Don McCullin in Somerset

‘This is How it Is’ ? Telling New Stories

‘This is How it Is’, was the name given to Don McCullin’s photoessay that covered the advance on Hué in 1968 during the Vietnam War [i], and comes from a succession of similarly succinct and matter of fact titles and headlines that, throughout the history of photojournalism from conflict zones, have bluntly and unsentimentally introduced images of the worst evidence of human behaviour. Many of us are familiar with Don McCullin’s images from his long career which, justifiably, endure for not just their content, but for his ability to relate to such horror with formal sensibility. Such images are firmly planted in the canon of ‘great’ photographs of the twentieth century, but within the scope of McCullin’s broader body of work, they are perhaps exceptional: many of McCullin’s photographs are actually compositionally quite ‘straight’ and visually unembellished. Like other great reportage photographers, McCullin’s work tends to simply allow the stark reality of the subject matter to provide narrative, often keeping stylization to a minimum. His greatest asset as a practitioner has been his ability to survive, to negotiate his way into and then out of situations with potentially lethal consequences, and to quite simply tell people back home ‘how it is.’

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Installation view, ‘Don McCullin. Conflict – People – Landscape’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2015 © Don McCullin Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

The siting of McCullin’s war photography throughout his career has mirrored, to some extent, the changing relationship that the documentary image has experienced with institutions and audiences since the Second World War. McCullin enjoyed a long succession of assignments for British broadsheet’s weekend supplements that sustained him, and published his work in generous proportions and within elegant layouts for several decades. His most recent photoessay ‘My Last War’ published in 2012, that reported on the plight of the people of Aleppo in Syria [ii], is contrasting in terms of its blandness of scale and layout compared to spreads and stories from a couple of decades ago.

Photoessays in supplements were the primary contexts for McCullin’s work, samples of which are generally displayed at his various retrospectives. In 1980 however, his reportage work stepped outside of these spaces, and was exhibited at the V&A in London [iii]. Since then McCullin has been honoured with a succession of publications and exhibitions, most extensively Shaped by War at the Imperial War Museum (2010); an institution that has a long history of supporting artists through collaborations, commissions and acquisitions and was perhaps the most least ethically challenging placing of his work to date. Last year McCullin turned eighty-years-old and as part of the celebrations an exhibition of some of his best know images were re-printed and displayed at Hamilton’s Gallery in Mayfair (under the title Eighty), and also a more extensive show at Hauser & Wirth in Bruton, Somerset (Conflict – People – Landscape), near where he has lived for many years.

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Installation view, ‘Don McCullin. Conflict – People – Landscape’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2015 © Don McCullin. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

 

McCullin has been documented many times candidly disclosing his compulsion to work in lethal environments between the 1960s and ‘80s, as well as discussing the trauma that his experiences have left him with – the torment of his ‘ghosts’[iv]. He has also discussed his landscape photography from Britain in relation to his experiences further afield, and the role this has had in rebuilding his emotional life [v]. The Hauser & Wirth exhibition concludes with six such images, made in Somerset and representative of the transparent emotional intensity of his work. The skies of this usually temperate county are ferocious and black; sunlight scorches the land with equal menace; and bleak metaphors abound, such as the stumps of harshly pruned willow trees that thrive on the marshy Somerset Levels – like feeble white knuckled fists determined to punch through McCullin’s Stygian prints.

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Installation view, ‘Qwaypurlake’. Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

While his exhibition is steeped in historical narratives, the exhibition that McCullin’s is paired with at Hauser & Wirth looks towards an imagined ‘future’. In the accompanying galleries, Simon Morrissey has curated Qwaypurlake, a collection of works that proposes a dystopian future where the county of Somerset is (once more) dominated by water and human beings live a marginalised existence. Combining practitioners with connections to the area working in multiple disciplines, Morrrissey juxtaposes figurative and familiar forms in photographs and sculpture with more abstract pieces and artefacts – playfully inviting open interpretations of a disquieting narrative. The representation of people is restricted to Ben Rivers’s three-quarter length monochrome portraits of sack-hooded figures, disturbingly fixed on the viewer through rough eyeholes. More forensic pieces complement Morrissey’s narrative; such as Marie Toseland’s (actual) wisdom teeth, and Aaron Schuman’s photographs of smouldering ashes that perhaps hint most explicitly towards some kind of imagined Armageddon event. The perpetrators of this fictional catastrophe are also described in Elizabeth Fink’s bronzes from the 1950s and ‘60s. In this context Fink’s abstracted ‘heads’ read as the fossilized remains of our extra-terrestrial successors and her ‘birds’, with their elongated legs; a life form well adapted to traversing a wetland environment.

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Installation view ‘Qwaypurlake’. Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

The spirit of fantasy that Qwaypurlake embraces is a pertinent extension of the mythology and narratives of the locality. The Somerset Levels in particular, measuring only a few metres above sea level, were indeed once under water. Neolithic settlers constructed series of wooden walkways and buildings, exploiting the natural biodiversity of the wetlands. This heritage is perhaps referenced in Sebastian Jefford’s Wattle and Daub – a giant piece of netting that hangs in one corner of the gallery, although all it has managed to catch are unappetizing clumps of clay. David Wojtowycz’s looped video The Lake, which is projected at one end of the installation and depicts a subtly strange view looking down a pier or jetty with oddly turbulent water to one side and still water to the other, makes a further connection to the region’s archaeological legacy.

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Installation view ‘Qwaypurlak’. Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

Glastonbury, which overlooks the Levels and is arguably the most historic and culturally significant part of the county, is associated with Joseph of Arimathea who is said to have brought Christianity to Britain and whose staff supposedly sprouted into the Glastonbury Thorn where the town’s abbey was later erected. In the twelfth century the monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to discover the remains of King Arthur, and the area became associated with the mythical ‘Isle of Avalon’ where Excalibur was purported to have been forged. In 2014 of course, the Somerset Levels were severely flooded, causing extensive damage and disruption – an event that will no doubt endure in the collective memory of the county’s people.

As well as the frivolity of Morrissey’s concept, Qwaypurlake has a dark and macabre side, notably the works in the gallery that adjoins McCullin’s photographs. These include Heather & Ivan Morison’s wax candles in the shape of bones, and Daphne Wright’s life-sized cast marble Rabbit and her partially dissected Stallion – laid out on its back on the gallery floor as if it had been carefully examined by the inquisitive conquerors from outer space.

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Installation view ‘Qwaypurlake’. Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

Wright’s marble Rabbit, however, additionally has a much more grounded presence: hanging neatly on the gallery wall by its feet it acts as a pastoral motif – the morning’s toil of a farmer or poacher, or part of a rustic themed still life by the likes of Chardin. Devoid of photographs in this gallery (such as contributions elsewhere by James Ravillious, famous for his images of rural life in Devon, and Jem Southam’s dew ponds) the installation builds upon a preoccupation with topography and place to more of an exploration of what the relationship with our natural resources and neighbouring species (and how that existence could be characterised) might be like for inhabitants for this parallel universe or potential future.

The scheduling – and thus pairing – of McCullin’s work, explicitly preoccupied with the destructive realities of human beings, with Morrissey’s escapist vision was a provocative decision. McCullin’s photographs certainly support the malevolent and dystopian presence that Morrissey constructs, and McCullin’s landscapes provide a pertinent and powerful bridge between the two exhibitions. The work in McCullin’s gallery, however, is experienced as prologue to or an extension of the Qwaypurlake project, and marks yet another contextualization of McCullin’s photography by another kind of institution.

 

Don McCullin. Conflict – People – Landscape and Qwaypurlake were at Hauser & Wirth Somerset 15.11.15 – 31.01.16. Documentation can be found here.

This essay was commissioned by Photomonitor and can be viewed here.

 

NOTES:

[i] The Sunday Times Magazine 24.3.1968. (Also reproduced in Robert Lebeck, Kiosk: A History of Photojournalism. Gottingen: Steidl, 2001)

[ii] The Times Magazine, 29.12.2012

[iii] In his memoirs, McCullin expressed his concern of having imagery of war, horror and suffering on display in an in a space to be admired. Don McCullin. Unreasonable Behaviour: An Autobiography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1990, p.226)

See also Mark Hayworth-Booth’s article ‘Personal notes on dismantling the McCullin exhibition at the V&A’ in Creative Camera (April/May 1981), in David Brittain. Creative Camera: Thirty Years of Writing(Manchester University Press, 2000)

[iv] The title of McCullin’s early retrospective monograph was titled, Sleeping with Ghosts: A Life’s Work in Photography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1994). In the documentary film McCullin (Dir. Jacqui & David Morris, Artificial Eye, 2012), he also described the ghosts haunting him from his negative filing cabinets.

[v] McCullin interviewed by John Wilson on Front Row, BBC Radio 4: 11.9.2015

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Peter Mitchell

Some Thing means Everything to Somebody

From the series ' Some Thing means Everything to Somebody' © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

From the series ‘ Some Thing means Everything to Somebody’ © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

Scarecrows aren’t as abundant as they used to be.  A somewhat tokenistic effort in crop defence, scarecrows now tend to be limited to more ceremonial duties, such as decorating trendy suburban allotment plots.  We are still likely to encounter the scarecrow’s cousin – the guy – particularly on fund raising trails and competitive villages’ fêtes, cobbled together with bits of redundant clothing and other surplus household objects.

The fifty-odd scarecrows within the pages of Peter Mitchell’s monograph have been photographed over the past four decades and accompany an eclectic array of objects from the photographer’s past on the adjacent pages. He describes the book as ‘my autobiography told through inanimate objects silently observed by scarecrows’. The miscellaneous quality of Mitchell’s collection is similar to the makeshift fabrication of the scarecrows themselves. His belongings are not, however, ephemeral objects, but neither are they (for the most part) of high value. They comprise a range of items that could be representative of collective boyhood and adolescent memories (such as model aeroplane kits, comics, pin-ups, LPs) to far more personal effects, including family photographs and memorabilia from Mitchell’s past exhibitions, as well as an Egyptian winged cobra brooch – a motif that appears repeatedly throughout the book.

From the series ' Some Thing means Everything to Somebody' © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

From the series ‘ Some Thing means Everything to Somebody’ © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

These objects reflect Mitchell’s diverse personal interests and the inventive, and at times eccentric, ways that he has framed his practice. His passion for cosmology, for instance, is present in his choice of many of these things. This theme was also reflected in his seminal exhibition A New Refutation of the Viking 4 Space Mission at Impressions gallery in 1979, in which he contextualized his environmental portraits of shopkeepers and workers around Leeds by speculating what the city might look like to visitors from another planet. Such an irreverent contextualization of his work in fact had truer resonances than we might imagine; that exhibition being the first exhibition of colour photographs in the UK by a British practitioner – colour film being a material that was considered the reserve of commercial imagery and family snaps alone.

From the series ' Some Thing means Everything to Somebody' © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

From the series ‘ Some Thing means Everything to Somebody’ © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

Although Mitchell’s possessions might appear to be a little random, he describes them in his introductory note as the things that ‘made’ him a photographer, and reveals much of their personal significance within captions at the end of the book. The relevance of the scarecrows is, however, not articulated at all. Their uncanny qualities perhaps propose ideas around ‘the other’ – perhaps picking up on earlier themes in his work. Maybe we are supposed to read their blobby limbs as cumbersome spacesuits?  Are the scarecrows just something that, as per his Leeds shopkeepers, he has enjoyed collecting during his career? It would seem actually that the scarecrows’ link with mythology connects them to many of Mitchell’s possessions.

From the series ' Some Thing means Everything to Somebody' © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

From the series ‘ Some Thing means Everything to Somebody’ © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

Scarecrows are firmly planted within our popular culture and our imaginations, and as with the other objects in the book, they ignite myriad other emotions and  narratives. While they are often presented as sinister or malevolent, scarecrows are represented in equal measure with more charming qualities, particularly in young children’s literature: they do not tend to be anthropomorphised by a single archetype. This open, malleable quality of the scarecrow is reflected in Mitchell’s strategy, whereby he purposefully selected for the book, those that had been constructed without facial features, allowing the viewer to interpret the character of each scarecrow themselves. Mitchell’s photographic approach, however, is far from typological or clinical: he allows brooding skies and fields veiled in mist to contribute to their meaning. He has also shot most of these pictures from a low perspective, giving us a child’s-eye-view of the scarecrow – as if we were tentatively stalking it, not entirely confident that the figures are harmless. Although there is humour throughout the series, many of the scarecrows are unsettling, and despite their unsophisticated construction, it is difficult to avoid reading them as figures.

From the series ' Some Thing means Everything to Somebody' © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

From the series ‘ Some Thing means Everything to Somebody’ © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

Scarecrows and other human effigies are associated with seasonal rituals and in some children’s stories they can be used to represent the passing of time – offering a point of continuity within narratives around the annual cycles of arable farming, as well as the life cycles of the small mammals who bed down within them and the birds who pick out stuffing for their nests. These endearing personal qualities are owed to their diligence – their willingness to loyally preside over the crop come rain or shine until there is little more to them than rags: their stoicism makes them noble narrators of Mitchell’s biography.

From the series ' Some Thing means Everything to Somebody' © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

From the series ‘ Some Thing means Everything to Somebody’ © Peter Mitchell, Courtesy of RRB Publishing

But there is also a melancholy in the scarecrow which, accompanied by the nostalgia within many of Mitchell’s reproduced possessions, can feel elegiac. (These are, after all, his personal effects and sifting though them feels a little invasive.) It is, however, by no means a morbid piece of work. Some Thing means Everything to Somebody is an exciting concept, amusingly and thoughtfully contextualized, and beautifully presented in this enchanting book.

Keith Greenough: ‘Lifting the Curtain’

Coinciding with the centenary this year of the death of London social reformer and industrialist Charles Booth, Keith Greenough exhibits and publishes Lifting the Curtain, a series that juxtaposes extracts from Booth’s accounts of the hardships of the Victorian East End with contemporary images of the spaces Booth surveyed.

Taken late at night and within the early hours, Greenough’s long exposures have a tonal and aesthetic coolness to them. The technically refined and pensive images invite the viewer to study the disquieting scenes with the same patience that the photographer exercised with the long exposure method, and perhaps with a scrutiny similar to Booth’s observations.

Although Greenough’s photographs depict streets that might seem at best uninviting, or at worst malevolent, they perhaps offer more a sense of exhaustion than fear: of worrying whether you are on the best side of the street to catch a cab to save yourself from a very long walk home after a hard night partying, rather than anxiety about being on the same side of the street as some unsavoury characters.

The absence of people in Greenough’s photographs is balanced by the appropriation of Charles Booth’s very detailed accounts of individuals he encountered and wrote about in his Life and Labour of the People (1889), who existed, he wrote, “… hidden from view behind a curtain on which were painted terrible pictures.”

Avoiding an illustrative approach to the juxtaposition of image and text, there is enough narrative within the images that speaks of the economy and social ecologies of contemporary East London, while leaving enough ambiguity within the images to interplay with the texts, and for viewers to contemplate the myriad changes and progress (or not) to the streets and populations of East London over the past century.

In the spirit of Charles Booth, Greenough is donating the proceeds of Lifting the Curtain to Toynbee Hall, whose vision is to eradicate all forms of poverty, and where Charles Booth conducted his survey from. Lifting the Curtain is part of Photomonth, East London Festival of Photography 2015:

Town House, 5 Fournier Street, London E1 6QE, from 15th – 25th October

http://www.liftingthecurtain.net

'Andrews Road' from the series 'Lifting the Curtain' © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Andrews Road’ from the series ‘Lifting the Curtain’ © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

'Bow Road' from the series 'Lifting the Curtain' © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Bow Road’ from the series ‘Lifting the Curtain’ © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

'Leman Street' from the series 'Lifting the Curtain' © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Leman Street’ from the series ‘Lifting the Curtain’ © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

'Shadwell Basin' from the series 'Lifting the Curtain' © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Shadwell Basin’ from the series ‘Lifting the Curtain’ © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

'Wentworth Street' from the series 'Lifting the Curtain' © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Wentworth Street’ from the series ‘Lifting the Curtain’ © Keith Greenough. Courtesy of the Artist

Robert Harding Pittman: Anonymization

Ikea, A-1 Autobahn © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist

Ikea, A-1 Autobahn | Kamen, Germany © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist.

2015 marks four decades since William Jenkins’s curated the hugely influential exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at George Eastman House in New York. Not only was the show revolutionary in terms of challenging traditional values and aesthetics within landscape photography, but it was also highly significant within the broader narrative of the documentary image and art photography [1]. The exhibition’s genesis is largely credited to the artist’s books of Ed Ruscha, in particular Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations (1963), which documented a drive of over a thousand miles from Los Angeles to Oaklahoma City [2]. Ruscha’s typology conveyed not only the monotony of this kind of journey, but it remarked upon the corporatization of the American landscape and drew attention to the significance of the relationship between it and the automobile.

The New Topographics exhibition was also contextualized through the images made by the photographers who were part of nineteenth century geological surveys, as well as the documentation of major engineering projects of the time. The exact job description of the photographers such as Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan and William Henry Jackson – what their exact purpose within the expeditions was and what they were expected to supply – is unclear, and this uncertainty has perhaps contributed to the allusiveness of their pictures as expressive artefacts. However, their photography has been broadly interpreted, at least in part, as supporting an entrepreneurial attitude towards the uncharted North American landscape – speculating upon how it might be populated and inhabited and commercially exploited.

The photographs within the New Topographics exhibition revealed some of what became of these once ‘wild’ landscapes, approximately one hundred years on. Robert Adams for instance, within his project What We Bought, revealed the suburbanization of the landscape around Denver – soulless commercial buildings and out-of-town shopping precincts marching ever deeper into the Colorado desert [3]. The subjects, themes, and deadpan aesthetics of the works that comprised the New Topographics show continue to inspire and influence contemporary photographic practice: Robert Harding Pittman’s photobook Anonymization exemplifies its influence, notably, the secure place that architecture now has within landscape photography and discourse.

Real de Faula Golf Club | Benidorm, Spain © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist

Real de Faula Golf Club | Benidorm, Spain © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist.

Where Adams and his peers were concerned with presenting studies of specific parts of the American landscape, Pittman has survey urban sprawl on a more global scale, the images in his book having been compiled over a decade and encompass his broader research and professional activities around environmentalism. Included in his survey are images from America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The architecture depicted however is markedly generic: carbon hungry cement rendering and re-enforced concrete create overbearing forms throughout the series and contrast against the mostly arid desert conditions they have been uncompromisingly inserted into.

A stubborn refusal to build and develop in sympathy to the topography and climate is also very apparent throughout the series: extensively irrigated and fertilized lush green lawns and boarders are conspicuously incongruous amongst the sand and dirt in Pittman’s vibrant colour photographs, so saturated and iridescent that they are at times difficult to view – disparaging the utopian ideals that these developments proclaim. As Alison Nordström observes in one of the book’s essays, Pittman’s images are certainly not derivative of the cool, objective, deadpan gaze that typified the visual characteristics of the New Topgraphics: Pittman’s are scalding hot and have a polemic visual quality in contrast to the stoic monochrome images from the 1970s.

Lake Las Vegas Resort | Las Vegas, USA © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist

Lake Las Vegas Resort | Las Vegas, USA © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist.

Lewis Baltz showed us that there is of course tremendous visual potential in these kinds of subjects. His images of tract houses in the New Topographics exhibition comprised minimal blocks of grey tones rendered from the buildings’ architectural features. What these kinds of structures lack in nuanced design and individuality they make up for somehow with a distinctly photogenic quality. The visual celebration of mundane forms, geometry and repetition, is a common trend in contemporary photography inherited from the New Topographics [4].

Future Leroy Merlin | Rivas-Madrid, Spain © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist.

Future Leroy Merlin | Rivas-Madrid, Spain © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist.

Pittman presents these structures from a variety of distances; sometimes displaying them within the context of the landscapes in which they uncomfortably cohabit, but elsewhere; cropping much closer in and meditating on a landscaping or architectural feature. Perhaps here he is meditating on their vulgarity, or perhaps he is entertaining, for a brief moment, the possibility that they might have virtues.

Interstate 15 | Las Vegas, USA © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist.

Interstate 15 | Las Vegas, USA © Robert Harding Pittman, Courtesy of the Artist.

Although it might have been tempting for Pittman to underscore his narrative around the increasingly homogenised nature of our suburban architecture by concealing the geographic identification of these locations, he instead (within the Index) provides not only details of where in the world they actually are, but offers extensive information about each development and the specific social and ecological problems associated with them, as well as a host of other points of reference. Similarly – and refreshingly – the monograph essays are chiefly concerned with expanding upon the topics of Pittman’s enquiries rather than the aesthetics of his work. This positions the work on an authoritative footing as activist documentary, articulating a persuasive argument about the urgency of these social, economic, and most importantly, environmental issues.

[1] For an expansive discussion of the exhibition, see Foster-Rice, G. & Rohrbach, J. (2013) Reframing the New Topographics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

[2] For an in depth discussion of this work, see Walker, I. ‘A Kind of “Huh”: The Siting of Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ in Di Bello, P. (2012) The Photobook: From Talbot to Ruscha and Beyond (London: I.B. Tauris). An edited version is available at: http://theibtaurisblog.com/2012/03/12/a-kind-of-a-huh-the-siting-of-twentysix-gasoline-stations/

[3] For another contemporary equivalent, see Hala Elkoussy’s Peripheral project: http://halaelkoussy.com/peripheral-2005?photo=2

[4] Bernd and Hilla Becher, who contributed typologies of industrial architecture and infrastructure to the exhibition, taught at the celebrated Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and whose students included Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky – noted for their deadpan style and systematic visual methodologies.

Anonymization is published by Kehrer Verlag, €28.00

Anonymization was nominated for the Prix Pictet 2014 (under the theme of “Consumption”) and was nominated for the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis

The exhibition of the work continues until July 3rd, 2015 at Spot Photo Works in Hollywood.

Pittman gives further insight into the project and his practice in an interview with Photoparley.

Peter Bobby: ‘High-rise’

This review was commissioned by Photomonitor and can be viewed here. High-rise chronicles Peter Bobby’s long-term photographic examination of corporate spaces and the suite of installations of his work that have framed the project over the last eighteenth months or so. (Bobby was interviewed by Photomonitor during the project’s development, which can be read here.) Unpacking the politics and ideology of interior spaces has preoccupied Bobby’s practice, such as his Showhome project (2001-2002) which documented interior displays of new build luxury developments, fabricated to entice buyers to purchase property off-plan. His exploration of exclusive high-rise architecture began in 2007, on the eve of the global financial crisis. Since then, his body of research has acquired a greater socio-political resonance, as the economic gulf between the world’s ‘top 1%’ and the rest of us has increased dramatically. In almost the same period that Bobby has completed this project, the combined wealth of the richest one thousand people in Britain has risen from two hundred billion to five hundred billion pounds [1].

National Theatre (Installation Image I) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

National Theatre (Installation Image I) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

High-rise architecture conjures up contrasting images – one of extravagance and one of necessity: firstly, the slick skyscrapers that Bobby surveys, designed exclusively for the economic and social elite and secondly; (within a British context at least) post war modernist tower blocks built to house as many people as efficiently as possible. The latter are of course considered socially problematic by today’s planners and many have been systematically demolished, although some (the Trellick Tower in Kensington and The Lawn in Harlow for example) have acquired listed building status. Although Bobby’s work does not address the social issues that relate to this second category of high-rise, it illustrates their highly divisive and controversial nature, and more subtly alludes to ideas around division and inequality – not just in an economic sense, but in the relationship between vision and power. Critics of the corporate high-rise structure identify an inherent dislocation from the reality of life at ‘pedestrian level’, and the symbolic power that the gaze of their users exert over the city and its inhabitants below. Consistent throughout Bobby’s interiors are the giant ‘panoramic’ windows that dominate the architecture and interior design of the spaces. While Bobby’s work is not overtly political from a social perspective, it deals with the politics of these kinds of spaces. In particular, suggesting how the omnipresent view from the high-rise is indistinguishable from the egotistical ideology of this type of structure, and how views might be used strategically to impress or intimidate those who temporarily visit them.

National Theatre Projection of 'Curtain', June 2013 © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

National Theatre Projection of ‘Curtain’, June 2013 © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

The connection between the performances of power that take place within these spaces and theatre is referenced across Bobby’s project; notably the recurring curtain motif, and his decision to install the work at the National Theatre in London in 2013. The vulnerable corporate façade of the high-rise is further explored in Bobby’s contrasting exterior images of the buildings. As per their layout in the installations, in the book they are dispersed throughout the sequence of images, punctuating the series and disarming the prowess of the interiors. These graphically economic images resemble etchings onto a black plate and reduce their subject’s form to a concise expression. The pictures are dramatic, and the upward looking point-of-view and expanse of black night sky allude to the sublime. However, resigned to the bottom edge of the frame the subjects themselves are denied their usual resplendence.

Zenith VI © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

Zenith VI © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

Tramshed (Installation Image III) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

Tramshed (Installation Image III) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

The competitive nature of the high-rise is elaborated upon in the book’s first essay by Kim Dovey, concluding with a discussion of their fundamentally phallic nature. (Serendipitously, whilst the Tramshed in Cardiff – one of the venues for Bobby’s installation – was in the process of being decommissioned for its use as a temporary exhibition space for the Diffusion festival, a worker spray painted a yellow penis on one of the walls. This can be seen in one of the installation views in the final section of the book.) Much like the views that these spaces and their windows frame, this ostensibly patriarchal architectural underpinning is aligned with the all-encompassing, commanding force of the traditional landscape picture – which, historically, tended to be commissioned by those with a limited personal connection to the views they consume.

High-rise (85th, Ladies Toilets) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

High-rise (85th, Ladies Toilets) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

The notion that the high-rise user is immune from the eyes of others through vertical distance is illustrated in 85th, Ladies Toilets. What could be more luxurious than going to the lavatory surrounded by clear views and secure in the knowledge that no one can see you?  The one-way glass that such buildings are often cladded with facilitates the high-rise’s voyeuristic, objectifying ‘gaze’. However, this material actually has more complex implications: notably, a self-affirming quality for its users. Perhaps ironically, high-rises tend to be erected in geographical clusters, offering their occupiers views onto similar constructions and microcosms, or even constant, narcissistic mirror images of themselves in their neighboring buildings. The photograph 17th, Residential Pool invites us to consider implications of reflection, and 27th, Property Sales Office, a peculiar mise-en-abyme self-portrait – where an architect’s model of a high-rise is echoed by a similar construction visible through the room’s window – provides a more vivid illustration of this.

High-rise (27th, Property Sales Office) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

High-rise (27th, Property Sales Office) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

Hight-rise (17th, Residential Pool) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

Hight-rise (17th, Residential Pool) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

Bobby subverts the privileged views offered by the high-rise through his resistance to conform to norms of architectural photography, such as carefully balancing the exposure of the view outside the window with that of the space within. This is just one of several methods that Bobby employs to critique photography’s traditional role as servant to the ideology of architectural concepts and strategies, a problem outlined by David Drake in the book’s introduction. To the casual glance, Bobby’s photographs – as with his earlier works – might easily be mistaken for commercial- rather than art photography. One obvious distinction however is that Bobby’s High-risepictures are ‘un-dressed’ from a stylistic perspective, and are free of figures to animate the space or offer scale. Instead, however, Bobby allows certain objects to gain slightly more prominence within the frame than a more conventional picture of the space would allow, often with surreal consequences: for instance, the olive tree sprouting up from the horizon in 18th, Health Club. Absence is most acutely felt in the one image from the project which is anchored to a specific moment in history, 23rd, Executive Lounge, where a news story about the Gulf of Mexico oilrig disaster unfolds on a television. The juxtaposition of the screen and the neat, empty bar stools and tables has a distinctly abandoned atmosphere, as though – like the workers on the rig – the high-rise occupiers have responded to a similarly urgent mayday alarm.  Rather than lending the spaces and their images a sense of clean minimalism in keeping with their design, Bobby literally strips them bare, leaving them a little naked and vulnerable to our scrutiny.

Curtain (Video Still) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

Curtain (Video Still) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

As their titles suggest, Bobby’s three video pieces, Curtain, Divide and Blind, explore the idea of a physical barrier or shield between these exclusive spaces, and those on the ‘other’ side. In these works, the artist makes further references to the medium of photography, notably; the camera shutter, exposure reciprocity, and the photographic surface. In his essay, Liam Devlin notes Bobby’s deliberate use of the video camera on auto-exposure mode, whereby the camera constantly compensates for exposure as the screens in Curtain and Blind are slowly drawn across their respective windows. In Curtain this results in the steady emergence of a blood red curtain, much like at a theatre or cinema, that emerges from its dark shadow like a latent image materializing in the developer tray. In Blind, we see the electronic aluminium venetian blinds steadily descending across a window, to be suddenly flipped 180 degrees, momentarily overpowering the camera sensor and overexposing the sequence. Both of these videos offer the whole project two pseudo decisive moments that are the product of camera algorithms rather than an organic author. Devlin likens this auto exposure mode to the complex maintenance mechanisms that allow these highly artificial spaces to operate, constantly regulating temperature, humidity and air circulation.

Blind (Installation Image II) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

Blind (Installation Image II) © Peter Bobby. Courtesy of the Artist.

The High-rise publication effectively documents and handsomely presents a substantial project, which acquired a slightly new narrative of its own in each of the four venues in which it was installed. The scope – in terms of related subjects and disciplines – and critical depth of the publication’s essays do justice to the complexities of Bobby’s work and the issues that he addresses. While the work is not directly concerned with the socio-economic implications of the high-rise – and Bobby delves much further than this conceptually – it would have been interesting to explore the architectural polarity (and similarities) of the high-rise and the divergent images that they arouse. This view is obviously coloured by the economic climate in which we presently find ourselves looking at Bobby’s project, and is a reminder of how the specific moment of experiencing a work influences our reading of it as significantly as all of the other contextual dimensions. [1] According to Jacques Peretti’s documentary The Super-Rich and Us(BBC2: 08.01.15 & 15.01.15)

High-rise (Cardiff: Ffotogallery, 2015)

High-rise (Cardiff: Ffotogallery, 2015)

High-rise (Cardiff: Ffotogallery, 2015)

High-rise (Cardiff: Ffotogallery, 2015)

Bob Mazzer: ‘Underground’

Where is the ‘Landscape’?

On initial inspection, readers can certainly be forgiven for questioning the logic or wisdom of discussing Bob Mazzer’s recent monograph Underground within this blog. Since his days as a projectionist in a King’s Cross cinema, Mazzer has photographed people travelling on and around the London Underground, and his book is a celebration of the diversity of the capital’s commuters and visitors and the – at some times wonderful, and other times terrifying – atmosphere of the place. The use of a small format camera, the emphasis on human subjects and of course, the urban location might most immediately site Mazzer’s series within the documentary sub-genre of street photography – save for the fact that these are all, almost exclusively, not taken on the streets but beneath them [1]. Definitions of ‘landscape’ often tend to emphasise examples of the topographical things within an area of land [2]. But what happens when the photographer dwells on such things rather than taking in a more all-encompassing composition? [3] Does this matter particularly? Isn’t the relationship between those elements, or how they are juxtaposed, define the the real ‘landscaping’ [4] – rather than the detail of what those things might happen to be?

'Waterloo & City Line, 1980s' © Bob Mazzer. Courtesy of Howard Griffin Gallery

‘Waterloo & City Line, 1980s’ © Bob Mazzer. Courtesy of Howard Griffin Gallery

Mazzer’s interest isn’t in the transport infrastructure per se, but the people who use it and the collective identity that they bring to it. The great time period that the project covers, from the 1970s to today, gives a sense of the shifts in styles, tastes and socio-political attitudes over the decades. We might therefore consider the work as a ‘survey’ in a scientific sense: through the almost obsessive nature of Mazzer’s picture taking (if, I am led to believe, his Leica is not around his neck it’s being held up to his eye), his keen observations, and importantly; the relatively confined geographic nature of this study, we are presented with as much a record of place as a record of its users, which, unlike the people who have made use of it over the years to commute, socialise and holiday, has remained relatively constant.

'Trying to open doors, 1980s' © Bob Mazzer. Courtesy of Howard Griffin Gallery

‘Trying to open doors, 1980s’ © Bob Mazzer. Courtesy of Howard Griffin Gallery

Using journeys to make photographic projects is a staple of documentary practice. From Walker Evans and Robert Frank’s road trips across America to Paul Graham’s seminal work of British colour documentary, A1 – The Great North Road, and more recent projects such as Chris Coekin’s The Hitcher and Paul Gaffney’s We Make the Path by Walking, the methodology (and act) of moving through the landscape is often just as important as how it is framed within the viewfinder. Another body of work that makes and interesting counterpoint to Mazzer’s are Paul Fusco’s blurry shots from the open window of Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train that record – literally – a cross section of society on one particular day, as the train cut its transect through a sample of the American landscape.

'Kensington Lads, 1980s' © Bob Mazzer. Courtesy of Howard Griffin Gallery

‘Kensington Lads, 1980s’ © Bob Mazzer. Courtesy of Howard Griffin Gallery

3-Bob-Mazzer-Howard-Griffin-Gallery_1200_796_80_c1

I don’t believe Mazzer’s Underground does really belong in the field of landscape, but it gives us an opportunity to consider the porous – and perhaps pointless – nature of neatly defined genres. It also reminds me that the most interesting photographic subjects we are ever most likely to capture will not be found in exotic locations, but right under our noses. Moreover, it’s the interaction between people and place, rather than just the arrangement of the ‘stuff’ within the frame, which is what’s most interesting to focus our lenses on.

[1] It was an interest in the discrepancy between the values we place on the terrain above the surface compared to below it that led me to explore the underground landscape during my postgraduate studies. See Threshold Zone and Turnstile on my personal website.

[2] See for instance, the definition of landscape for the ‘100 Mile Radius’ Photography Prize.

[3] Robert Adam’s tree stumps in Turning Back and Atta Kim’s rocks in In-der-Welt-sein come to mind.

[4] WJT Mitchell asserts in Landscape and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994) that the verb ‘to landscape’ has more relevance than the noun ‘landscape’, in terms of defining the nature of the genre.

Bob Mazzer is represented by Howard Griffin Gallery, London.

IMG_2287

Andy Sewell: ‘Something Like A Nest’

'Untitled (47)' from the series 'Something Like A Nest' © Andy Sewell. Courtesy of the Artist.

‘Untitled (47)’ from the series ‘Something Like A Nest’ © Andy Sewell. Courtesy of the Artist.

Interior Landscapes

Representing the English countryside is notoriously challenging. While all nations are cursed with cultural baggage and stereotypes around the appearance of and the populations within its rural parts, England is widely regarded as particularly problematic [1]. Andy Sewell’s Something Like A Nest has been celebrated for examining and subverting pastoral clichés through his extended documentary of contemporary rural life in Southern England.

The sequence is varied in terms of subject matter and the narrative is not easy to pinpoint: Parr-esque close-ups of wares at village fêtes; oblique landscapes hinting at past activity; and images depicting the mechanics of modern agriculture, such as glistening silos and pristine glasshouses. The interior photographs help establish Sewell’s narrative more clearly however. Interior pictures have been a staple of rural commentaries: historically, Walker Evan’s 1930’s sharecropper’s homes spring to mind. Within a European context, Bert Teunissen’s Domestic Landscapes (2005) is an impressive survey, and images from James Ravillious’s study of North Devon in the 1970s and Justin Partyka’s ongoing study of East Anglian rural communities are also worth noting.

'Untitled (3)' from the series 'Something Like A Nest' © Andy Sewell. Courtesy of the Artist.

‘Untitled (3)’ from the series ‘Something Like A Nest’ © Andy Sewell. Courtesy of the Artist.

Sewell’s photographs however rarely feature the occupier directly: they are portraits of microenvironments, as opposed to examples of ‘environmental portraiture’ akin to the work of the practitioners mentioned above. In their pictures the owners and tenants tend to have modest possessions and pictures hint towards austere lifestyles. Typically, one half of the Arcadian pastoral myth is presented – simplicity, yet without the ease. The architecture and interiors depicted by Sewell, on the other hand, are much more ordinary and familiar to the urban or suburban viewer. There is realism, yet without the ‘otherness’ that this is so often accompanied with: the recurring image looking out of the window above the kitchen sink brings the art movement of that name to mind – the paintings of John Bratby for instance. Sewell is surely also using the window knowingly to remind us of how the outside (rural) environment is so often presented within popular culture as ‘other’.

'Untitled (18)' from the series 'Something Like A Nest' © Andy Sewell. Courtesy of the Artist.

‘Untitled (18)’ from the series ‘Something Like A Nest’ © Andy Sewell. Courtesy of the Artist.

Sewell’s interior images have been carefully composed to present thresholds between the food producing countryside and the sites of its consumption, with plenty of visual references throughout the entire series to our cultural framing of the countryside. This tension stands for some of the complexities in navigating contemporary rural issues, such as conflicts of interest between urban and rural populations; and food production verses conservation. Although Sewell’s series continually nods towards the pastoral, slipping for instance into elegiac form with more melancholy imagery (such as a burning pile of rubbish; a portrait of a freshly shot deer), and there are frequent references to cycles and re-birth that are typical pastoral tropes, Something Like A Nest is complex and intriguing, putting forward our domestic environment into this discourse.

 

'Untitled (2)' from the series 'Something Like A Nest' © Andy Sewell. Courtesy of the Artist.

‘Untitled (2)’ from the series ‘Something Like A Nest’ © Andy Sewell. Courtesy of the Artist.

[1] See John Stathatos’s essay ‘Fleeting Arcadias’ (2000)

Andy Sewell’s self-published monograph Something Like A Nest is available to buy through his website: http://www.andysewell.com/something-like-a-nest/-

Andy Sewell is represented by James Hyman Gallery

Chloe Dewe Mathews: ‘Shot at Dawn’

A Darkness Before the Golden Hour

Landscape photographers traditionally tend not to take photographs in the middle of the day, or in fact anywhere near it. Photographing at either end of the day during what’s called the ‘golden hour’ – when the low, iridescent sun casts surreal hues and long shadows – can indeed yield ‘eye popping’ results, turning even fairly unremarkable views into something more of a spectacle. Although we may be cynical of the syrupy imagery of these kinds of pictures, there can be something rather pleasurable in heading out purposefully to photograph the sunrise (although, if you are a fan of sleep, it’s best to restrict such activities to the shorter days of the winter months): the anticipation of a clear morning, the punctual arrival of the sun behind the horizon, and the jeopardy of whether or not you set your camera up in the ‘right’ place has a certain excitement.

Such a romantic notion seems rather flippant in relation to Chloe Dewe Mathews’s recent series Shot at Dawn, which is included within the Time, Conflict and Photography show at Tate Modern, and was recently exhibited at Stills in Edinburgh. For the soldiers around whom the series was conceived, the arrival of dawn meant the certainty of execution, a fate they were condemned to for ‘cowardice’ or desertion of their posts and their duties; a merciless punishment that even a century on, its judicial wisdom is difficult to fathom. As a commission from the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford, Dewe Mathews researched and photographed the locations in France and Belgium of a selection of these executions of allied soldiers during the First World War. Conceived within the context of the centenary of the conflict, Dewe Mathews’s photographs were made as close as practically possible to the moment one hundred years on from when the soldiers were shot. Through painstaking archival research, Dewe Mathews located and photographed, the approximate spots where solders were shot by firing squad, or where they waited prior to their executions. The precision of the photographer’s methodology, in contrast to the relative spontaneity of her other documentary projects, could be seen as a means of undermining the impassionate and calculated manner in which these soldiers were made examples of.

Although there remains a degree of ignorance within the public consciousness of these macabre punishments, meted out to many solders suffering from post traumatic stress disorder [official documents relating to the execution of soldiers for cowardice and desertion were not released until the 1990s], these acts remain a smear on European military history. The passing of time has contributed to this amnesia: free of the photographer’s contextualization, we can be forgiven for failing to read the historical significance of the locations depicted in these pictures. Time has normalized, domesticated and wiped clean these black spots in the landscape and on our consciences.

2. Private James Graham 07:22 / 21.12.1915 Private John Docherty 07:12 / 15.02.1916 Private John Jones Time unknown / 24.2.1916 Private Arthur Dale Time unknown / 3.3.1916 Private C. Lewis Time unknown / 11.3.1916 Private Anthony O’Neill Time unknown / 30.4.1916 Private John William Hasemore 04:25 / 12.5.1916 Private J. Thomas Time unknown / 20.5.1916 Private William Henry Burrell Time unknown / 22.5.1916 Private Edward A. Card Time unknown / 22.9.1916 Private C. Welsh Time unknown / 6.3.1918 Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord – Pas-de-Calais © Chloe Dewe Mathews. Courtesy of the Artist.

Private James Graham
07:22 / 21.12.1915
Private John Docherty
07:12 / 15.02.1916
Private John Jones
Time unknown / 24.2.1916
Private Arthur Dale
Time unknown / 3.3.1916
Private C. Lewis
Time unknown / 11.3.1916
Private Anthony O’Neill
Time unknown / 30.4.1916
Private John William Hasemore
04:25 / 12.5.1916
Private J. Thomas
Time unknown / 20.5.1916
Private William Henry Burrell
Time unknown / 22.5.1916
Private Edward A. Card
Time unknown / 22.9.1916
Private C. Welsh
Time unknown / 6.3.1918
Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord – Pas-de-Calais
© Chloe Dewe Mathews. Courtesy of the Artist.

 

Soldat Ahmed ben Mohammed el Yadjizy Soldat Ali ben Ahmed ben Frej ben Khelil Soldat Hassen ben Ali ben Guerra el Amolani Soldat Mohammed Ould Mohammed ben Ahmed 17:00 / 15.12.1914 Verbranden-Molen, West-Vlaanderen © Chloe Dewe Mathews. Courtesy of the Artist

Soldat Ahmed ben Mohammed el Yadjizy
Soldat Ali ben Ahmed ben Frej ben Khelil
Soldat Hassen ben Ali ben Guerra el Amolani
Soldat Mohammed Ould Mohammed ben Ahmed
17:00 / 15.12.1914
Verbranden-Molen, West-Vlaanderen
© Chloe Dewe Mathews. Courtesy of the Artist

 

Private Joseph Byers Private Andrew Evans Time unknown / 6.2.1915 Private George E. Collins 07:30 / 15.2.1915  Six Farm, Loker, West-Vlaanderen © Chloe Dewe Mathews. Courtesy of the Artist.

Private Joseph Byers
Private Andrew Evans
Time unknown / 6.2.1915
Private George E. Collins
07:30 / 15.2.1915
Six Farm, Loker, West-Vlaanderen
© Chloe Dewe Mathews. Courtesy of the Artist.

The consistency of the time of day that all of these pictures were taken provides the series with a palpable sense of discord and unease: lingering dawn fog may be charming here and there but across the twenty-three photographs this builds into something unnerving. The work is indeed about reasserting an uneasy history and uniting these narratives to specific places and, as Dewe Mathews states: “stamping [the soldiers’] presence back onto the land”, but it also conveys a sense of waiting for something terrible to happen that is beyond our control.

Far from the golden hues of postcard and coffee-table book daybreaks, the cold and diffused blue-grey light of early morning dominates the colour palette of Shot at Dawn. Dewe Mathews’s views are equally untypical: sometimes angling the camera earthwards, her viewfinder pensively gravitating towards an indistinct patch of undergrowth rather than gazing towards an ember on the horizon. Despite the forensic research process which led Dewe Mathews to photograph these locations, the series retains a sense of the photographer’s anticipation, keeping a watchful eye out for the impending sunrise: what for most of us is a moment of celebration, but for the wretched souls remembered in Dewe Mathews’s photographs, promised only imminent death.

Chloe Dewe Mathews: Shot at Dawn is commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford as part of 14–18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions

www.shotatdawn.photography

www.chloedewemathews.com

Shot at Dawn can be seen at:

Tate Modern, London in Conflict, Time, Photography: 26 November 2014—15 March 2015

Museum Folkwang, Essen in Conflict, Time, Photography: 10 April—5 July 2015

Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in Conflict, Time, Photography: 31 July—25 October 2015

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin: 09 October 2015—February 2016

Ivorypress, Madrid: 27 May—16 July 2016

Johanna Ward: ‘I shall say goodbye…’

'Untitled' from the series 'I shall say goodbye…' © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘I shall say goodbye…’ © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

'Untitled' from the series 'I shall say goodbye…' © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘I shall say goodbye…’ © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

'Untitled' from the series 'I shall say goodbye…' © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘I shall say goodbye…’ © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

'Untitled' from the series 'I shall say goodbye…' © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘I shall say goodbye…’ © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

'Untitled' from the series 'I shall say goodbye…' © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘I shall say goodbye…’ © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

'Untitled' from the series 'I shall say goodbye…' © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘I shall say goodbye…’ © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

'Untitled' from the series 'I shall say goodbye…' © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘I shall say goodbye…’ © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

'Untitled' from the series 'I shall say goodbye…' © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘I shall say goodbye…’ © Johanna Ward. Courtesy of the Artist

 The Heart of the Landscape 

One of the highlights of the Brighton Photo festivals this biennial was seeing Johanna Ward’s set of concertina artist’s books that comprise I shall say goodbye with my strengthening love for you, forever and ever. Modest by comparison to other works at the top of the Vantage Point space that vied for attention in this well-filled venue, the composure and sensitivity of Ward’s project resonated effortlessly. I shall say goodbye… draws upon the narrative of the artist’s parent’s relationship – a familiar tale of love, marriage, children … and eventual separation in the 1990s. The title of the work and some of the texts within it are drawn from a letter from the artist’s father to her mother. Conflicting with the linearity of the concertina format is the ambiguous interplay of images and texts; a strategy designed to reflect the structure of memory, with its resistance to logical arrangement and its capacity to unleash itself powerfully at the slightest of triggers. Despite, we might assume, the potential for over-mystification within the words that Ward selects and the identity of the protagonists, the narrative is tangible and accessible, and many viewers will no doubt empathise with the tumultuous emotions that the series explores.

The photographs within the series are eclectic, combining vernacular material – such as still lifes of artefacts from the relationship and family photographs, presented almost like forensic exhibits – with contemporary photographs, many of which are landscapes of Scotland and Southern England. Ward’s landscape imagery reflects the emotional oscillations and complexities of her parent’s love affair with both sensitivity and visual brutality, offering transparent visual metaphor but also leaving plenty for interpretation.

I shall say goodbye… fits within a long history of the incorporation of the land within artistic expression as simile and metaphor for the gamut of love’s emotions, as well as the backdrop for tales of courtship and romantic affairs. Idyllic Arcadian settings were key features of classical literature, notably Jacob Sannazzaro’s 1504 epic Arcadia that ignited the theme within the visual arts during the Renaissance, which was rooted in much earlier works by Hesiod, Ovid and Virgil. In pastoral painting for instance, the image of two lovers fraternising [1] (ironically, generally ignorant of the “view” and instead engrossed in each other) is almost as recurrent a trope as the cowherder or shepherd with his flock.

In its more interesting explorations, the pastoral addresses the complex through the apparent simplicity of something else: an uncomplicated agricultural vocation, or two young people falling in love; the viewer or reader is in fact presented with something far less superficial, usually surrounding the nature of man and the purpose of his existence [2]. We might regard Ward’s use of the land – represented beautifully, however, far from idealistically – as an extension of this mode. The land both punctuates the narrative and provides a spatial context for it, even though we do not necessarily envisage the dialogues in the texts to have played out within the actual spaces Ward depicts. Nevertheless, these places are potent sites of memory and, at times, their ordinary character no doubt adds to the ease of the audience’s connection to them.

We have all been there: traipsing a familiar walk or wandering more aimlessly, attempting to make sense of a painful reality or trying to just keep moving to remind yourself that shit happens and life goes on. I shall say goodbye… reminds us of the potential of the land to offer emotional refuge and how universal are our efforts to find answers within it.

www.johannaward.co.uk

Johanna Ward is represented by L A Noble Photographers Gallery

Watch a video showing the suite of books here

[1] See Simon Robert’s photograph from We English taken at the South Downs for a contemporary take on this motif.

[2] Nicolas Poussin’s Et in Arcadia Ego (1639) being the most discussed example of this genre or mode.

Nigel J Haworth: ‘Shattered Coast’

Nocturnal Anxieties

Nigel Haworth’s Shattered Coast (2012) series documents the remains of the seaside towns of Usuiso and Toyoma in Fukushima prefecture that were devastated by the largest earthquake recorded in Japan and the subsequent tsunami in March 2011. Haworth visited the towns some time after the cleanup operations, and while many of the buildings appear to be on the point of collapse, much of the surrounding debris has been cleared away. Photography of the ‘aftermath’ is almost as old as the medium and this kind of “late photography” has been criticised as a means of memorializing particularly traumatic historical moments and events. Hans-Christian Schink’s project, Tohoku, which similarly records the effects of the tsunami, follows in this vein both stylistically and methodically.

Although there can be no doubt that Haworth’s images reveal the extent of the damage, by removing himself from the more forensic ‘straight’ documentary approach that is typical of “late photography” and flirting with the pictorial [a visual comparisons to Edward Steichen’s 1904 moonlit pond springs to mind], we are presented with a new take on the aftermath. Rather than dwelling on the sublime force of the tsunami and the visceral extent of the damage to property, Haworth perhaps (and unexpectedly) brings more prosaic questions to the fore: what’s going to happen now to these cleared, empty spaces? To what extent the the intrastructure and buildings be restored is aparently in question.

Haworth’s decision to photograph these locations at twilight not only gives them an atmospheric visual quality, but the strategy also takes these places beyond their usual appearance; or at least how they might appear to the naked eye.  We are forced to scrutinise them in – literally – a new light, with a different sobriety. The sense of unease that these representations exude perhaps reflects an idea asserted by Diego Mormorio, that we have a subconscious, primordial anxiety that after nightfall the sun may fail to rise again in the morning [1]. Haworth’s twilight hues also serve to remind us of the omnipresent lunar/tidal cycles, which are further referenced by the bleeding sphere of the moon at intervals throughout the series. We are invited to consider that interspersed between the predictable ebb and flow of these cycles we will have to deal with anomalies from time to time that are way beyond our control.

[1] See his essay ‘Photographs of the Nightfall’ in Mariniello, R. (2001) Napoli veduta immaginaria. Milan: Motto edizioni.

 

www.nigeljhaworth.com

Life-guard platform, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Life-guard platform, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Mirror at blind junction and car bumper, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Mirror at blind junction and car bumper, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Black house and orange moonlight, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Black house and orange moonlight, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Foundations, sea wall and remains of life-guard platform, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Foundations, sea wall and remains of life-guard platform, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Tannoy used to announce tsunami warnings, Toyoma, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Tannoy used to announce tsunami warnings, Toyoma, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

House on coast road, Toyoma, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

House on coast road, Toyoma, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Remains of residential area, Toyoma, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Remains of residential area, Toyoma, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Open space left after bulldozers had cleared debris and foundations, Usuiso Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Open space left after bulldozers had cleared debris and foundations, Usuiso Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Area after debris cleared, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Area after debris cleared, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Remains houses on residential street, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Remains houses on residential street, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Remains houses on residential street, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Remains houses on residential street, Usuiso, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Abandoned house with tsunami damage, Toyoma, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.

Abandoned house with tsunami damage, Toyoma, Fukushima © Nigel J Haworth. Courtesy of the artist.