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Best Before End 2012-2013
(Shipping week 47 November 2022)
Original negative set in resin block, these are unique hand poured pieces and there may be small irregularities such as air bubbles and small imperfections in the surface area.
These unique negatives from the Best Before End series were part processed in energy drinks, then left to dry over a three-year period and were then incapsulated in resin blocks.
Best before End was the last body of work Stephen made after twenty years of living in London.
The series Best Before End is an attempt to reflect and respond to the intensity of inner-city life by focusing on the phenomenal rise of energy drinks. These powerful and potentially dangerous stimulants are being sold and consumed in ever-increasing quantities as the demands of modern life and the growth of a 24-hour society almost forbid us to become tired.
With Best Before End I decided to give the subject of the photographic series a direct physical presence in the images. The colour negative films were part-processed in energy drink, which caused image shifts and disruptions and softened the film emulsion. This softening allowed for manual stretching, moving, tearing and distortion of the layers of film emulsion to take place, and further manual shifts were added with a soft brush while the emulsion was still pliable. All the drinks were sourced in East London, which is also where the images were made.
This way of working would give the subject a route into the images without passing through the camera lens.
After these stages the sugary coated single negatives were left to dry over a three-year period and were then incapsulated in resin blocks.
Stephen also made large scale fine art prints of a small selection of images, this resulted in the series Energy Field. These images were made in an edition of one, each of these pieces were accompanied with the original negative.
“‘Best Before End’ is at once a stairway to heaven and a descent into hell. It nearly was the end of Stephen but luckily for us produced one of the most lucid responses to being alive in the history of photography. Will Self in his introduction to the book of this work states that ‘The Best Before End series memorialises the freewheeling decline of the west’. I would go further and say the end of mankind is quantified and measured in these pictures. Death is shown to be the only viable strategy for separating matter from its subject. The most sensual of dances emerges as the final sleep speeds towards us. One day I sat down with Stephen to witness the cooking of the images in the different energy drinks. The process was extraordinary as the amphetamine like juices of our cultural wasteland became part of the history of alchemy. Stephen coughed a lot I coughed and felt nauseous. Through an effort of the will Stephen finished the series as his body was breaking. Of course he ended up in hospital. This was his last work made in London. New horizons of a redemptive nature are now his favoured habitat and laboratories. Even in this new environment his forensic analysis of the metropolitan dilemma continues apace.“ – Timothy Prus
"Tiredness can indeed kill but then what’s death if not a big Chandleresque sleep, in which wiseacre gumshoes drive to the end of the night only to discover that its their own involvement in the case that led to the murder-spree. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, for all sleep is the sleep of reason we need our wits about us: it’s an accelerated world out there, demanding split-second decision making capability to hit the right button so as to make the right multi-million dollar trade, or order the next pizza, or download the next app. We swim through an orangey brinelight: a carbonated energy field of unified, fizzing awareness; its dreamlike this existence most certainly but it’s a waking dream, and for that we have energy drinks to thank. Stephen Gills beautiful images, which incorporate energy drinks as an integral part of their processing, capture this strange state of being at once driven and aqueous, simultaneously sweet and oh so bitter. The Best Before End series, memorialises the freewheeling Decline of the West; which, to paraphrase Alfred Jarry, the founding father of pataphysics, is best conceived of as a downhill bicycle race sponsored by a major-brand energy drink, in which all of the pursuit riders have the red head of the Minotaur. For myself, I’m way out in front of them and pedalling HARD." - Will Self
“Nobody has made a better record of the energy field of this provocative place than the photographer Stephen Gill. Stephen reveals himself, through his modest determination, his stalking and circling of the subject, as a major documentarist, responder, playful conceptualist and dazzling visual poet. More than any other bounty hunter of the margins, this man has recognised the obligation to collaborate with chaos, to make art from difficulty, to mix forensic science (the microscope, the high-resolution medical camera) with river mud, bugs, stones, and ribbons. Gill has become the absolute master of cultural superimposition: the mundane with the lyrical seizure, ordinary folk going about their business alongside floral explosions, ants crawling across unexposed film. ‘Best Before End’, is a Stephen Gill apotheosis. It is hard to discuss these painterly prints without returning to the metaphor of alchemy – which has always been a part of London’s occulted history, from the Elizabethan magus John Dee to the libertarian filmmaker Derek Jarman. Alchemy, the serious practitioners understood, is about process, repetition, going through the same rituals, time after time, to achieve the golden light within your own consciousness. It was never about the vulgar metamorphosis of dirt into gold. It was about understanding how we must keep on, following our blind instincts, refining our craft, until the craft refines us, burning off everything unnecessary and false. Gill’s brilliant intuition here is to involve toxic energy drinks, Hackney’s junk Viagra of the supermarkets, as an active agent in the process of layering an image. Territorial descriptions, low key by intention, records of persons and places, are developed and then finessed in a bath of fizzing sugars. The cellular damage is spectacular. The large prints are the fulfilment of Gill’s alchemical marriage between photography and painting, local particulars and corporate marketing. I think they are among the finest things Stephen has done. The crowning glory of an astonishing and perhaps definitive account of the argument between artist and place.”– Iain Sinclair