Prolific photo-artist was known for his ethereal, atmospheric black and white infra-red images of ruined buildings and Gothic graveyards. He drew inspiration not only from the dark visual beauty of the landscapes he photographed but also the eerie ghost stories he had read and heard as a child.
Irish director Jason Figgis (Torment, Don’t You Recognise Me?) shadowed Marsden while he was creating his book The Twilight Hour and was given unprecedented access to the artist while he was creating his work for a documentary on that subject and got to know him well. Five years after Marsden’s death in 2012, Figgis tells the story of what made his work so special and what drove the man to become such a master behind the lens and, perhaps more importantly, in the darkroom.
The stories of M. R. James and Edgar Allan Poe inform the imagination of the young Marsden and it’s their influence that’s easy to see in his work. While not portraying any particular story, the mood and ambience of the tales is prevalent.
Sir Simon’s story is told through a mix of his own words, Figgis’ narration, and talking heads. With a wonderful mix of visuals - Marsden’s images mixed with some beautifully shot footage of places evocative of the atmosphere of the surroundings in which the images were created.
Figgis’ film does justice to Marsden’s legacy and provides a valuable insight into what motivated him to dedicate so much time to photograph things that would not be a subject matter. As the son of the second Baronet of Grimsby, it was the dilapidated allegedly haunted mansions he grew up in that sparked his imagination alongside the ghost stories he had heard.
The way the artist’s story interjects with the ghostly stories and occasional apparition will make it even more interesting to those less artistically inclined. We can’t imagine anyone not having chills when they see some of those images, though.
At one point, we’re told that Sir Simon preferred - and felt safer - in the supposedly creepy surroundings of graveyards and old buildings than he did walking down Oxford Street. It’s probably a sentiment many of us could relate to.
As visually striking as Marsden’s work itself, this a documentary that not only educates on the subject but is also entertaining and fascinating.
SIMON MARSDEN - A LIFE IN PICTURES / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JASON FIGGIS / STARRING: SIMON MARSDEN, JASON FIGGIS, SIR JOHN LESLIE / RELEASE DATE: TBC