‘Perspectives on Place’ by Jesse Alexander
Perspectives on Place by Jesse Alexander
Perspectives on Place by Jesse Alexander
In support of this assignment and part 5 of the unit I read the book ‘Perspectives on Place’ by Jesse Alexander. It is a wonderful book and has given me a much wider appreciation for landscape photography and opened my mind up to exploring landscape photography with fresh eyes.
I found the concepts of exploration and journey fascinating within the book, also the different discussions on the use of landscape and power. How man has impacted upon the landscape and how historically the remnants of previous industrial movements have left their mark. How the industrial revolution changed the countryside for years to come.
I was particularly drawn to the painting by Philip James De Loutherbourg Coalbrookdale by Night, 1801. The painting is of an Iron works in Shropshire, UK. To me it looks apocalyptic, the final days, the fires of hell burning so powerfully. It cuts a scar through the landscape. The countryside seems to be bleeding, screaming out in pain. It could be a vision of hell or like Dante’s Inferno! The skies illuminated by the fires below. The far right of the painting almost depicts how the scene would look without the iron works there, a hint of nature. Jesse Alexander explains how the industrial revolution and its ‘negative impact’ upon the landscape brought about the Romantic movement in painting, the picturesque. I wanted to create images that counterbalance the effects of our impact upon the land.
Philip James De Loutherbourg Coalbrookdale by Night, 1801
The book also discusses the Industrial Sublime and how the land can be used for political and economic movements, often at detriment to the landscape and the ecosystem. The need for more energy and manufacturing change the land. Ecosystems and the environment are destroyed in the process – the short term gain leaves such a negative impact on the countryside and wildlife it may never recover or take hundreds of years to recover to its previous state.
Exploration and Decay
You just have to go on YouTube to find a mass of urban explorers, scouting the landscape for old property in various states of decay. We are drawn to these places as a means of discovery but also learning about the land and what came before us, where do we sit in the historical context of some of these old places? We are fascinated by history as it can give us clues to why and how the landscape has been formed around us. Maybe more importantly the lessons from the past, what we can learn from them and what we want our landscapes to look like in the future. In the book Jesse states it has been suggested that a motive behind some of this urban exploration of abandoned places could be a reflection on our restriction to public spaces and increased surveillance. I certainly came across some of this during my visits on location for this assignment. Places that should be accessible, were either impossible or too risky to get to, some areas were cordoned off entirely, presumably for public safety. As with all things there is a balance to everything.
Thematically I have been influenced by the concept of nature reclaiming its place or its territory. The countryside once changed by industry during the industrial revolution, now reclaiming its territory. The old Fussells Iron Works is located around the villages of Mells and Great Elm in the Mendip district of Somerset. Although the land has been forever changed by the Iron Works, nature is doing its best to pull back its claim on the landscape. The area is now classed as a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and the iron works itself classed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, so it has protected status. Areas of the site are now the home of both greater and lesser horse shoe bats.
The Iron Works created mainly agriculture tools (spades, scythes, etc) that were exported abroad to America and Europe. It is said there has been some form of iron industry on the site for over 500 years but the main mill was built around the 1740’s by the Fussells family. They had 6 iron works, 3 of these were located between Mells and Great Elm. Towards the end of the 19th Century the iron works closed due to declines in the iron making industry and agriculture. At its peak the iron works employed over 250 people. Some of the old iron works were bought and converted into residential places but the areas I photographed mainly focused around the Upper and Lower Works situated between Mells and Great Elm. The Upper Works continued to be in use until around the 1960’s as a water powered saw mill.
I first stumbled on Fussells iron works (quite literally!) a couple of month back in the winter whilst on a a long hike that took in part of the wider landscape around the area. The iron works was a segment of a wider journey of exploration, I saw how it sat in context to its surroundings on the land, it intrigued me so much I had to come back again.
I had considered some other sites for my assignment, these included the old caves around Box and Corsham as they are just down the road from me. I noted Jesse Alexander had created the project Turnstile (2008) on some of this area. I also considered looking at much more ancient sites like Barbury Castle, Waylands Smithy, the Whitehorses, the Ridgeways and Holloways etc. Maybe I will look at these another time in my landscape photography. For now I couldn’t make it work for this theme.
James Morris – A Landscape of Wales
I found some inspiration in the project ‘A Landscape of Wales’ by James Morris. I liked his exploration of how industry has shaped and changed the landscape in Wales along with the idea that by extracting all of these raw materials from the earth he questions what has been left behind in its place? He then contrasts this with the tourism sites of Wales, questioning what version of Wales people are being sold. Do the tourism brochures match up to the reality for the people that live in the communities within this landscape?
It makes me question, when the land has recovered (if it recovers), what will take its place? What can fill the void of such mass destruction to the land? Economically it seems to be a shift towards tourism but that can fulfill everything.
Despite the bleakness of some of the images there is also a distinct beauty in his work that is very compelling, it draws me in.
Dinorwig Slate Quarry (disused), Gwynedd by James Morris
Alec Soth – Sleeping by the Mississippi
I was drawn to some of the landscape elements in Alex Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi, in particular the shots without people in them. The project is about journey and exploration along the Mississippi river, the images taken from road trips.
I enjoyed his exploration of the river and his encounters along the way. I went back to my location a number of times and explored the site in more depth, I went further down the river every time to see what I could find. I learned that every time I visited I developed a greater understanding and feel for the place.
Helena, Arkansas 2002 by Alec South.
Cathedral of the Pines by Gregory Crewdson
Last year I visited the Cathedral of the Pines exhibition by Gregory Crewdson at the Photographers Gallery. It was one of the best exhibitions I have been to. I also wrote a research point on Context and Narrative here. The work hasn’t thematically influenced my assignment here but it has in some ways aesthetically been an influence. A significant difference in my work here is there are no people within the frame in my images.
Aesthetically in a number of my images I use the river as the a subject that flows through the frame and the woodland as an overarching blanket around the frame. The colour palette is also very similar, although mine probably has more contrast.
Drainpipe, 2014.Gregory Crewdson from Cathedral of the Pines.
I think of the river as a giver of life, it can symbolize mother nature. It can bring life and it can bring great destruction. Rivers are like the veins that run through the landscape, bringing the life blood in the form of water to all its parts. Without the river a lot of animals would die or flee. Historically we have built civilizations around water as its the fundamental element that keeps us alive. The movement of water can also represent the passage of time, its an element that both exists within and outside the frame; it is the past, present and future all at once. Like fire I can sit and stare at the river, it is, in its very essence, hypnotic.
Untitled, 2006. Gregory Crewdson
Christina White -Fussells IronWorks
I did have a look on line for other artists/photographers who have explored the Fussells Iron Works. I found some images on a internet search engine but most notably was the photographs by Christina White. A lot of her work involves exploring the post industrial landscape by using a large format camera. Admittedly I only stumbled upon her photography after taking my own images. I liked her use of black and white imagery, I like the texture and tones. For my project I had made an early decision to steer clear of black and white as I was keen to embrace some colour, notably to convey nature reclaiming the place through all of the green everywhere. In black and white it wouldn’t work for this project. I did really enjoy looking at Christina’s photographs and the other projects she is working on.
Day 1 Final Selection:
Day 2 Final Selection:
Day 3 Final Selection:
From the three days of shooting I made my final selection of images for the assignment.
FINAL SELECTION OF IMAGES:
Daily Observations Notebook:
Contact Sheet Day 1
Contact Sheet Day 2
Contact Sheet Day 3
Alexander, J. 2015. Perspectives on Place.
In Conversation With | Alec Soth