Coming Up For Air looks back on 30 years of work by Stephen Gill

Bristol’s Arnolfini gallery brings together new and historic work for a show that delves into the photographer’s knack for capturing and evoking place

From The Pillar, 2015-2019

Coming Up For Air unites pieces from several of Gill’s series of work, including Hackney Flowers – which pairs his own photographs and found ephemera with pressed flowers and berries – and Pigeons, a rather unsentimental depiction of the nooks and crannies inhabited by what Gill describes as “the economic migrants of the animal world”.

The exhibition will also show images from The Pillar, which Gill released as a self-published book in 2019. He spoke to CR at the time of the challenges of self-publishing, as well as the motivation behind setting up Nobody, his own publishing imprint, in 2005.

From Hackney Flowers, 2004-2007
From The Pillar, 2015-2019
From Talking To Ants, 2009-2013
From Talking To Ants, 2009-2013

The Pillar features photographs shot in rural Sweden – the place Gill made his home after leaving east London in 2015 – and stars some of the 250 species of birds that are native to the country.

Taken as a whole, the show neatly captures the often uncanny feeling that the photographer evokes, and his deft ability to capture split-second moments of strangeness. It displays prints alongside proofs and photo books – of which Gill has published many over the course of his three-decade career.

Novelist Iain Sinclair maybe expresses the spirit of Gill’s work best: “There is always flow, momentum, the sense of a man passing through a place that delights him,” he wrote in Gill’s 2007 photo book Archaeology in Reverse, which documented a pre-Olympics east London. “A sense of stepping down, immediate engagement, politic exchange. Then he remounts the bicycle and away.”

From Hackney Wick, 2001-2005
From Night Procession, 2014-2017

Coming Up For Air is on display at Arnolfini in Bristol until 16 January, 2022;