Exploring the Pastoral

'Elementary Husbandry' at Bank Street Arts
‘Elementary Husbandry’ at Bank Street Arts

I was thrilled to be in Sheffield earlier this week hanging my work at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. I have been working on Elementary Husbandry for several years, beginning shortly after I relocated to the rural Mendip Hills in Somerset from living in the city.

Popular myths of the countryside, and narratives of the spaces beyond our towns and cities as places of sanctuary, retreat and escape are sources of great personal intrigue and underpin the motivations behind the images I’m presenting. They encompass both my personal reflections on my immediate surroundings and my preoccupation with the representations of the British landscape more broadly, which I have spoken about previously.

From the series 'Elementary Husbandry' © Jesse Alexander, 2016
From the series ‘Elementary Husbandry’ © Jesse Alexander, 2016

The title, Elementary Husbandry, draws upon two founding pieces of Western literature: Hesiod’s Works and Days (c. 700BC) and Virgil’s Georgics (c. 40BC). These ancient poems conflated practical advice for farmers alongside guidance on how to lead a modest and virtuous existence. They are widely accepted as the prototypes for the pastoral motifs that have since become ubiquitous within artistic expressions of rural life and depictions of the agricultural landscape. They intrigue me in their use of the land, and in particular its stewardship, as metaphor and allegory.

This exhibition coincides with my current residency at Bank Street Arts, where I’m creating a piece of work called 
The Nymph and the Shepherd. This involves making a new image for the gallery each week. Through nuances within the photographs, and the correspondence of material between the gallery and myself, I aim to consider the amorous romance that is often a feature of pastoral tales.

From the series 'The Nymph and the Shepherd' © Jesse Alexander, 2016
From the series ‘The Nymph and the Shepherd’ © Jesse Alexander, 2016

The Open College of the Arts is generously sponsoring a symposium that is aligned with some of these themes, which will be held on Saturday 23rd July called New Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self.  This will be an opportunity to hear from some great practitioners who use photography and the land to explore personal and historical narratives. Speakers include: Michal Iwanowski (whose great new book Clear of People is currently under production), Hanna-Katrina Jędrosz, Christina Stohn and John Umney. It would be great to see you there.

There will be a reception at Bank Street Arts on Friday 22nd July from 18:00 – 20:00 to view the exhibition and, for those who are able to come to Sheffield ahead of the symposium, to catch up before hand.