It is always a privilege to be asked to talk about ones work not least because it is an opportunity for genuine two-way conversation between audience and maker. I also subscribe to the notion that an artwork does not exist in isolation and comes to life when work and viewer meet. The talk also gives the opportunity for the audience to come back at me so I can hear if my concepts are coming through, and just as importantly, take on-board another’s perception of the work. I was primed for the talk having had the chance to sit with the show alone in the gallery and let the work talk back to me. In my studio there was not the chance to set out all 30 images that comprise the show, so my own audience with the work only happened in the gallery space. Sitting with the work quietly it confirmed that with this body of work I had brought out the silence of the location. This was intentional; so as to offer up for reflection/meditation the silence of the locations.
The silence of the images is heightened because there are no humans in these landscapes. Something commented upon during the talk. I explained that leaving the person out was a ploy so as not to distract the viewer from the subject matter which is nature. I find images with a figure in the landscape are just that, the figure dominates the image and the work ceases to be about landscape. I also ignore wildlife for similar reasons although wildlife is alluded to in the poetry, for example, occasional fish-lip on surface, Or, a writhe of form that’s rafting the water’s surface-moorhen breasted to leave a mirrored trail. At one point in the talk, I could hear the cogs of audience cognisance turning as I explained my practice of placing poetic text deliberately alongside image so that the brain had to grapple between these two states of reading when one format mentally overlaps the other. I feel this layering brings about a new observation in the mind’s eye. (I refer to this formatting as rhyme&reason.)
A surprise revelation was when someone pointed out that there was a warmth in the images despite the colours being predominantly made of what are normally thought of as cooler tones of blue and green. This seeming contradiction was answered by one speaker who said, well they would be warm wouldn’t they because they are all taken in sunlight. This comment also led to my declaration that to position the sun behind me all the images were taken on the Suffolk side of the river looking across to Essex.
Another realisation that came about through the dialogue was that I suddenly understood that atmosphere is a lens too. The moisture, humidity, and strength of UV light etc. all take effect on the final image captured so making each moment non-repeatable. It reminded me of a passage from Richard Jefferies’ book The Life of the Fields; At first it was clear indeed, and on one would have supposed there was any mist. But now suddenly every hill stands out sharp and definite; the scattered hawthorn bushes are distinct; the hills look higher than before. From about the woods an impalpable bluish mistiness that was there just now has been blown away*1
Giving the talk in the gallery, surrounded by the work, was a stimulating experience. One from which I took away new insights into my work. It was also rewarding to be told later that the talk had inspired others to re-visit the river Stour to capture their responses on camera. (see image below)
BEYOND SURFACE EXHIBITION continues at the Mill Tye Gallery until Sunday 31st July 2022.
Photographs by Dave Rowland, Mill Tye Shoot and Share group.
1. Jefferies, Richard. (1989) The Life of the Fields, Oxford: Oxford University press.p.70.