibson goes off on his own journey through an umbilicus. Arty, yet accessible and some of the nude shots are exquisite. Naturally, it"s priced just right at 13 quid.
- Adrian Smith
Marc's photography 'Hotshoe International' magazine:
The official message is that London is hip. Marc Atkins suggests it’s old, dark, and far more powerful. Atkins’s vision of London is crepuscular, even when it's broad daylight. There’s always a sense that what you can’t see is made visible in other forms. The creatures of the night (if that’s what you want to call them) have a transparency that nonetheless casts a shadow. And in their element these forms become concrete. You can’t see the Nudes who commission or undertake the surveillance of others, but as other you can survey their gaze. The city, at once a place organised by scopic power and planned authority, is also a place where things become unravelled and fall apart. That collapse is no more evident than at the margins - a zone of uncertainty and hybridity where the detritus of the city is shed, disintegrating into a flaky dust like sloughed reptilian skin. But Atkins’s accurate observation is that the margin can as easily be in King’s Cross as on the Isle of Grain: the city may have finished with you, but you don’t know it yet. But that equation works both ways: despite the camera’s baleful eye people and objects can fall into gaps where observation is escaped, and broken, used up, the discard becomes valuable in new and unthought ways. The great trick of the photograph is the game it plays with time: fixing the present as immediately past and re-presenting it infinitely into the future. But with the best of Atkins’s photographs you get a sense that it includes time which preceded the moment - as though not only the present were there for eternal inspection, but that all the time which had influenced the moment, the subject, the space of the photograph, was, despite its dissipation still there, occluding the image. The logic of the camera would deny this mystery: we"re talking poetics here not optics, not science. The camera is imaginatively structured around a mlinear progression of time, fractions of which might be trapped and preserved. But Atkins’s photography, which perverts the authoritarian, scopic, role so often assigned to the camera in the city, also suggests that camera is not simply an unthinking. Modernist, machine, servant of linear progress and ratiocination. Time past is contained in time future,and time future contained in time past, as Eliot put it. Marc Atkins’s images are evidence that the poetic thought can infect even the most perfectly scientific of discourses.
- from article in ‘Hotshoe International’ Magazine: September/October 1999
Photo credit: © Françoise Lacroix