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.

Advertisements

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.

Amano Samarpan: The Somerset Floods

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Recovered Landscapes

Following weeks of heavy rain this time last year, the Somerset Levels were starting to get very soggy indeed. Although they are a stones throw from my home – frustratingly – I was unable to get down there and witness or photograph the floods myself. Like most ‘newsworthy’ events, my experience of the floods was mediated through the TV and reportage images on newspaper websites. Images of impressive aerial views, distraught (as well as stoic) locals, and an abandoned train stick in my mind. Also, a pretty ropey ‘live’ TV broadcast one evening of territorials or marines building makeshift defences out of sandbags, to which I couldn’t shake a deep sense of cynicism for – both in terms of its likely effectiveness, and I suspected, the true nature of the story as an exercise in PR.

Plenty of independent photographers did document the flooding of course, and several photobooks have been published on the floods in the past year. Amano Samarpan’s investigation of the flooding, and the long-term effect of the water on what is predominantly agricultural land is however a more sustained project than most. Steering away from of the familiar media images of wrecked homes and ruined possessions, and the clean-up operations, Samarpan’s photographs examine the 2014 floods within the visual and theoretical framework of landscape discourse. His pictures, many of them diptychs, address, and even answer, the ecological and agricultural anxieties that spiralled last year: “How long can grass survive underwater?!” was one such question that I recall being uttered in earnest desperation. Visions of a sterile, post-apocalyptic plain seemed to haunt the imaginations of many.

There is a quiet beauty in both Samarpan’s images of the Levels underwater, as well as his photographs of the ‘recovered’ land, which inevitably have a more traditional beauty to them – that is, dare I suggest, a ‘picturesque’ quality. In this instance, the visual reunion of the Levels to their ‘normal’ state offers both ecological and aesthetic comfort: nature came good in the end. Perhaps Samarpan’s ‘drier’ pictures don’t belong within the realm of beauty or the picturesque: in fact the sublime aspect of this investigation is not the awesome power of the rains, but the terrific power of the land to dust itself off and renew itself.

Amano’s Book Beauty and the Sublime in the Flooding of the Somerset Levels is available through Blurb.

www.amanosamarpan.com

John Pfahl: ‘Found Pfahls’

Found Pfahls: The Making of ‘Altered Landscapes’

A recent exhibition at Janet Borden Inc. in New York displayed a collection of vintage Ektacolor Plus prints and recent pigment prints that we might interpret as visual anecdotes that accompanied the making of his meticulously composed and crafted Altered Landscapes series in the 1970s. We could make a comparison between the photographer’s approach and this collection of Found Pfahls to the now fairly ubiquitous use of smartphones and social media by photographers to document and augment the process and production of their projects.

In the justly celebrated Altered Landscapes, Pfahl didactically reveals the process of perspective and the monocular point-of-view of photographic vision. He introduces material to the ‘view’ directly in front of the camera such as tape, ribbon and other marks to delineate regular shapes and patterns that conflict with our brain’s desire to read the picture as the representation of a three-dimensional space. These simple and playful interventions are witty, but there is simultaneously something a little disconcerting in the way they reveal the limitation of ocular vision.

If we make a quick methodological distinction between ’taking’ and ‘making’ photographs, then Altered Landscapes can offer a pretty concrete example of the ‘made’ kind, and by comparison, we might define the photographs from Found Pfahls as belonging to the ‘taken’ category: opportunistic observations opposed to premeditated tableaux. (Not to suggest any kind of hierarchy between the two approaches.) Although made four decades ago, specific temporal references are generally absent from many of the colour photographs from Found Pfahls. There is vivid imagery of American culture, but not that much Americana. The timelessness of Pfahl’s imagery is perhaps indicative of how staid is the popular perception of ‘nature’ and the land. Where the Altered Landscapes critiques the mechanics of seeing, Found Pfahls – the ‘the making of’ that work – critiques the way we frame the landscape from cultural perspectives.

'Landscape - Barn' © John Pfahl. Courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc. NY
‘Landscape – Barn’ © John Pfahl. Courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc. NY
'Monument Valley' Tableau © John Pfahl. Courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc. NY
‘Monument Valley’ Tableau © John Pfahl. Courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc. NY
'Beauty Humor' © John Pfahl. Courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc. NY
‘Beauty Humor’ © John Pfahl. Courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc. NY
'Mountain Wall' © John Pfahl. Courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc. NY
‘Mountain Wall’ © John Pfahl. Courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc. NY

www.johnpfahl.com

wwww.janetbordeninc.com

Russell Squires: ‘Landings’

This week Russell Squires opens his exhibition Landings at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson. Squires’s series of landscapes document the contemporary Normandy beaches that have become infamous in military history, as the place where there largest armada ever assembled embarked upon the liberation of France in 1944. The show of course co-incides with the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings. While it may seem like his work would be more appropriately installed on the other side of the English channel, the south coast of England itself played an enormous part in the preparations for the invasion. Additionally, Fort Nelson is part of a series of defensive lines that extend well before the twentieth century. The theme of defence, and of its undermining is pertinent here as well.

Squires’s photographs however resist explicitly depicting the marks of the conflict that are still present on the beaches today, like for instance the work of Marc Wilson. We see instead a familiar landscape, not from their Hollywood representations or the shaky pictures taken by Robert Capa, but something more domestic (for a British viewer  at least!); memories of family beach excursions on overcast, gusty days… dune jumping perhaps? Instead we overlay memories on the more mundane vernacular structures. The idea of ‘landing’ is approached thoughtfully, and we confront his pictures both from looking out to sea and from the perspective of ‘coming up’ onto the beaches. The task of making it a few hundred yards from the water’s edge to the defensive lines that was a matter of life or death for so many is today facilitated by paths and ramps – even tractors are on hand to aid the landing of craft.

From the series 'Landings' © Russell Squires. Courtesy of the Artist
From the series ‘Landings’ © Russell Squires. Courtesy of the Artist
From the series 'Landings' © Russell Squires. Courtesy of the Artist
From the series ‘Landings’ © Russell Squires. Courtesy of the Artist
From the series 'Landings' © Russell Squires. Courtesy of the Artist
From the series ‘Landings’ © Russell Squires. Courtesy of the Artist

 

Landings is on show until October 1st. For more information see:

http://russellsquires.co.uk/d-day-landings/

http://blog.royalarmouries.org/2014/landings/