Our Dark Materials

Posted: July 18th, 2023

Slowly but slowly the work moves forward. It has a new name and is exploring a new technology (for me at least), with the latest incarnation using electron microscopy. Read below for the latest update.

The North Circular is a road with its own environment; noisy, dangerous and suffocating, but also for many, home. It’s been named the most polluted road in London, and with one-in-5 deaths worldwide linked to pollution, it begs the question: who would live here?


The work photographed between 2009 and 2015 started with this simple question. Then, during lockdown, I had the opportunity to revisit the project. I theorized that if up to a quarter of global warming is attributed to the motor vehicle and vehicle emissions are the biggest cause of London’s air pollution, I could connect the subject of climate change to vehicle emissions to amplify discussions around both of these environmental issues.


In 1952 the great London ‘pea soup’ Smog led to the clean air act of 1956. This inspired my realization that making the invisible pollution visible was key to the success of the project. By hanging the original photographic images as prints on the side of the road, I found I could directly evidence the dangerous road dust, physically transforming the original photograph and changing the emotional impact of the picture.


However, despite amplifying the significance of the dust with close up photography, a problem remained: the real killer is invisible to the naked eye. The particulate matter 2.5-10 microns wide, that slips past our bodies’ defences is so small, you can fit a thousand on the full stop at the end of this sentence. These particles then penetrate deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain. What we were actually seeing on the prints although visually effective and dramatic, was actually, at the safer end of the scale. I was eventually able to resolve the issue with his use of electron microscopy. We can finally see the invisible killer in the last image of the quadriptych.


I believe debate needs to be improved. Also, ideas around how we trade our personal health and that of our planet for seductive convenience needs to be challenged. The title ‘Our Dark Materials’ references the Pullman novels, but is also about materialist culture.


The first quantitative estimate of carbon dioxide-induced climate change, was made by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. The first production electric vehicle was made by Thomas parker in 1884. We could have chosen electric vehicles when we first discovered burning carbon was heating up the planet, not in the 1980s but in the 19th nineteenth century. No doubt back then, as today, cold logic struggled to be heard above fevered disinformation. Climate change deniers and petrol heads are all part of the equation. The fact is, air quality and global warming are inextricably linked. The wild fires in Canada this year, contributed directly to poor air quality in the Midwest USA.

This work points to a logical way forward. To progress, we have to quench our passion for the motor engine quickly, and reduce the dangerous levels of ‘hot air’ that cloud rational debate!


New Year’s Message

Posted: January 2nd, 2019

Happy New Year!

It does seem only a short while ago that I was writing asking for help to fund the book Big Brother. So much has happened with the project since then and I wanted to write to briefly recap, and more importantly to tell you about up and coming events.

Of course the first stage was to use the money to finish designing and to produce the very best book myself and Dewi Lewis could make. It was launched at Photo London in May 2018. Judging by your warm comments, (and thank you so much if you have reached out personally to me) we have come up with something special, and which most importantly does justice to my brother’s story.

So what’s been happening?

Justin examining his portrait at the book launch show case exhibition theprintspacegallery, June 2018, London


The book has captured the imagination of many and I’m pleased to say created impact on the international stage. It has had some really great reviews and I was particular pleased to be nominated for the Les Rencontres d’Arles Photo-Text Book Award. I have also just returned from Lianzhou Foto Festival in China where the work was shown as a solo show and shortlisted for the Punctum Prize.

As well as this it made British Journal of Photography, ‘Best Photobooks of the year (so far)’, 2 August 2018 (nomination by Yumi Goto) and the El Pais selection of best photo books of 2018.

Last few preparations before show opens in Lianzhou, December 2018


This year (in the first half of 2019) the work will be shown in at least four shows in four countries. The first of these will be the London Art Fair’s Photo50 Exhibition where Tim Clark has curated an exciting group show entitled ‘Who’s looking at Family Now’. The opening night is January 15th.

I’m going to post a detailed list below but in addition there will be shows in Beirut’s Sursock Musum, F3 Berlin, Format Festival, Derby and Mucem, Marseille .

Apart from being a great place to catch up, Derby’s home grown Format Festival is where the book was spotted and nurtured to publication, so it’s great to be back to show Big Brother as an exhibition; I do hope to see some of you there.

I enjoyed participating in many talks last year but I wanted to thank in particular (for the opportunity to talk to the next generation of photographers), London LCC, Edinburgh Napier, Falmouth and South Wales Universities. The energy in the room was fantastic at all these venues. Let’s hope I can do a few more similar talks in 2019.

The book is still available on my website. Thanks all once more for your time, support and interest in this work.

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Head over to the news section to get a list of everything thats happend and happening with details and links.




End of Year Update #BeforeTheyWereFallen

Posted: January 2nd, 2016

Before They Were Fallen  is a project dealing  with remembrance. Myself and Katy Regan use the power of photography and testimony together, to link memory, the passing of time and loss to create a body of work which pays tribute to  the British soldiers who gave their lives in the Afghanistan conflict.

This blog is dedicated to giving news of  the exposure the work has been receiving, which with the help of our really excellent public relation guru  Helen Nesbitt has been impressive. Thankyou @helennesbitt.

Please forgive the numbers and technical nature of the post here, I just wanted a place to share all the wonderful exposure and  the progress of the work in detail, a summary is available on the news page.

Press and Publicity

16/09/2015 Phill Coombes BBC

This post leads to a sharp spike of visits ( 5000 a day ) to my site louisquail.com and 5100 shares, whilst on the main page.

Following this publicity I discovered 200 secondary shares on the National Arboretum blog with many overwhelmingly positive comments  and is hopefully representative of secondary sharing which is hard to track.


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British Forces Broadcasting Service  carry out a radio interview by Nicky Smith  (@producernicky)  which can be downloaded here.

 31/10/2015 Publication

Guardian Weekend ( publishes as scheduled, running the project over seven pages ; the project is shared 3100 times on Facebook and other platforms; Candis Magazine scheduleto run the story in the February 2016 issue.

Touring show – 18/09/2015, Four Corners Gallery – 05/11/2015 Oriel Colwyn.

The exhibition has been well received at both venues. In Wales we received  local coverage from the North Wales Pioneer and  impressively a visit from ITV Wales with a prime time news slot on the 05/11/2015 (395000 estimated viewers); in addition  they hosted the work on the main ITV web site.

There have also been  many supportive and warm comments.

To coincide with the  showing at  Fife FotoSpace Gallery in Glenrothes, Scotland (18/01/2015 until 25/02/2106)  a talk about the work  at Napier University was given and both Forces TV (27000 viewers daily 582 online sharers ) and Scottish ITV (6800000 estimated viewers ) broadcast short films.

There have been two more requests to show the work , news to follow, perhaps at the end of this year.

Helena Tym told us in her interview, “For me, Cyrus lives until the last person who says his name, dies. …I want people to know that our soldiers are not just machines who go out there for killing, that they’re human beings; who had family who loved them very much”.

So keeping the memories alive is hugely important and knowing the work has been so well received is  also very rewarding. I will leave you with this spontaneous tweet from respected photographer Abbi Trayler-Smith. Its  very welcome  and representative of the warmth of feeling the work has generated.

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As always its been  a privilege to share these stories.