Amano Samarpan: The Somerset Floods


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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.

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

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:


Perspectives on Place


About a year ago I started working on a textbook on contemporary landscape photography for Bloomsbury. Writing the thing was something of a task, but the draft is with the designers and things are moving ahead pretty swiftly. I’m really happy with how it is turning out. I’ve had some great support and I’m really pleased with the fantastic range of photographers who are contributing. I’m really pleased that Professor Paul Hill agreed to write a brilliant forward as well. I thought I’d share the latest cover, and also a link to pre-order a copy

It won’t be in the shops until January, and up until then I’ll be oiling the marketing bandwagon as much as possible, and of course saying a bit more about what it’s actually about. I hope that’s whetted a few appetites for now…