Scratch - Urban Palimpsests
Photographic Prints on Canson Archival Baryta Paper

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Tony Bowen is a UK based fine artist working mainly with photography.


Since postgraduate study, he has divided his time between personal practice and art and design education (teaching and curriculum leadership) in Manchester, where he was born and in Sussex, where he now lives. With a background and first degree in painting, an interest in making photographs has developed over time: initially supporting work with other media and subsequently as outcomes in their own right.


A preoccupation with interpreting the found mark has spanned a number of years. More recent work focuses largely on interrogating and exploring ordinary and often overlooked surfaces in natural, domestic and urban environments. Residues of human and other activity are areas of particular interest, suggesting all kinds of narratives and stimulating broad lines of enquiry. Whether metaphorical or literal, these investigations open up new, personal ways of reading the environment, and of deciphering and engaging with landscape. 


As well as atmospheric and formal considerations, several fascinations form essential and enduring elements of his work. These include the power of the trace, the fragment and the unresolved to provoke the imagination in unexpected ways, and photography's potential to amplify and reorientate observations to create new experiences. Recording and reflecting upon the world ‘as found’ also remains, currently at least, an important consideration. To this end, work is made through "hunting rather than farming" (to use the well known analogy) with no reconstruction, interference or intervention throughout the capture process. Post-production therefore, whilst necessary, is also kept to a minimum.






This (ongoing) body of photographs (2012-2020) examines and documents found glass surfaces in urban, public spaces between London and Sussex, typically street furniture such as telephone boxes and bus shelters. Over time, various narratives emerge on these ever changing surfaces. They combine natural marks (detritus, moisture and weathering) with deliberate interventions (scratching, marking, scoring, sticking and cleaning). Gradually, new elements arrive and coexist - often briefly - leaving an echo of what each space has witnessed. It is rarely clear how or why they emerged, but these raw, ambiguous, layered ghosts reveal a unique calligraphy and trigger a sense of forensic curiosity.


Although usually the residues of illegal acts of vandalism, touching traces of 'being human' can occasionally be found: a cathartic or intimate declaration, a personal message, an affection, a proposition, a confession, a playful moment; (or by contrast) an expression of protest, loss or jealousy, a violent outburst, a retraction or erasure, a corrosive attack with fire or acid, an abrasion, or an incoherent gesture akin to primal automatism. Elsewhere, chance and accident offer unintended juxtapositions, interpretations and potential narratives. These fragments, framed within softer 'fields', provide atmospheric, open ended glimpses of their environments and contexts.