Untitled (In Memoriam, Jon Claremont)

Untitled (In Memoriam, Jon Claremont)

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Untitled (In Memoriam, Jon Claremont)
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Image by jay-chilli
From the photoblog Chillimatic

Posting a photo of a shop called "Party World" here is an odd way to memorialize someone. Bear with me, I’ll explain further down the page. Firstly a little on how I came to know about Jon Claremont and his work.

The service provider for my photoblog, Chillimatic, is called Expressions. Expressions won’t be rivalling Flickr any time soon and perhaps due to the small number of subscribers, or perhaps due to the good work of the people who run it, Expressions is a genuine ‘online community’ (prior to joining I had thought this phrase an oxymoron) brought together by a shared love of photography.

Some particularly high quality photoblogs are nestled alonside my own (frankly amateurish) site. Chief among these is a blog I discovered during my earliest nose around Expressions called ClaremontPhoto – Jon’s photoblog.

The aesthetic of Jon’s pictures was so different to that which currently prevails in photography that it was a shock when I first landed there. My eyes had become too accustomed to the diamond-sharp, perfectly colour-balanced images that digital technology has made possible to immediately accept photos taken with film cameras and developed at the local One Hour Photo. Jon’s snaps were often blurry and overexposed with no apparent colour scheme. His subjects rarely sat nicely in measured compositions.

Even when he was photographing the patrons of the shabby café-bars of Montemor-o-Novo, the town in Portugal where he lived – subjects who were in fact seated and immobile – there was always a touch of anarchy, a touch of humanity, his photos were alive. He once remarked in an e-mail to me that he didn’t do “pretty pictures”. He was wrong. His photos were beautiful, and in a way that all those diamond-sharp digital images could never be.

I started leaving comments on Jon’s site, he on mine, and our intermittent e-mail exchanges began. Just as one had to get past the aesthetic shock and look carefully at Jon’s photos to fully appreciate them so he looked carefully at others’. More than once he remarked on something in one of my shots that I hadn’t noticed myself. For this reason his words of encouragement were valuable to me; his appreciation was genuine.

Jon’s warmth of character was a further quality as apparent in his photos as his mails. Most of his shots were of the inhabitants of Montemor, a village lost in the countryside 40 miles to the east of Lisbon, a town not pretty enough for tourism nor rich enough for chain store homogeneity.

Similarly, Montemor’s inhabitants are neither charmingly rustic nor the neat, presentable Gap-clad men and women that the global economy has moulded. They’re a scruffy lot, spending their evenings sitting awkwardly on bar furniture, drinking cheap beer straight from the bottle, looking up slack-jawed at the football on the telly. In viewing Jon’s photos I was often reminded of Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism “Work is the curse of the drinking classes”.

Most photographers, I think, would maintain a certain distance between themselves and such subjects, one that would translate into a mocking tone in their photos or a falsely reverent one: ostensibly honouring such ‘salt of the earth’ characters, covertly pitying them. Jon did none of that; the section at ClaremontPhoto compiling his ‘people’ shots is titled “Friends and Neighbours”. Quite right, they were not his subjects, he was one of them. The warmth and camaraderie so apparent in his photography were equally evident in his words to me.

Soon after I was first in contact with Jon he was appointed as Community Ambassador at Expressions, bringing to the members’ attention the work of other Expressions contributors, and continuing to offer words of encouragement and genuine appreciation to so many of us. He was very much the glue in our online community and I know that I am not alone in saying how greatly missed he will be.

I learnt of Jon’s passing on Friday and that same day Shanolyno, a fellow Expressions user, posted a comment on my photoblog. I mailed him to say thanks and told him the sad news. His words in reply voiced my own thoughts perfectly: “Seems strange to mourn for someone that I feel I know so well, yet I never met.”

I never met Jon Claremont either, I never even spoke to him and yet he touched me in some way, he inspired me, and I will miss him. For those that did know this clearly exceptional man, his family and friends, the loss must be very great indeed and my thoughts are with them.

So, the photo of “Party World”. It was taken in July of last year with a DSLR which I’d just bought, on the day I arrived in Sardinia, my holiday destination. During the preceding months I had spent much time on photography: taking photographs, tending to my website, reading about photography, viewing the work of others and occasionally exchanging e-mails with Jon.

Shortly before I left we had a quick exchange about Martin Parr, whose work we both admired. I wrote: “Regarding Martin Parr, yes the man is a genius, but I also kind of hate him because it’s become impossible to take photos in certain areas (supermarkets and seaside towns in the UK particularly) without thinking of his brilliant photos. He kind of owns all that now. If I ever find myself in a run down bar in Portugal and I’m unable to take photos because you’ve taken all the ideas and own that environment I’ll let you know.”

When I arrived in Olbia this throwaway comment had transformed into prophecy. Maybe it was the intensity of the sunlight (in Jon’s outdoor shots the walls and streets of Montemor appeared sun-bleached) or maybe it was the slightly tattered look that much of Olbia still has despite a recent influx of tourists courtesy of EasyJet, but I was unable to take pictures of the place, I saw Jon’s photos everywhere.

Thwarted in my attempts to take my own photos I decided to produce some imitation Claremonts. I turned the exposure up a notch to get the bleached look, switched the focus setting to “auto” to lose some sharpness and took a couple of shots of shop fronts which I imagined wouldn’t be out of place in Montemor. This shot was the most successful. I had intended to send it to him but, very regrettably now, never got round to it.

But "Party World", though? Surely not the best way to memorialize someone? Like I say – bear with me. This shop, despite its apparent banality, despite the cheap plastic knick-knacks it displays in the window, proudly proclaims itself “Party World” and this is in keeping with the meaning I read behind many of Jon’s photos. Despite the tawdriness of their surroundings; despite their shabby clothes; despite the cheap beer they’re given to drink every night; despite the fact that they live in a forgotten hinterland, held there just above the breadline; despite the fact that they’re old and working class (both characteristics that were once a source of pride but not so much these days); despite all this and much more, the people in Jon’s photos are mostly smiling. They’re happy.

My favourite of Jon’s photos is of a frail old man who sells lottery tickets from in front of a bar. According to the text accompanying the photo he’s there every week with the same patter, every week he has “the big one”. There he is – leaning against a rubbish bin, an expression of rapt wonder on his face as he eyes the little scraps of paper in his hand which, despite the 10-million-to-one odds, are going to bring in the jackpot. The Don Quixote of Montemor, he is both a fool and a hero.

As summations of the human condition go, it’s hard to beat. We are born into a world without purpose or meaning where there is but one truth: that one day, soon, we will be gone from it, obliterated. We have no chance; we are playing a machine we will never beat, which metes out suffering so much more than joy… And yet we still believe, holy fools that we are, that we’re going to land "the big one", that “A vida é uma festa!” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Party World.

So rest in peace, Jon Claremont, and thank you for showing me all this.

If you’ve read this far I hope you’ll click on the link for ClaremontPhoto. Many of his older photos (including the lottery ticket seller) have disappeared but there remain many photos of exceptional quality.

Image from page 46 of “Canadian foundryman (1921)” (1921)
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Image by Internet Archive Book Images
Identifier: canfoundryman1921toro
Title: Canadian foundryman (1921)
Year: 1921 (1920s)
Subjects: Foundries Foundry workers
Publisher: Toronto : MacLean Pub. Co
Contributing Library: Fisher – University of Toronto
Digitizing Sponsor: University of Toronto

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About This Book: Catalog Entry
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Click here to view book online to see this illustration in context in a browseable online version of this book.

Text Appearing Before Image:
while mold-ing sand experts seem to put most stresson the size of the grain, and as a secondin importance the amount of bond, butthe shape of the grain and the chemicalContinued on page 39 January, 1921 39 NEW AND IMPROVED EQUIPMENT A Record of Machinery Development Tending Towards Higher Quality,Output and Efficiency in Foundry, Pattern and Metal Work Generally THE AUTO SAND-CUTTINGMACHINE The American Foundry EquipmentCompany, 366 Madison avenue, NewYork City, are putting on the market anovel device in the way of a machine forcutting over sand heaps. As shown inthe illustration, it is a combination ofspiral blades revolving on an axle in a The distinguishing feature of this newladle design is the fact that the gearingis mounted on the trunnion instead ofon the bail. Consequently any distortionof the bail or bowl will not interfere withthe alignment of the gears. The man-ner in which the gear bracket engagesthe bail is clearly illustrated in photoherewith. A further advantage of this

Text Appearing After Image:
THE MODERN METHOD OF CUTTING UP THE SAND HEAP. similar manner to those of a lawn mow-er, but being right and left, and con-verging towards the center. The machineis motor-driven and straddles over thesand. When a sand heap is to be cutover the machine is put at one end ofthe floor and is automatically drivenover the sand. As the machine movesalong, the blades revolve and break upthe lumps, thoroughly mix the sand andpile it up in a long windrow the same asa molder would do with a shovel, but more uniform in temper. If desiredto have the sand in a pile against thewall the machine can be run over theheap as often as required until the sandis back far enough. The sand is notthrown at the heap, but is thrown aboutfour feet into the air and falls on thepile in the form of dust. The machineis known as the Auto Sand-Cutter andis made in two types; the traction typeas shown in the illustration and thecrane type, which is suspended from theshop crane and which is especially adapt-ed to situati

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