Doffy Weir is an artist and photographer who specialises in transforming derelict industrial sites and canals in east London into “beautiful, tranquil other worlds”. Earlier this month she held an exhibition at the Hundred Years Gallery in Hackney which experimented with a new form: improvised live music interpretations of her surreal photography.
The exhibition was titled ‘Lesney’s Ghosts I‘, and will be followed up by a second performance in the same format, both held in the bare downstairs basement of Hundred Years Gallery. Speaking before the exhibition began, Doffy explained how the name for her series of photographs was inspired by a man she met whilst out taking photographs in east London.
“I bumped into a man who was looking for Lesney’s Matchbox Factory,” she recalled. The factory had in fact been demolished in 2010, to make way for a colourful apartment complex known as Matchmakers Wharf. Many of Doffy’s photographs focus on the bold colours of the apartment buildings reflected in the nearby river.
“We chatted for a while, and then went our separate ways,” she said. “My husband said to me, ‘Why don’t you call the collection ‘Lesney’s Ghosts’?
“Afterwards, I looked again at the photos, and started to see something in them.”
One film, three versions
Different individual interpretations of the images was a key theme of the exhibition. Three musicians in turn played improvised live accompaniments to a short, silent film made up of Doffy’s photographs, played three times in succession. First, Marcio Mattos played a haunting cello accompaniment; this was followed by John Butcher‘s saxophone interpretation, which mixed guttering and rushing noises with piercing screeches and whistles. Finally Dave Draper played a melodious, unearthly accompaniment using a guitar and a laptop. Each time, the images seemed to tell different stories. A picture that looked peaceful in one version would suddenly become sinister the second time around. Sometimes, a period of silence was all that was needed to let the images speak for themselves.
Doffy spoke of the challenges that came with assembling her vast array of photographs into a film sequence. The soundless film was originally commissioned by Steve McInerney for the launch of Psychè Tropes Record Label 2014, and took four months to put together. The experience was long and frustrating. “Some days I just sat and cried,” Doffy admitted candidly.
She decided that after so much hard work, the film deserved to be shown at more than just one event, and started to conceive of an experimental new idea: improvised live soundtracks, conceived by the musicians on the spot, with no rehearsal before the event.
Timing the film’s transitions without knowing what the musicians might do was an even bigger challenge, but Doffy was thrilled with the results.
As for her inspiration in taking the photographs to begin with, she enthused, “I’m fascinated with rubbish, with the social history of it. Even though I come from suburbia!”
Without a doubt, no-one who viewed her photography could ever look at rubbish in quite the same way again.