The Sleepers - Background to the work
Arts Council Wales
Research and Development Award
In 1914, the novelist E.M. Forster wrote in a footnote to ‘Maurice,’ that “…two men fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows.” His refusal to publish the novel, reflected very real concerns of the cultural, legal and societal attitudes that pervaded British society at the time. Historians and cultural commentators have done much to chronicle and record the lives of gay men from the early 1900’s onwards, but their assessments are universally bleak. They tell tales of subterfuge, suicides, repressed pleasures and double lives in which happiness and fulfilment are seldom realised. Forster’s refusal to publish ‘Maurice’ in his lifetime, befits the repressed climate of the time.
But there are other stories to be told, that refute these pervasive desolate narratives, and rather than voicing despair, reveal the private lives of men loving men, living with men, and enjoyed a lifetime of intimate pleasures.
In 1931 an Army Captain, photographer and architect, Montague Glover began building a house near Leamington Spa. It was to become his life’s work, but one he was assisted in by his chauffeur, manservant and then lover, the desperately handsome Ralph Hall. The two men would spend their lives together there, and though separated by war and work, would never part. Living what would be considered an unremarkable, domestic life, Glover insistently captured their relationship through his lens until just before his death in 1983. What remains is a unique chronicle, in pictures, of one of the most astonishing love stories to behold.
Glover’s preoccupation with picture taking, gives us glimpses into over fifty years of their relationship. Images show the lovers in their early twenties, virile and handsome, though no less striking as older men too. Ralph is plumper, worn and much more tired looking in his seventies, but nonetheless, an object of unrelenting fascination and admiration for his lover, Monty. The images are intimate snapshots of a couple in love, performing everyday tasks and domestic chores. They are no different to any other family album of the inter-war years; but what makes them truly unique is that they depict two men living and loving together as a family; and a happy one at that.
It is the ultimate fantasy; to have the good fortune of an enduring fifty-year relationship, and one that maintains its passionate charge, warmth and intimacy throughout the passing decades. It is the universal hope and desire of anyone who has ever been in love, man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual. It is the material that Forster dreamt and wrote, but did not dare think of as reality. The real sadness is that Forster, and so many others like him, never held these pictures before their eyes.
Whilst some of the photographs were collated together and published in the book, ‘A Class Apart: The Private Pictures of Montague Glover,’ in 1992, some of the work the work presented for ‘Collect’ by Nigel Hurlstone finally places these images in the public realm as artefacts of deep historical resonance and profound human worth. However, the images are no mere facsimiles of the original. Enlarged, printed onto cloth and then meticulously stitched using a myriad of patternated threads, the domestic snapshot is transformed. Released from the context of album keeping, they become epitaphs that do not valorise any specific sexual preference, but instead, quietly dignify and celebrate the uniqueness of these two lives lived.
The intensely time consuming precision of the stitch process involves Hurlstone in developing a knowledge and understanding of the image that may have even alluded the original photographer. Whilst the alchemist Glover developed pictures under dead red bulbs with bromide, salts and nitrates, Hurlstone turns to embroidery as a mean to release these images once again into the light, turning people pictured on paper into fine fabric. The resulting work is charged in new and unexpected ways, and ultimately poses questions about our own lives, loves, pleasures and values.