Robin Maddock’s second book is a continuation of his work on aspects of everyday English society, in the city where he has had family all his life, the south western port of Plymouth. The title ‘God Forgotten Face’ is derived from the Philip Larkin poem of the town ‘Plymouth’ written in 1945, and the words ‘Last kingdom of a gold forgotten face...’.
Long since the Pilgrim Fathers set sail without looking back, mythic history has played out here. This book is about a particular loss of time and place, and an English way of addressing this. Plymouth is a post-war city of evolving new economies, the contradictions are all here: ‘Francis Drake’ is a shopping mall and what was the ‘Royal Sovereign’ pub on Union St. is now the ‘Firkin Doghouse’.
It was just this inter-changeability that brought Maddock back to work there, on the surface an ordinary port town with an inherited trauma of the Blitz. Plymouth’s ongoing economic and cultural isolation since the shrinking of the Navy frames a broader England in decline. The Blairite legacy limps on here in the form of empty ‘luxury’ quayside developments. In many ways this is another provincial town, of two-on-one attacks in car parks at 3am all caught on CCTV. Plymouth itself has long been an overlooked place, and in the minds of Londoners often confused with the other sea town of Portsmouth.
These original motivations set in motion through the strength of childhood memories are challenged by more adult quotidian realities of time spent amongst the ‘Janners’. The book reflects his take on the particular stoicism, humour and generosity of the plymouthians, as his own preconceptions unravel. A journey's principal question shifting from: ‘What am I doing here?’ to the more telling ‘What am I, here?’ In this way the book also becomes a personal account of a photographer gradually becoming more isolated and lost than the subject he had returned to find. The ‘God Forgotten Face’ of the title perhaps becoming his own.
Owen Hatherley contributes with an essay on Plymouth as a Blitzed city, drawing on the city’s architectural fabric and what it means for its future.