Jonas Read

Novelty in the familiar


Snakes and Ladders Urban Rural looks at the boundaries, constraints, constructs and liminalities of 21stC living. The Contemplation Seats element of the project focuses on the communities served by Marston Vale Train, which links the market towns of Bedford (famous for Bunyan, the line travels through the real landscape of his Pilgrim’s Progress) and Bletchley, home of the code breakers and The Enigma Machine. It is essentially rural ‘middle’ England. Annett has invited New York based photographer, Jonas Read to collaborate in the project. His images creating a vibrant, urban, industrial polarity to the quiet, contemplative landscapes of her ‘seats’. Both artists are working in their immediate environments – looking for beauty or interest in the ordinary, the familiar and the often overlooked and using (literally) light to do so. Both artists have known each other since childhood but have not seen each other in over a quarter of a century.

In the tradition of artist observers, who operate as part voyeur, part emic ethnographer, Jonas Read is ‘outsider’. He describes himself as a musician, a carpenter, a restorer of old buildings, and does not consider himself a photographer.  Read moved from the UK in 1990 Eventually making a permanent home in the USA after some years touring internationally with his band, The Big Geraniums.

In 2016 years Read is settled in New York, with a wife and family. He writes, “I came here in ’95 with them to play at CBGB’s and my wife was in the audience, we were only supposed to be here for ten days but I never left…” This understated romance permeates the work, quietly and tenderly; catching the light and the lines of his urban environment, in a low-key, high chroma, structuralist, patternist documentation. He transforms the mundane into timeless, mis-en-scene feeling vistas or stages, we are so used to the land/street-scapes of New York as a cinematic backdrop and Read is able to capitalize on this, with the eyes of an immigrant.

He continues: “I started taking the urban/architectural/train tracks and bridges type of pictures on my phone (iPhone 5) about a year and a half ago, I always had the phone in my pocket and would snap stuff that interested me whilst wandering around.  I’ve always had an interest in mid-century furniture and decor and the whole 1950s American thing, the oversaturated photographs, slightly warped colours. All the (photographs of) bridges/flyovers were taken while road tripping down to Georgia in the summer of 2014 on scorching hot days – I started messing with the colours on a photo app. on my phone (which one?) and made them look like 1950s postcards. Yet with an often square format (instagram?) he ignores the portrait landscape conventions, tessellating bright colours and interlocking forms instead, moving at light speed away from the atmospheric black and white ariel shots cityramaas of New York city which evoke a 1930’s fortress feel which we associate with NYC.”

300x300-Jonas-image2Read comments: “The elevated train-tracks are all just around the corner from where I live in Kensington Brooklyn, I pass them every day and sometimes the light is perfect. The rest of the pictures are just little banal snippets from around Brooklyn and Manhattan. Most of the newer pictures are taken on a little Panasonic dmcs40 and then edited on my iPhone.

As far as influences go, I am very naive about formal photography in an art historical context, the only person I could say I was influenced by is William Eggleston – I try, like he did, to take one picture of a thing and then move on and if it’s good, it’s good. I’m very lazy and find it immensely dull to go through 20 different shots of the same subject.”


With social media Annett has been able to watch his photographic works emerge and develop in quality and number, with an obsessional observance she recognizes in her own practice and of the other artists involved with and interviewed for S&L.


(In fact both his parents are established UK artists, painters, so creativity was a normality in the home and as a profession; (sueread.org).
Annett describes Reads working as honest and unfettered. He is about living. Both artists share Eggleston’s attention to place, a way of looking, in a straightforward, uncomposed way, at showing what is there. As if by taking a photograph the time available to look is extended, and therefore the understanding of it. Annett pushes this ‘take it or leave it’ neutral documenting of subject, by introducing domestic or interior objects, themed and often culturally unconventional, for example chairs and mirrors, into landscapes and environments, where they should not perhaps be. She is focused on the underlying belief that most of societies cultural patterns are constructs, which can be abandoned or utlisised, but of which most people are not aware. Traditions are generally just the dominant historical paradigms, nothing more, nothing less. Annett has worked in various media in the landscape for over 30 years – and the archetypal form of the chair has featured repeatedly. Inappropriately placed domestic items, or scenes, such as placing a fully laid dining table into the pristine water feature in Milton Keynes iconic shopping centre, or locating beds (bunk and double) with in beds (flower) as part of the Open University’s sculpture Biennale in 2004. The contemplation seats physically are part of this play with or game of archetype vs. stereotype.

She sites the work of Arthur Tress as the most influential on her photography. www.arthurtress.com


Reads emblematic, ‘snapshots’ are far more, they have developed in form, style and function, and each photograph reveals a new level or meaning or understanding of place to the viewer, be it about the architecture, the seasons, the humans who inhabit the space or the trains which bisect the images. The trains and their supporting infrastructure have been there since before the humans currently residing in both rural Bedfordshire or downtown New York. The Marston Line was opened in 1846, two years after the first (underground – Atlantic Avenue Tunnel) train service opened in New York in 1844, so both networks are among the oldest globally and historically, and Read and Annett’s work, both convey this feeling of being an observer of something bigger than an individuals schemata, a whole whose reach is so much wider than can be grasped by a single consciousness, at one specific moment in time. Both artists spend time walking, and rewalking routes, always witnessing and trying to capture something novel in the familiar, a new beauty in the form, or the transience, or the light. Always observing, always travelling in the midst of the ordinary, the extraordinary and the endlessly ephemeral.
For Read the lattice work of the railway against, but intrinsic to the new york claustrophobic and iconic architecture, provides endless geometric paintings in shadow and light, he plays with formal perspectives creating tunnels and vortices out of walkways and platforms, bisecting space with both solid structures and swabs or patches of light and colour. People pass fleetingly through the images, so much more ephemeral than the supa and infra -structures, which pulsate with energy, the intensity of chroma and light can create halo like effects or seem to seep off the page like a curlean camera effect becuase the colour saturation is tweaked and manipulated so far.

Some of the photos look as if they are a challenge to the space, that to stop, or stand still in this flowing energetic city is an affront or a protest. The persistent observation of detail pattern and of a token/theme of scarlet object or item in the picture persuade the viewer that these are far from instant prints – Reads eye is seeking to please a mindset that is drawn to a particular style and explicit image which satisfies him aesthetically.

Photograph Seamus Sullivan

Photograph Seamus Sullivan

His works are like impressionist paintings, born of an intimate knowledge of three dimensional form and the spatial illusions it can create, Read sees past the volume of the real world to capture new worlds which exist in two dimensions as geometric puzzles. The technical devices he employs of solarisation, over saturation, blurring and glaring exposure, which aids to flatten the aggregate objects within the frame, are part of the painterly repertoire he playfully employs. These photographs then become many things and offer many insights, to the people and places of the city as a landscape, well as to the creative pastiches of the artist. This approach of capturing the urban metropolis of New York as a series of landscape paintings, as well as knowingly leaping from genre to stylistic genre is what makes his work appear timeless. Read observes and appropriates the seasonal shifts, peculiarities of dawn and dusk, the weather; both minute and magnificent in its presence and some how make the human presences seem as impermanent as leaves in the ground in autumn, Above all he does this as an emic observer, he is deep within the city, walking its streets, travelling its trains, aware that the city is a much bigger and older beast than any individual and each photograph is like a snapshot through a magnifying glass of a living cell in the body of a colourful dynamic, dirty and dangerous monstrosity.

Reads work will be on line for the opening of the Contemplation Seat project, but will form part of the Striped Van programme 2016/17, and be shown in various urban and rural locations in the UK.

Other artists currently working in this manner include Aaron Yeoman, Tim Grist, Trey Radcliffe, Cassidy Curtis, Gianni D, Sebastian Dario and  Rick Harrison.

Update: Since the project was launched, Read’s work has inspired other artists (often working in other media) including: Aitche Keton (New York City) who is painting directly from his urban landscapes.  See link: www.facebook.com/paintpics/?pnref=story


Jonas Read ~ Gallery 1 ~ Trains

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Jonas Read ~ Gallery 2 ~ More Trains

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‘Art and Mind’ has featured the Contemplation Seats project in its November newsletter. Learn more about their work: https://t.co/n2cKaXnOCo


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