How can we use visual representations of place to explore and express how we feel – not just about the place itself, but about different things entirely? And in approaching place this way, are we distracting the viewer from learning about the topography, people and events depicted within the image? And what about drawing on other people’s narratives and tales about place and the land? How can we interpret other people’s stories creatively, while doing justice to their lived experiences?
These are a few questions that have preoccupied me for several years. They have crept into my own landscape practice, and my writing, and to help think about them some more, the OCA has teamed up with Bank Street Arts to hold a symposium, New Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self on Saturday 23rd July 2016.
This is coinciding with exhibition of Elementary Husbandry in July and my residency at BSA this year, and as part of that, I am working on a live project The Nymph and the Shepherd, which is inspired by clichés of amorous romance often central to idealized fictional narratives set in the countryside. As well as myself, there are four other photographic practitioners whose practice also deals with themes around place and identity, history, memory and above all, self expression.
Displacement, myth and stereotype are also central to the work of Christina Stohn, who will present her past and ongoing projects that include Paradise Lost, an expression of her sense of estrangement from her native Black Forest landscape and Sehnsucht, which examines the idea of ‘yearning’ for a place through imagery of the Romney Marsh in Kent. Stohn’s earlier work, Entwurzelt – which literally translates as ‘uprooted’ – confronts another ambiguous term, and is a visual response to one of the worst recorded storms in European history, but also refers to the loss of a sense of belonging.
Building a connection with previous narratives is a key aspect of Michal Iwanowski’s project Clear of People, which is currently being published by Brave Books. The project retraces the footsteps of his grandfather and great uncle, who escaped from a Soviet prisoner of war camp at the end of the Second World War, and walked thousands of miles back to their hometown in Poland. Iwanowski’s work is as much a visual exploration of the topography as a re-enactment of his forefathers’ sense of the anxiety and isolation as fugitives on the run in a hostile territory.
Hanna-Katrina Jędrosz, engaged similarly with a legend of her own family and will discuss her practice in relation to her project I Feel Every Stone of the Road (exhibited in 2014 at POSK Gallery, London). The series explores the experiences of the photographer’s late Polish grandmother who fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Her grandmother was just a teenager when she fought against the Nazi occupation, and her experiences and state of mind whilst interned in a number of Prisoner of War camps were recorded in a diary. The photographer visited the sites of these camps and re-framed the experience through her own perspective and borrowed memories, seventy years after the event.
Family ties and place are also part of John Umney’s project ‘I keep looking for Him – I think I always will’, which uses landscape photography as a vehicle to reflect on personal memory and autobiography. Using the relationship with Umney’s deceased father as a starting point, he explores the complex and multi layered nature of the father-son relationship through the combination of landscape images set in an unsettled place in Oxfordshire called Purgatory, and text and personal artifacts that relate to this relationship. As Umney describes: “Memory is capricious, malleable and fallible and this (perhaps impossible) search for the truth of our relationship informs ‘I keep looking for Him …’.
Tickets are limited – advanced booking essential:
Full price £40.00
OCA Students: £25.00
Ticket price includes refreshments and buffet lunch and are available here.
Jesse Alexander is author of Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography (London: Bloomsbury, 2015) and Programme Leader for BA(Hons.) Photography