Steve Middlehurst's learning log
OCA course: BA (Hons) Photography
Student ID : 512357
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t reading enough”
"True, there are photographers who are failed artists, but so are most artists"
"Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again."
"Though nothing earth-shattering seems to be going on, take photographs anyhow. This helps you remember what happened today, which will be far more remarkable in the light of memory."
Newspaper horoscope from Phillip Brookman
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Nikolaus Pevsner (i) referred to the English Landscape garden as “Britains’ greatest contribution to the visual arts” (1: loc.270), Tim Robinson expands, saying:
“The English Landscape is the greatest artform ever to have been devised in the British Isles. What is more, it is an artform that has gone on to influence the rest of the world like no other in our history.” (1: loc. 254)
The English Landscape garden was one of many artistic and cultural responses to the fashionable Grand Tour (ii) that had started in the late sixteenth century and was still fashionable as late as the early part of the twentieth century. The British have long exhibited an inferiority complex in regards to culture, often appearing to believe that it is an imported commodity with its roots firmly planted in classical art and history, that the Romans created the foundations of all that is good in Britain and that their departure heralded a dark age of ignorance and violence (iii) only fully relieved by the Enlightenment in the sixteenth century. For three hundred years the Grand Tourists imported the latest trends in every aspect of the arts from painting to gardening.
It is often suggested that the early English landscape garden was strongly influenced by the paintings of the likes of Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin but both Kenneth Woodbridge (6) and Richardson argue that this is an over simplification. Richardson believes that classical poetry, contemporary literature and the gardens of Italy were more significant influences (1: loc.197) and that the conception of these gardens was intrinsically linked to the Whig movement and the restructuring of rural British life (1: loc.119) which included the Enclosures, new agrarian technologies and crops. Woodbridge argues that, whilst architecture was intrinsic to the great French gardens, in Britain it was built to idealise the scene and reflected the influence of Leone Battista Alberti who had promoted the idea of the perfect country estate as including grottos, monuments, caves and springs (6: p.8)
In 1712 Joseph Addison wrote an essay for The Spectator magazine, a call to arms that is often viewed as a manifesto for English garden design although it must have bemused many landowners at the time and was perhaps less revolutionary than it first appears (iv). Addison criticises the contemporary European style of gardening which exhibited, what Robinson calls “a strict demarkation between garden and surrounding agriculture” (1: p.1708) and as then pursued by British gardeners “Our trees rise in cones, lobes, and pyramids. We see the marks of the scissors upon every plant and bush …… I would rather look upon a tree in all its luxuriancy and diffusion of boughs and branches, than when it is thus cut and trimmed into a mathematical figure” (3) Addison argues for a different and more natural approach:
“But why may not a whole estate be thrown into a kind of garden by frequent plantations, that may turn as much to the profit as the pleasure of the owner? A marsh overgrown with willows, or a mountain shaded with oaks, are not only more beautiful, but more beneficial, than when they lie bare and unadorned. fields of corn make a pleasant prospect, and if the walks were a little taken care of that lie between them, if the natural embroidery of the meadows were helped and improved by some small additions of art, and the several rows of hedges set off by trees and flowers that the soil was capable of receiving, a man might make a pretty landskip of his own possessions.” (3)
This is the first known use of the word landskip to describe land as opposed to a painting of land (v) so in this essay Addison not only documents what would become the agenda for gardening in the next fifty years of English gardening but presaged the term landscape garden and the distinction between the terms land and landscape.
In the mid to late seventeenth century the vogue was for Baroque gardens with complex, symmetrical patterns organised in distinct parterres or sections surrounding the house. Badminton in Gloucestershire was a remarkable example of this style where the mansion was dwarfed by its geometric architectural gardens.
The extent of the symmetrical garden was even greater at Chatsworth in Derbyshire which had been laid out when the house was rebuilt in 1685. Woodbridge points out that the English landscape style that was to follow created landscapes that were “self-contained worlds” (6: p.11) often detached or remote from the house which had previously laid at the centre of garden design as seen in these examples.
The new English Landscape movement must have been attractive to landowners not just for its aesthetic appeal but for pragmatic financial reasons; the Baroque garden required professional surveyors and designers, vast numbers of plants and significant construction of paths, walls and outbuildings. A more natural, and cost effective look, must have appealed to many landowners. It should also be recognised that timber was the raw material of industry and the technologies of the age so garden designs that included the planting of managed woodland were not just aesthetic additions but prudent investments that spoke to the patriotism of a landowner in a country so dependant on its navy and trading fleets.
The English Landscape gardens of the early eighteenth century were typically laid out by land owning enthusiasts rather than by professionals. A landowner with an artistic bent could create a garden by eye rather than by set square and measuring tape, so its classification as an art form holds true with the gardener (vi) approaching his land in the way of a painter not an engineer. The resulting gardens are more idiosyncratic that the conventional and idealised designs of men like Capability Brown and Humphry Repton who were working later in the middle of the century.
Another significant difference between the early and later gardens is that these pioneering gardeners saw their designs as an expression of more complex ideas, in essence they were conceptual art. On first glance the temples, grottos, obelisks, statuary and topographical features appear merely to mimic the classical structures and Italian gardens seen on the Grand Tour or to ape the buildings in Claude’s idealised landscape paintings, and there is a strong element of these influences. However, the men who laid out these early gardens appropriated the style of those structures and invested them with new meanings so the features at Leasowes become a tribute to friendship and others like Castle Howard a statement of their family status, whilst at Stourhead the memorials, grottos and buildings are dedicated to pagan deities and heroes such as Aeneas, Hercules and King Alfred (6: p.10) . By linking the development of the English garden with the prevailing socio-political climate Robinson extends the expressionism in these gardens to much wider meanings:
“The garden was a realm in which aesthetic theories, philosophical ideals, poetic trends and even political ideologies could be illustrated to dramatic and innovative effect.” (1: loc.254)
By the beginning of the eighteenth century garden design in Britain had already significantly moved away from the rigid symmetry of the Baroque style. In the 1650s Sir William Temple had laid out the garden at Moor Park in Farnham based on his ideas of a “wholly irregular” garden (1: loc.535). The surviving plan, as shown above, illustrates the formal, symmetrical gardens adjoining the house but also includes a ‘serpentine” area (coloured green on the engraving) that led Pevsner to argue that Temple had:
“Started a line of thought and visual conceptions which was to dominate first England and then the World for two centuries. It is the first suggestion ever of a possible beauty fundamentally different from the formal, a beauty of irregularity and fancy.” (4)
Robinson refers to this concept as the introduction of “wiggles” which had first been pioneered by William Bentinck, the 1st Earl of Portland, in his garden at Bulstrode Park. Temple and Bentinck became friends and companions to William of Orange who acceded to the British throne in 1688. This relationships brought together a natural garden movement that was already underway in Holland, the design of William’s estate in Holland with its emphasis on hunting grounds and the irregularity and wiggles pioneered by Temple and Bentinck. Royalty has always set fashions but in the wake of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ it was politically expedient to make tangible expressions of support of the new order. As bizarre as this sounds today adopting William and his friends’ ideas on gardening made good political sense. These changes did not immediately result in a wholesale replanting of the formal country house garden but were represented by a more gradual change in emphasis with the “ratio of decorative parterre to forest and planted enclosures …. tilted much more in the favour of the latter” (1: loc.816)
In 1700 Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle commissioned the re-deisgn of Wray Wood, a forty acre plantation at Castle Howard. The designer, George London, proposed a geometrically laid out star of rides in the continental Baroque style but Howard rejected the proposal. Howard was the product of his time and the Grand Tour and “steeped in classical poetry” (5); he wanted to created an idealised landscape with gravel walks, statuary and water features. The eventual designer is unknown but by 1705 the new garden area had matured, the Temple of the Four Winds was added in 1728 followed by a Roman Bridge and Mausoleum in 1744. Stephen Switzer, a contemporary designer was fulsome in his praise:
“From the wood which lyes much higher are many pretty views. In it is an artificial romantick cave or grotto and cascades of water that run down from it and by a pretty summer house at the bottom into a fountain.” (1: loc.1119)
Castle Howard marks the identifiable beginning of the style that would become known as the English Landscape garden. The style had developed gradually from the Baroque with various transitional gardens like Moor Park but Castle Howard is of such scale and ambition that it feels like the first fully thought through naturalistic design that makes no attempt to adopt any previous English or continental formal style.
The English Landscape garden in, what is now referred to as, the Arcadian style was to become a significant artistic and culture achievement of the eighteenth century. Designers like William Kent laid out Chiswick, Stowe, Rousham and Kew and Henry Hoare created Stourhead. In the 1750’s Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, who had worked with Kent in the 1740s, began a second phase where the Arcadian garden was simplified and reflected social changes so his gardens were more often designed to be viewed by carriage rather than the walks of Stowe or Stourhead.
Brown’s designs were more utilitarian than the idiosyncratic early gardens with their rich vein of meanings, he dispensed with the Romano-Greco buildings and focussed more on carefully designed natural plantings. The Brown landscapes played to the pragmatic nature of the English landowner whose estates needed to show a profit with trees as an aesthetic but also economic resource and the creation of ‘cover’ for shooting game birds. Brown’s most notable gardens include Petworth which J.M.W. Turner painted on several occasions, Blenheim and Sheringham Park. (7)
Kent, then Brown represent a golden age of English garden design and it is their vision and the ideas of landowners like the Hoare family that elevated the English Landscape to an artform. Their influence on gardens around the world was and continues to be significant; George Washington and Thomas Jefferson based their Virginian estates designs on the Arcadian style. (8) and the contemporary Italian garden designer Antonio Peruzzi points out that:
“The romantic British garden still has its influence: there are several young Chinese landscape architects who are now making real money designing so-called modern gardens that look like a pale imitation of …… English garden design.” (9)
So, the artform lives on across the world and the English Landscape Garden, not least because it forms the backdrop to popular British costume drama, remains a fundamental characteristic of our nation character and the international perspective of rural England.
Notes on Text
(i) Nikolaus Prevsner was the editor in chief of Buildings of Britain and, according to Tim Richardson, “a man of impeccable modernist credentials” (9: loc. 270)
(ii) From the late sixteenth century young aristocrats from Britain, Germany and Scandinavia visited the great European capitals of London, Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome as the culmination of their classical studies. These young men had enjoyed a classical education studying Greek and Latin literature and it was considered an essential attribute of men of this class to have an appropriate interest in the arts. The Grand Tour, as it came to be known had a significant commercial influence on the arts with painters such as Claude Lorrain, Canalleto and many others basing their practices on the creation of ‘souvenirs’ for wealthy tourists. Claude Lorrain was so popular with British tourists that at “one point fully two thirds of his paintings were in Britain and the British museum still holds 40% of his drawings” (2). Tim Robinson argues that at the beginning of the eighteenth century there were only a “few dozen” Britons who could be termed connoisseurs of painted art and that the Grand Tourists made their purchasing decisions based on the advice of art dealers rather then their own taste. (1: loc.6446)
(iii) The view that the Roman occupation of Britan was a cultural, political, artistic and social highlight in an otherwise dark period of prehistory and history until the Enlightenment is one that has been long taught in British schools. Archeological finds and research in the last two decades have shown that this is a misconception. There is now significant evidence that Southern Britain was a sophisticated and civilised society long before the Roman invasion and that during the so-called dark ages after they left it was British monasteries that led the way in keeping learning alive whilst Europe was in turmoil.
(iv) Apart from the fact that long before Addison’s essay there had been a gradual movement away from stylised continental designs, Robinson argues that it suited Addison and other Whigs to claim that their ideas on gardening had instigated a revolution of taste and that the new designs were the brainchild of brilliant Whig gentlemen with the de-formailsed garden expressing the victory of Protestant freedom over Catholic tyranny. Robinson calls this the “Whig interpretation of garden history” but the reality is that the new gardens included Tories and Whigs, aristocrats and new money and more surprisingly not all the new landscapes were being created on the great estates; clergymen and local squires also played their part. (1: loc.1722)
(v) Landskip was term derived from the Dutch landschap or land shape in English. Robinson states that it was used “exclusively to describe landscape paintings” (1: p.2084).
(vi) Whenever I read of ‘gardeners’ in this context I always wonder just how often they dug a trench, pruned their roses, mulched a bed, built a compost heap or any other gardening task that requires and aching back, sweat and quite often a little blood. The reality is that most, if not all, of these men were directors of gardeners, not gardeners in any sense of word we would understand today.
(1) Richardson, Tim (2008) Arcadian Friends (kindle edition) London: Transworld
(6) Woodbridge, Kenneth ( 1986) The Stourhead Landscape. London: The National Trust
(2) Prodger, Michael (2011) Claude Lorrain: The Enchanted Landscape (accessed at The Spectator 14.2.17) – http://www.spectator.co.uk/2011/10/claude-lorrain-the-enchanted-landscape/
(3) Addison, Joseph (1712) The Pleasures of Imagination (accessed at Mnstate 14.2.17) – http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/addison414.htm
(4) Pevsner, Nikolaus (1956) Cited by Garden Visit in Moor Park Surrey (accessed at Garden Visit 14.2.17) – http://www.gardenvisit.com/gardens/moor_park_surrey
(5) Garden Visit – Castle Howard Garden (accessed at Garden Visit 14.2.17) – http://www.gardenvisit.com/gardens/castle_howard_garden
(7) Attar, Rob (2010) The English Landscape Garden (accessed at History Extra 14.2.17) – http://www.historyextra.com/feature/english-landscape-garden
(8) American Gardening (2017) Politics Influenced Modern English Garden (accessed at American Gardening 14.2.17) – http://americangardening.net/category/garden-style/
(9) Robinson, Tim (2014) What European Garden Designers Really Think of Britain (accessed at The Telegraph 14.2.17) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/10560487/What-European-garden-designers-really-think-of-Britain.html
After spending so long looking at the historic and contemporary view of the Sublime I spent a little time looking back through my own work to identify a few photographs that might represent some traditional Burkian Sublime attributes. They are from a time when I walked and photographed regularly in the Gran Sasso range in Abruzzo Italy and my interpretation of the Sublime may be strongly influenced by an irrational fear of heights.
Fascination with the Sublime is as great today as it was in the eighteenth century and visual artists across all mediums continue to use an aesthetic that generates Burke’s astonishment and awe. Much time and energy is expended discussing photography’s links to painted art and we accept as acquired wisdom that landscape photography has landscape painting in its genes but there is a tendency, once this point has been made, to focus entirely on one medium or the other. In this essay I am primarily interested in how contemporary photography has adopted the Sublime aesthetic but also want to explore a small selection of painters who continue that tradition in their medium because both visual arts exhibit a shifting paradigm from religious to secular motifs.
Stephen DaLuz writes:
“I suggest we consider an option that has been explored in the Romantic Era, during the period of Modernism, by the Abstract Expressionists and, yes, even by purely conceptual artists. I am suggesting that we consider the Sublime, as a current, accessible, and relevant mode of representational artistic expression.” (1)
The period between the eighteen and nineteenth centuries and the late twentieth or early twenty first century has seen a significant shift in the social attitudes of Britain. Much of the early writings on the Sublime and many of the paintings that explored the concept are overtly religious in nature; a Judea-Christian God and all his works are the source of wonder and awe. If we revisit Burke’s aspects of the Sublime with this thought in mind many of the words he uses are commonly associated with an Old Testament God, magnificent, awesome, terrible and infinite with the inclusion of darkness as a nod to the devil. The idea that the Sublime is something ineffable is close to the conventional historic view of God; this relationship was intentional and relevant in eighteenth century Britain but, post Darwin and in our increasingly science-based and secular society, concepts of all-powerful deities, play an ever diminishing role in life, visual art in general and photography in particular.
Simon Morley suggests that discussion of the Sublime in contemporary art might be a covert device to engage in subject matter that was once part of religious discourse (2). One wonders whether after millennium of believing an all powerful, invisible and omnipotent force, or forces, watched over our lives we are now struggling to find an adequate replacement in a post industrial, post religious Europe; that is, to ask whether man is addicted to religious beliefs and having rejected or drifted from the ancient middle-eastern religions we are searching in a world of technology and scientific reason for a ready replacement.
Few contemporary artists, David DaLuz being the exception that proves the rule, are exploring the Sublime in the context of overt religious themes although one might argue that a more ancient idea of Nature has replaced God in this context. Jesse Alexander, who one would expect to take a contemporary view, defines the Sublime as a “general understanding of the concept of nature” (2: p.70) and this description is appropriate for those forms of landscape photography that have their roots, however tentatively, in nineteenth century landscape painting.
Simon Morley believes that the Sublime is now used in five broad ways and in the two main contexts of nature and technology (2)
- The problem of the unpresentable in art;
- The experiences of transcendence:
- The uncanny:
- Altered sates of consciousness.
These categories continue to speak to the representation of something that is outside of our control and understanding; we continue to react with awe, dread, terror and all those other biblical words to what Morley calls something that is “wholly and perturbingly other” (3) but that “other” is now rarely seen as having been created by a heavenly being.
New subjects have developed, so the sense of the Sublime, a feeling of displacement or being at the mercy of a force greater than ourselves (2: p.72) is being found in a wide variety of contexts. Futility, ruin and waste have been the subject of painted art for many centuries but perhaps rose to prominence again in Britain during and after the First World War. Sir William Orpen’s Zonnebeke adopts the Sublime aesthetic but his focus is not the threat of nature’s angry skies brooding menacingly over the flooded shell holes of the Western Front but rather on the insignificance and vulnerability of the individual in the face of man’s powers of futile destruction. This painting would have been frighteningly evocative for the men who survived the Great War and the families who suffered the loss of their fathers and sons.
War and the violence of man are Sublime themes that can be traced initially through painting and then photography for most of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. There is no suggestion that Don McCullin had the Sublime aesthetic in mind when capturing his iconic photographs of war zones but his “late Photography” representation of the Somme battlefields uses the Burkian devices of darkness, infinity, vastness and obscurity to capture the mood of a place that was once witness to indescribable horror.
War, especially those on the scale of the two great world wars, are extreme transformative experiences for those involved, those spectating from afar and those considering them in hindsight so we could identify many examples of war photography that would be Sublime in the contemporary sense but there is another category of photographs that might be described as the effect of war rather than of war.
In 1945 George Rodger captured a series of photographs during the liberation of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp which not only played a significant role in bringing the atrocities of the Nazis to the world’s attention but so deeply impacted Rodger that he never worked with such raw subjects again. Genres and attempts at classification in this context are irrelevant and Rodger certainly had no thought of creating a modern interpretation of the Sublime, but as photographs of man’s inhumanity to man, the seemingly limitless bounds of man’s evil and the willingness of people to become sheep in a dictator’s perverted flock they are photographs that represent the unpresentable.
Many photographers have since visited the preserved remains of the concentration camps and engaged in post or late photographic projects. Mark Power is only one example who has used, consciously or sub-conciously the Sublime aesthetic to keep this history in our consciousness. One could argue that Power has used the railway lines that brought victims to Auschwitz as a metaphor for infinity and the despatch of millions into eternity.
Man’s suicidal progress towards destroying the planet is another major theme in all art; in 2010 the painter and writer Julian Bell visited the site of a man-made inferno in Turkmenistan which had been created when Soviet engineers decided to burn off a pocket of gas whilst prospecting for oil; they lost control of the burn-off and abandoned the site; forty years later it was still burning. Bell himself notes the relationship between this work and the Vesuvius series painted by Joseph Wright of Derby in 1774 (4), which I will return to in a moment, but the fundamental difference is that Bell is representing a man-made disaster. This painting, which is on an eight foot wide canvas and therefor use Sublime scale in the representation of the subject as well as in the subject, screams its message that prior to the twentieth century only nature could summon such cataclysmic or apocalyptic forces, now man can, seemingly quite casually, create a volcano or, to return to religious motifs, the gates of hell, Darvaza is the Persian for gate.
Bruno Barbey’s series on the oil fields of Kuwait that were ignited by the retreating Iraqi forces during the Gulf War bring together the Sublime of war and of man-made environmental disasters. Both Bell and Barbey use what Bell calls “dazzling light” (4) to overpower our senses; uncontrolled fire is terrible and awesome and for good reason used repetitively in religion to symbolise ultimate power. Bell and Barbey are part of a process of recording the transference of such power from God or Nature to man.
These examples of the Sublime in photography are generally documentary or photojournalistic in nature and we could continue within those genres to find many more examples. However, it is interesting to look at more conceptual work where the photographers has set out to explore human activity in specific areas in great depth.
Daniel Beltrá is one of a number of contemporary landscape photographers who have focussed their work on man-made environmental disasters. Beltrá takes us into the area of the Sublime where it is at its most paradoxical, the place where man-made disasters meet visual beauty. We could discuss whether horror should be made artistically beautiful but that is a discussion for another day. His work is wide ranging so my comments here focus on the Spill series and the image above where we have the element of vastness shown by the scale of the floating rig and its tender; throughout Spill Beltrá gives us points of reference that describe the scale of the Gulf of Mexico disaster but beyond that, and without ever showing us the detail of the impact of this vast oil spill, he evokes every photograph we have ever seen of oil soaked sea birds and tar covered beaches.
Another photographer who has concentrated his attention on human impact to the environment is Stuart Franklin. His Footprint series is much wider in range than the more focussed work of Beltrá. He started on the series in Southern Spain in 2003 and only finished in 2008; it covers a huge geographical area but has the single theme of climate change. However, it is important to note that his concern is not just of climate change but how it has “become an abstraction that few Europeans understand” (6) ; the photographs are designed to shock. There is a tendency in contemporary photography to represent the world in desaturated tones but Franklin like Joel Sternfeld revels in the natural colours of our planet and this, like Beltrá, gives us the contradiction of the beauty of decay, industrial waste, corruption and environmental vandalism.
The image I have chosen from Footprint also reveals Franklin’s eye for the ironic; the church of Santa Maria is all that remains of the Arcadian village of Anthochori after extensive lignite mining in the area. You won’t have missed the irony that the place that gave rise to the idea of the Arcadian landscape is now an open cast mine.
As mentioned by Julian Bell the Sublime in contemporary art has spawned a whole series of sub-genres including techno-sublime, eco-sublime, Gothic sublime and the suburban sublime (4). In addition to these Alexander talks of the industrial sublime as a recognisable category (2: p120). I am unsure whether Michael Collins has intentionally set out with the industrial sublime in mind but his Landscape and Industry series (7) is a fine example of it. Since the industrial revolution man has created monumental structures in the name of industry and commerce, from coal mines to great bridges and from cotton mills to power stations. Collins explores Britain from the perspective of this impact. His work is overtly objective, less critical; that say Beltrá or Franklin so not all that he captures is wholly bad or wholly good, it is just a pure record-photography statement of it being here.
Which brings me to, what I see as an important point; there is a significant risk that we view all landscape photography that reflects man’s industrial impact on the land as negative criticism. If this was the case Joe Cornish’s pastoral landscapes would be termed artistic criticism and that seems an unlikely caption to apply to his work. As previously discussed (here) we live in a man-made landscape, some of the results of this human intervention fit neatly into our perception of an arcadian or pastoral scene, a landscape view that is picturesque or a building that is monumental, an art-form in its own right; these are therefore acceptable and desirable interventions regardless of the environmental impact of their construction. However, a photograph of a power station, especially if it is nuclear, will probably be interpreted as a critique on the dangers of power generation or the present and future implications for the planet. We will sit as our desk to make this criticism warmed by our central heating system, under the electric light and using technology both built by and using power. Likewise we see a quarry as a blot on the landscape but might see the building built using the extracted stone as an art-form.
I see in these understandable and common hypocrisies a form of the Sublime that is less frequently discussed, perhaps it is a form of the Sublime characteristic of incomplete understanding, not a fear of the unknown but an unknowingness of realities. One photographer whom I much admire and who has, over a long career explored the realities of the rural British landscape is Colin Shaw. He documents industry in the context of the land and has explored farming (here), road building and more recently quarrying in the Peak District. Many of his photographs of quarries meet the definitions of the Sublime in terms of vastness, and the localised environmental impact could generate emotional reactions that speak to other Burkian ideas but beyond that he describes a working landscapes that create rural employment and provide resources that are essential components of our way of life. Like Collins, he neither applauds nor criticises, he just records a reality that exists and perhaps has to exist. I see his Peak District quarries as something quite different than Franklin’s open caste mine but others would no doubt disagree.
There is a more subtle area of the Sublime that Mike Kelley calls the “uncanny”:
“I see the Sublime as coming from the natural limitations of our knowledge: when we are confronted with something that’s beyond our limits of acceptability, to that threatens to expose some repressed thing, then we have this feeling of the uncanny”. (3)
In his 1984 series The Sublime, Mike Kelley explored a wide range of things that he believed fitted into his definition of being beyond our comprehension. This series investigates some Burkian devices such as vastness but moves into more complex areas that might represent our bewilderment towards the acts of man and what he would see as our unconscious memories of trauma and the uncanny.
Whilst new Sublime subjects have been explored by contemporary artists and photographers there is a continuance of the traditions of representing awesome, magnificent and terrible natural events.
The Tsunami of 2005 which wrought havoc across tropical Asia and the tsunami of 2011 on Japan’s east coast have both been the subject of documentary photography. These were events of inconceivable scale that destroyed lives and livelihoods across huge areas and whose effects were long lasting. A tsunami is the epitome of something that is beyond our control and of a scale that lies beyond our imagination.
The tradition of recording natural distorters potentially dates back to man’s earliest attempts at visual art. Thirty-six thousand years ago is as far as we can get from contemporary art but I want to make the point that absolutely nothing is new; we have a remarkably condescending and patronising attitude to history in that we appear to believe that only now are our minds sophisticated enough to experience the full range of “human” emotions; the idea that pre-historic humans were less able to think or feel as we do is a sub-text of much that we learn about our ancestors. Phrases like “life was cheap” somehow suggest humans responded differently at an emotional level in the past than we do now.
My discussion of the history of the Sublime (here) suggests that it took an eighteenth century mind to describe it and that visual artists then started to attempt to represent it. However, recent analysis of the cave paintings at Chauvet and some others at Catalhojuk in Turkey suggest that pre-historic man observed and then represented volcanic eruptions thirty-six thousand years ago. The caves at Chauvet are thirty five kilometres from the Stromboli volcanoes in Northern Italy, a perfect and safe place from which to observe the lava being spewed two hundred metres into the sky. A Sublime experience that an early artist believed was worth recording.
If it stretches the point to suggest that tradition of recording Sublime volcanic eruptions began in pre-history there are plenty of more recent examples that show they interested artists in more modern times. I have already mentioned Joseph Wright of Derby’s paintings of Vesuvius in the context of Julian Bell’s Darvaza, noting the similarities in their use of dazzling light and there are may examples of photographers who have captured volcanic eruptions.
Volcanic eruptions are visually alluring displays of extreme light and dark and unquestionably Sublime but they also remind us that, when we discuss terrible events, Nature usually has the last word.
(2) Alexander, J.A.P. (2015) Perspectives on Place. London: Bloomsbury
(5) Beltrá, Daniel (2015) Spill. London: Gost
(6) Franklin, Stuart (2008) Footprint: Our Landscape in Flux. London: Thames and Hudson
(7) Collins, Michael (2014) Landscape and Industry. Stockport: Dewi Lewis
(1) DaLuz, David (2014) The Sublime Through the Eyes of Steven DaLuz ( accessed at Huffington Post 10.2.17) – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandon-kralik/the-sublime-through-the-e_b_5691624.html
(3) Morley, Simon (2010) Starting into the Contemporary Abyss: The Contemporary Sublime (accessed at the Tate 6.2.17) – http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/staring-contemporary-abyss
(4) Bell, Julian (2012) Contemporary Art and the Sublime (accessed at the Tate 7.2.17) – http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/julian-bell-contemporary-art-and-the-sublime-r1108499
Riding, Christine & Llewellyn, Nigel (2012) British Art and the Sublime (accessed at the Tate 7.2.17) – http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/christine-riding-and-nigel-llewellyn-british-art-and-the-sublime-r1109418
Smith, Laura (2003) Beautiful, Sublime (accessed at the University of Chicago 9.2.17) – http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/beautifulsublime.htm
Philip Shaw, who has written extensively on the subject of the Sublime, describes it as “a term that has been debated for centuries amongst writers, artists, philosophers and theorists” but is still often labelled “indescribable” (1) ; a less than encouraging start to an investigation into the concept.
The word “sublime”, which is used as a noun, verb and adjective, has been part of the English language since late medieval times and the OED assigns the adjective no less than ten meanings and the noun four that collectively varying in their first known usage from 1460 until 1800 (4: p.2169 /7 ). By the seventeenth century it was in use as both an adjective and a noun and generally associated with the idea of an elevated status, whether to vaporise a substance or, more philosophically, to raise something to that state. Today, it has settled down to having two primary usages: one vernacular as a description of an experience or an object “a sublime sauce” or “sublime poetry” for example; and the other as a noun used in aesthetic discourse – “the Sublime”.
My brief and incomplete history of the Sublime begins in the first century in an essay entitled Peri Hypsous (On the Sublime); although Christine Riding and Nigel Llewellyn cast some doubt on its authorship (2) it is usually credited to, Longinius, a Greek rhetorician. This essay, which quite remarkably references not only pagan Greek literature but the Jewish Old Testament, is a treatise on oratory that coaches its readers to rise above merely persuading their audience of the value of their ideas and to take them “out of themselves” (3), to be amazed. He calls for the orator to unleash a “maverick and unruly force” (3) as ” amazement is the result of an irresistible force beyond the control of any audience”. Longinius’ impact on art from the seventeenth century onwards was initially due to a Neoclassical critic and poet, Nicolas Boileau-Desoréaux, who translated the essay into French in 1674.
Adam Philips explains that by the early eighteenth century the Sublime was a fashionable subject for intellectuals to explore and that Longinius’ essay had achieved “cult status among the literary” (5: p.ix) and as a result the Sublime had been the subject of a number of published articles. Its first recorded use as a “quality in nature or art which inspires awe, reverence or other high emotion” (7) is in Alexander Pope’s 1727 essay (ii) The Art of Sinking where he uses the phrase “The Sublime of nature is the Sky, the Sun, Moon, Stars” (7), in this same essay Pope introduces the term “bathos” to mean a failed attempt at sublimity in literature.
In 1757 a young Dubliner, keen to make his mark on London society announced himself with a book that was to influence artists of different disciplines for the next three hundred years. Edmund Burke, at the age of just twenty three, drafted A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful; in essense Burke believed that “our aesthetic responses are experienced as pure emotional arousal, unencumbered by intellectual considerations” (6) The Enquiry is a broad investigation into taste, aesthetics and how we respond to beauty and the Sublime; it is a too lengthy and complex a work to successfully analyse here and in many ways is best understood in summary. Burke argues that the “passion” evoked, or our emotional response to the Sublime in nature is “astonishment” which he says has the subsidiary effects of “admiration, reverence and respect ” (6: p.47).
Burke breaks down the Sublime into ten main states (I’m struggling for a better collective term given the different aspects of the seven concepts he describes) which are:
Terror: which he argues is the “ruling principle of the Sublime” (6: p.48) and encompasses our reaction to anything from dangerous animals to the scale of the ocean.
Obscurity: which he believes is a necessary source of terror. He argues that when we know the full extent of a danger we can begin to deal with it in a rational way; it is the unknown that unnerves us.
Power: which he describes in the context of our fear of pain and ultimately death; something is Sublime when we believe it has the power to inflict pain or death.
Privation: which encompasses darkness, vacuity (i), solitude and silence and which he relates very directly to Virgil’s description of the entrance to the limitless expanse of the afterworld (6: p.58) where we will be deprived of light, social interaction, sound and thoughtfulness.
Vastness: or what he calls a “greatness of dimension” is used to describe both linear and spacial measurement, so height and depth are discussed along with horizontal space. Vastness needs to considered as Sublime in the context of comparative scale, a towering mountain is Sublime because we, in comparison are so small.
Infinity: the ultimate vastness is a category in its own right and closely linked to obscurity; he acknowledges that few objects are infinite but that we fear things that are larger than we can immediately understand just as if they are infinite.
Succession and Uniformity: begin to move us into more philosophical territory, Burke believes that that something that continues in what seems an endless manner, succession, or something that keeps repeating itself, uniformity, is a kind of artificial infinity. His example is a rotund, which in this context is a building shaped like a caldron or a round perimeter (as opposed to being chubby). The alchemists had a concept of a snake that perpetually eats itself, the ouroboros, which they saw as a symbol of infinity.
Magnificence: an important category in the context of art as it encompasses all those things of which we are in awe such as “the starry Heaven ” ((6: p.63), the power of nature or, of course, a deity.
Loudness and Suddenness: which is potentially important in that it is the first aspect that is sensed by an organ other than our eyes. He believes that the sudden commencement of sound, the volume of sound and the sudden cessation of sound are all capable of creating an emotional response of fear.
The key point that is at the heart of Burke’s treatise is that, as pain is ultimately more powerful than pleasure, we want to experience the fear of the Sublime from a safe distance. It is therefore paradoxically the opposite of pleasure and potentially pleasurable. To watch a storm at sea from dry land or a furious gale from inside a strongly built house are strangely satisfying experiences and Burke argues if art harnesses the Sublime it has the same effect.
Burke’s Enquiry discusses the Sublime in the context of poetry and rhetoric more than painting and when talking of the passions roused by a “fanatic preacher” he comments “I do no know of any paintings, bad or good, that produce the same effect” (5: p.56) arguing that poetry holds “more powerful dominion over the passions than the other art.” (5: p.56), his inference is that poetry can convey an obscure idea whereas painting makes it too clear, a thought that plays to his concept that obscurity is a cause of the Sublime.
Immanuel Kant progressed Burke’s ideas in his 1763 Critique of Judgement establishing a notion that was later to be called aesthetic magnitude saying that “all sublimity involves vast magnitude; and nature ….. the most sublime in its chaos, in its wildest and most ruleless disarray and devastation” (8), like Burke he sees the Sublime as a feeling of pleasure and as an aesthetic judgement.
Eighteen century painters saw Burke’s ideas as a challenge and began to explore ways of representing the Sublime, to “paint the unpaintable” (2) however it should not be seen as an isolated aesthetic but rather as one element of a triad comprised of the Sublime, the Beautiful and the Picturesque; the third concept having been introduced by William Gilpin in his Essay on Prints in 1768. By the end of the eighteen century and in the context of landscape painting this triad of aesthetics had quite established definitions:
Beautiful: Serene, calm landscapes with formally composed and idealised natural forms.
Picturesque: Literally like a picture with “rough, craggy trees and foliage, sharp contrasts of light and shadow and rustic anecdotes” (2)
Sublime: Astonishment and awe created as a aesthetic response to the power of untamed nature. “Tremendous mountains, deep valleys and cataclysmic storms.” (2)
As previously discussed (here and here) the pursuit of these aesthetic styles stimulated British landscape painting which in turn fuelled a domestic tourist industry as people sought out picturesque views and most importantly fed the creation of the English landscape garden which Nikolaus Pevsner (iii) referred to as “Britain’s greatest contribution to the visual arts” (9); Tim Richardson bases his history of this art form, The Arcadian Friends, firmly on this idea:
“The basic and aesthetic premiss of this book is that the English Landscape is the greatest artform ever to have been devised in the British Isles. What is more, it is an artform that has gone on to influence the rest of the world like no other in our history.” (9: loc. 254)
In this sense Burke opened a discourse on aesthetics that spawned British landscape painting, a genre that Michael Prodger calls “distinctively British” (10) giving us Constable and Turner and led to the creation of the English country house landscape.
Notes on Text
(i) Vacuity is empty headedness or a lack of thought and intelligence which in this context appears to suggest the void or nothingness of hell.
(ii) Although Riding and Llewellyn quote from a 1715 essay by Jonathan Richardson where he suggests that “the Sublime is not only desirable but is indeed the highest level of artistic attainment”. (2)
(iii) Nikolaus Prevsner was the editor in chief of Buildings of Britain and, according to Tim Richardson, “a man of impeccable modernist credentials” (9: loc. 270)
(1) Shaw, Philip (2006) The Sublime. Abingdon: Routledge
(4) The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary Volume 11 (1980) Oxford: Oxford University Press
(5) Burke, Edmund (1757) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Kindle edition 1998 with an introduction by Adam Philips) New York: Oxford World’s Classics
(6) Burke, Edmund (1757) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (with an introduction by Paul Guyer). Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics
(9) Richardson, Tim (2008) The Arcadian Friends (Kindle edition) London: Penguin Random House
(11) Alexander, J.A.P. (2015) Perspectives on Place. London: Bloomsbury
(2) Riding, Christine & Llewellyn, Nigel (2012) British Art and the Sublime (accessed at the Tate 7.2.17) – http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/christine-riding-and-nigel-llewellyn-british-art-and-the-sublime-r1109418
(7) Oxford English Dictionary (ND) Sublime (accessed at the OED 7.2.17) – http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/192766?rskey=3HfqFJ&result=1#eid
(8) Kant Immanuel (1763) Critique of Judgement (accessed at Monoskop 10.2.17) – https://monoskop.org/images/7/77/Kant_Immanuel_Critique_of_Judgment_1987.pdf
(10) Prodger, Michael (2012) Constable, Turner, Gainsborough and the making of Landscape (accessed at the Guardian 7.10.16) – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/nov/23/constable-turner-gainsborough-making-landscape
White, Luke (ND) A Brief History of the Notion of the Sublime (accessed at Luke White 6.2.17) – http://lukewhite.me.uk/sub_history.htm
Morley, Simon (2010) Starting into the Contemporary Abyss: The Contemporary Sublime (accessed at the Tate 6.2.17) – http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/staring-contemporary-abyss
Smith, Laura (2003) Beautiful, Sublime (accessed at the University of Chicago 9.2.17) – http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/beautifulsublime.htm
Bell, Julian (2012) Contemporary Art and the Sublime (accessed at the Tate 7.2.17) – http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/julian-bell-contemporary-art-and-the-sublime-r1108499
Transitions, assignment six of the landscape module, is a project that runs throughout the whole course. The terms of reference are to create a series of images that respond to the idea of transitions within the landscape, recording changes that a part of the landscape undergoes over an extended period of time. (1: p.178)
As previously discussed the British landscape is one of the most engineered in Europe:
“A landscape moulded and exploited by human hand as an industrial resource. When we look out upon Britain from the train or motorway we are seeing a manufactured landscape, every field has been carved from ancient forest; woodland preserved and modified to produce building materials, firewood, charcoal, pit props or hunting parks for the ruling classes; streams dammed to form ponds for fish farms; rivers narrowed and channelled, deepened and rerouted to irrigate water meadows or mills; great pits, some now recycled as recreational lakes, where once we quarried stone, sand, clay, lime and gravel to build everything from castles to council houses. There are no great wildernesses here, even the flora and fauna of our moors and highlands have been modified by man and their livestock.” (2).
This perspective still feels relevant but there is perhaps an inference that the start point is always virgin, natural land that has been modified by man to attain its current status. In practice since the end of the last ice age (i), Britain’s land has been profoundly transformed; the underlying direction of travel was a natural metamorphosis from tundra to forest (i) but from as early as the Mesolithic, and long before farming was introduced to Britain, humans began to manage their immediate surroundings (ii) in ways that subverted its natural state. With the advent of farming, urbanisation and industrialisation these changes became significantly more impactful and far reaching until we reach the point where, as discussed above, little or none of the land not only untouched by human hand but has been successively modified to meet new requirements.
The underlying natural changes have progressed slowly across the millennia whilst man’s impact started slowly and then accelerated as new technologies were introduced and populations grew. Against a backdrop of these metamorphic changes the seasons have continued to perform an annual cycle of transition with winter frosts and spring flooding eroding and moulding the land.
The land we view on a daily basis has multiple pasts, a current status, is changing now and will change in the future.
My concept was to identify a tract of land where the past and present are visible but where plans are in place to significantly transform the landscape again over the course of the next year. This is not primarily a study of seasonal transitions but the visible effects of the unrelenting cycle of weather patterns, changes in light and the response of vegetation will inevitably be captured.
The very fact that the chosen location will be in the process of significant transformation dictates that the investigation will be a broad response to macro changes over a wide area rather than a study of a specific place or an element within the landscape.
In November and December 2016 I researched and visited a number of locations where large scale development projects were planned or underway. These ranged from urban redevelopment, village in-fill and the creation of a new town on a mixed brown and green field site. I narrowed the choice down to two potential projects.
In the very centre of Farnham in Surrey there is an area of land that has been scheduled for redevelopment for two decades. Currently a mixture of disused amenities, retail space and open land it has planning approval as the site of new town centre with amenities, retail premises and housing. (iii) (4)
Because the existing buildings and open spaces on the site have such varied current or historic uses there will be interesting transitions taking place once the project starts but despite planning permission having finally been approved in 2016 it is now the subject of a Judical Review which suggests further delays that suggest it is not a viable subject for this project.
I carried out an initial shoot on the site in December to explore the location for photography and whilst there is real scope in regards to the urban re-development of the area, including elevated viewpoints outside of the site, I sense that once work commences it will quickly become a homogenous building site that destroys all the existing vegetation and hides the underlying land.
The subject I have chosen is the redevelopment of the old British Army camp or garrison at Bordon that is part of a much wider scheme to build a new town on, what was, Ministry of Defence land at Whitehill and Bordon in Hampshire (5). This development is part of the Government’s “Eco Towns” project as announced in July 2009 (6) and will eventually include the construction of 2,400 “sustainable” new homes, a new town centre, retail space, light industrial areas, offices, two new schools, a relief road and recreational facilities.
The site is vast, 500 acres, and to document the overall transition would be a major project so from the outset I will narrow my focus to three specific transitions.
Military to Civilian: Between the time the War Office purchased the Broxhead Estate in 1902 and when the military left in 2015 the “camp” at Bordon had become a significant garrison with the full array of headquarters buildings, sports facilities, barracks, married quarters, shops, restaurants and messes that one would normally associate with a military base. Some of these buildings, (too few in my view), are being retained and repurposed and I am especially interested in the Victorian military structures that surround the parade ground at the top of the camp that will become the site of the new town centre.
Military Training to Public Amenity: The camp is surrounded by heath land and conifer forest where soldiers have trained for over a century. Most recently this has been used as a testing and exercise area for armoured and other heavy vehicles. Hogmoor, a discrete 130 acre site adjoining the military camp, is being transformed from a tank testing ground to a forest-based public space, and thereby represents a transition from “damaged” military land, to a recreational amenity.
Forest to Road (v): To the South of the site there is a relief road being constructed to bypass the existing high streets of both Bordon and adjoining Whitehill. This road is being cut through forested land between the camp and the Hogmoor enclosure.
These are three quite different transitions and the scope may yet prove to be too broad but this can be modified as I progress with the shoots.
A Variety of Edgelands
In particular I am interested in the spaces between the different types of development; the points where residential meets amenity or recreational meets natural land; these points are transitional spaces, edgelands that might change in interesting ways as the development project progresses.
The development project raises social questions. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s Planning Statement declares:
“DIO believes that its proposals will result in a scheme of the highest quality which will deliver urgently needed market/affordable homes and strategic infrastructure in the District, as well as making the best use of a large area of vacant public sector land to contribute to the regeneration objectives for the town.” (7: p.3)
Further into this weighty document it states that a total of 360 (15%) of the new builds will be “affordable”, these range from one bedroom apartments to four bedroom houses. The same document admits that this falls short of the 35% “target” (their parenthesis) as set by the East Hampshire District in their 2014 policy statement (8: p.45) but this level is declared as “not viable”; however, Shelter appears to continue to believe that 40% the homes constructed during the redevelopment of the Bordon Garrison will be affordable (9: p.3) so there appears to be a lack of clarity on this subject, a major corner stone of the whole project.
The debate over how many of these homes will be classified as “affordable” rather ignores the key question of what is affordable to the rural population of East Hampshire. I have no wish to jump to conclusions but to date the lowest cost property I have found on this development is priced at £315,000 or £252,000 with “Help to Buy”.
The second question in my mind is why so many, apparently viable buildings, are being demolished to make way for the redevelopment and why the service families’ homes at St. Lucia Park on the edge of the development appear to be mostly empty, if not abandoned.
The advantage of working on these three different transitions is that only the transformation of the garrison buildings is inside the fenced and secured development site. Hogsmore is open to the public and the relief road runs through an accessible area between the camp and Hogsmore.
I have obtained permission from the overall development company to gain accompanied access to the development site and, in the company of a security guard, have since conducted one shoot inside the old camp. My plan is to revisit this part of the camp on a monthly basis and to visit the areas outside of the secure development site on a bi-monthly basis.
Initial Context and References to Research
At this stage my contextual references are not fully established but there are a number of practitioners whose work is either in similar areas or whose approach to landscape in general is relevant.
Colin Shaw completed a project on the impact of the construction of the M40 through Warwickshire (10) in 1986 to 1988. This is perhaps a little too social documentary focussed for this landscape project but I have always found his work highly relevant.
Gina Lundy, my current tutor, explored the impact of the Government’s housing policies in a project on the Aylesbury Estate, West Hendon in 2015. Her approach to landscape documentary is interesting in that she simultaneously explores the wider landscape, details within that landscape including interior shots and considers the people impacted by relocation to make way for new development. (11) & (12) The emphasis of her project on the failure of social housing policies is of particular relevance.
John Darwell is another British documentary photography who exhibits a particularly personal perspective on landscape with an emphasis on social and industrial change. His practice has a number of relevant reference points but I am initially interested in looking at his Legacy series which explores the abandoned landscape inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone (13). Whilst the reasons for this landscape being depopulated are significantly different to the site at Bordon I am interested in how he approaches a huge site and extracts a compact but evocative series. I could select two or three of his other projects for research at this point and aside from Legacy I am interested in his study of abandoned industrial buildings around Sheffield. (14)
Joel Sternfeld is perhaps best known for his studies of people but his pure landscape work is equally compelling. On This Site (15), a “late photography” study of sites where large and small atrocities occurred is a moving and personal perspective on American history. Walking The High Line (16) explores a historic but abandoned railway in Manhattan. Both these books are relevant in terms of their subject matter but also because of Sternfeld’s treatment of colour; whilst Stephen Shore’s or Alexander Gronsky’s muted palettes are both highly appealing and contemporary I take great pleasure in looking at the work of Sternfeld who revels in rich tones and saturated colour contrasts.
Studies of a particular place are not uncommon subjects so there are many other photographers who come to mind. I feel that I have been poring over maps a lot recently so perhaps Mark Power is an appropriate reference point and in studies of the wider landscape of a place neither Stephen Shore nor Paul Strand can be ignored. For an interest in the mundane aspects of the land Hans Van Der Meer is of interest as is Wim Wenders ability to find and photograph strange objects and buildings.
This list will wax and wane as the project progresses but I know that I will return on several occasions to the work of a non photographer, Francis Pyror, who is perhaps the most eloquent writer on how the British landscape has evolved.
Notes on Text
(i) The last ice age or Pleistocene ended 11,600 years ago. The Mesolithic, which follows, runs until about 4,000 BC or 6,000 years ago and the start of the Neolithic. The traditional view is that the Mesolithic humans were nomadic hunter gatherers who had little or no impact on the landscape but this idea is now being challenged based on the archeological evidence at, the admittedly rare, Mesolithic sites excavated in Britain. Francis Pryor (3) suggests that the Mesolithic hunters may have established seasonal encampments or even longer term settlements and that they would have probably managed the local woodland to attract game and to make it easier to hunt and were quite likely to have been cultivating plants like hazel. Recognisable forms of farming were introduced to Britain in about 4,000 BC and the population becomes less mobile and more linked to permanent settlements. The domestication of cattle, sheep and pigs and the cultivation of barley, wheat and pulses led to more significant levels of land modification and management.
(ii) As the ice withdrew the climate quickly warmed so tundra was replaced by woodland; the first tree to return was juniper and this was quickly followed by birch, hazel, pine, willow and alder. The great greenwood trees like oak and elm followed in the lowlands, whereas in the uplands pine and birch were more common. This heavily wooded landscape was home to bear, wolves, deer, wild cattle, boar and a wide variety of small mammals that supported the Mesolithic hunters that followed the retreating ice across Europe and populated Britain and Ireland.
(iii) This area was once the site of the Regal Cinema, that was demolished in 1987, the Redgrave Theatre that closed in 1997, an eighteenth century House which has had several uses since being acquired by the council in 1919 and that is currently semi derelict, abandoned tennis courts and a large open space that was once “pleasure gardens”. The current development plans also call for the demolition of a pub, several shops and various other buildings.
(iv) Over time the War Office and then the MOD purchased over 1,500 acres of land in the Bordon area. Some of this has been sold off over time and 500 is contained within the Whitehill and Bordon development scheme. At this stage of my research I am unclear whether the MOD still owns the heath land on the Farnham side of the camp.
(v) I am wary of describing this as a transformation of natural forest to public road as the conifers are not indigenous to this area and are probably the remains of commercially planted woodland. Further research will hopefully identify whether this was previously heath land or mixed forest.
(1) Alexander, J.A.P (ND) Landscape. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts
(3) Pryor, Francis (2010) The Making of the British Landscape. London: Penguin
(11) Lundy, Gina (2015) Fantastic New Community Zine. London: Gina Lundy with support from Street Level Photoworks
(13) Darwell, John (2001) Legacy. Stockport: Dewi Lewis
(14) Darwell, John (2014) Sheffield: the Remains of Some Buildings Around the Don Valley. Southport: Café Royal Books
(15) Sternfeld, Joel (2012) On This Site. Göttingen: Steidl
(16) Sternfeld, Joel (2012) Walking The High Line. Göttingen: Steidl
(2) Middlehurst, Steve (2016) A5: Research Colin Shaw (accessed at the author’s Identity and Place blog) – https://stevemiddlehurstidentityandplace.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/a5-research-farmwork-colin-shaw/
(4) Waverley Council (ND) Brightwells Farnham Regeneration Scheme (accessed at Waverley Council 3.2.17) – http://www.waverley.gov.uk/info/200349/view_and_comment/516/brightwells_farnham_regeneration_scheme
(5) Whitehill and Bordon (ND) Master Plan (accessed at Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration 3.2.17) – http://www.whitehillbordonregeneration.co.uk/master-plan
(6) BBC News (2009) Four Sites to Become Eco Towns (accessed at BBC News 3.2.17) – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8152985.stm
(7) Defence Infrastructure Organisation (2014) Bordon Garrison Redevelopment: Planning Statement (accessed at Whitehill Bordon Regeneration 7.2.17) – http://www.whitehillbordonregeneration.co.uk/application/files/5414/3507/3573/04_HPA_Planning_Statement.pdf
(8) East Hampshire District (2014) Local plan: Joint Core Strategy (accessed at Southdowns Government 7.2.17) – https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/EHCC-Joint-Core-Strategy.pdf
(9) Shelter (ND) Whitehill Bordon: Eco-Town the Facts (accessed as England Shelter 7.2.17) – http://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/132610/Borden.pdf
(10) Shaw, Colin (1986 -1988) M40 Warwickshire (accessed at the photographer’s website 7.2.17) – https://www.colinshaw.co.uk/projects/m40/
(12) Lundy, Gina (2015) A Fantastic New Community (accessed at the photographer’s website 7.2.17) – http://www.ginalundy.co.uk/fantastic-new-community/
Marius De Zayas, a Mexican born illustrator and caricaturist, was closely associated with Alfred Stieglitz in the years between his arrival in New York on 1907 and the closure of Stielglitz’s gallery, “291”, in 1916. (i)
In 1913 Camera Work published an essay by De Zayas arguing that “Art has abandoned its original purpose, the substantiation of religious conception ….. The Soul of art has disappeared, the body only remaining with us. ” (1: p.126) He explored the status of art at the beginning of the twentieth century and then compared its attributes with photography; reaching the conclusion that ” Photography is not art, but photographs can be made to be art.” (1: p.130)
It is relevant to put this essay into the context of the then current trends in American art. 1913 was the year that Stieglitz first exhibited the works of Matisse, Picasso and Brancusi in New York in a show that included 1,600 European and American Modernist artworks (2: p.452), a show that had been partly scouted by De Zayas who had spent 1910 in Paris discovering “adventurous forms of modern art” (3) In photography Pictorialism had just about run its course and several new movements were already developing including Modernism which favoured sharp focus and the exploitation of the camera’s unique attributes and, which also heralded what we would now describe as documentary photography. In essence De Zayas was writing at a time when photography was on the cusp of great changes that would ripple down the decades and remain influential in the twenty first century.
We have already discussed the art versus science debate vis a vis photography (here) in the context of Rosalind Krauss’ much later essay but here we are seeing the debate in an earlier form when it was engaging a much wider audience than the academics of the 1970s and 80s. On the Monoskop website there is an intriguing document that records the responses Stieglitz received to an invitation sent to around forty artist and critics in 1922:
“It is conceded we believe that photography has achieved a new significance in the last few years. Would you like to say something on the subject?” (4)
To analyse the varied answers would take an extensive essay in its own right, the key point being that an educated and sophisticated group of Stielglitz’s contemporaries held views ranging from photography being the “refuge of incapables” (i) to an erudite essay by Georgia O’Keefe that includes an interesting analysis of Paul Strand’s work as art. The point being that there has never been an agreement on whether photography is an art at any point in its history, and the best explanation I can offer for this is that “photography” is far too wide a descriptive term to be analysed and discussed within such a narrow question.
Photography has two great strengths: firstly that it is now and has been for a hundred years a highly accessible medium, since the Box Brownie we have needed little or no training to use a camera and produce a picture, this has resulted in it becoming the most vernacular of the visual arts. And, secondly, because it is so very nearly all things to all men, from the passport photo to the family portrait, from advertising to propaganda, for reporting and recording news at every level from a private wedding to the most momentous global event, as documentary, topography, pornography and of course as an instrument of science and a medium of art. Easy to use and ready to be used for a myriad of radically different purposes.
The most interesting part of De Zayas’ essay, and the part most pertinent to the question asked by this exercise, is his analysis of photography versus artistic photography. He summarises photography as a purely objective medium, a form of knowledge where the photographer has approached their subject with no preconceived idea and with the intent to represent something that is outside of himself. The end result is that it achieves an “objectivity of form.”
Whereas the artistic photographer approaches their subject with a preconceived idea and uses that same objectivity of form to express that concept. Their process is subjective, systematic and personal as they represent something that is inside themselves. The end result “veils the object with the subject.”
One could pick holes in either side of this analysis, a more contemporary view would be that all photography is subjective and therefore all photographers are expressing something that is inside themselves but his general point is valid. A scientific approach would faithfully record an object and an artistic approach would be to express an idea. The problem is that the most hard nosed documentary photography is as often expressing an idea that is as significant and thought provoking as the work of the most conceptual photographic artist, the difference generally being that I understand one and am usually confused by the other.
The exercise asks where I stand on this issue? In over forty years of photography I have never once referred to myself as an artist. I am a photographer. In saying this I reference the whole history of photography and the width and breath of contemporary practice. I recognise and welcome the ambiguity of the description and whether what I do is art has absolutely no bearing on my practice. Don McCullin resists being called an artist and believes that photography has been hijacked by the art world, he summarises the medium thus:
“I’ve always thought photography is not so much of an art form but a way of communicating and passing on information.” (5)
I wish I could have said it so simply.
Notes on Text
(i) Stielglitz himself was one of the most influential figures of his time, not just as a photographer, but as gallery owner and curator; his interests went far beyond photography and he introduced many European modernist artists to an American audience as well as promoting the development of modernism in America. Stielglitz believed that photography should be recognised as a fine art, initially through Pictorialism which he promoted through his magazine Camera Work. The last issue of Camera Work in 1917 featured Paul Strand’s street portraits and highlight Stielglitz’s own move from Pictorialism to a more mechanical, straight style.
(ii) Joseph Pennell (1857 to 1926) – American artist and author.
(2) Graham-Dixon, Andrew (2008) Art: The Definitive Visual Guide. London: Dorling Kindersley
(1) de Zayas, Marius (1913) Photography and Artistic Photography (accessed at Camramirez 24.1.17) – http://www.camramirez.com/pdf/DI_Week6_PhotoAndArt.pdf
(3) Adams, Henry (2011) Marius De Zayas (accessed at Oxford Art Online 25.1.17) – http://www.oxfordartonline.com/public/page/GAO_free_article_DeZayas
(4) Various Artists (1922) Can a Photograph have the Significance of Art (accessed at Monoskop 25.1.17) – https://monoskop.org/images/c/c9/MSS_4_Dec_1922.pdf
(5) Brown, Mark (2015) Digital Images can’t be Trusted says War Photographer Don McCullin (accessed at The Guardian 26.1.17) – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/nov/27/don-mccullin-war-photographer-digital-images