Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Jonathan Fisher's Sculptural Landscapes

Jonathan Fisher Next ( graduating this year from the Documentary Photography Course at the University of South Wales (formerly known as Newport) ) works with landscape, data and his self. His work is a struggle to connect the physical, the environmental and the psychological. It involves data (so you can see Lidar representations, you can see Orthogenesis-type 3-D manifestations of Jonathan's heartbeat, and you can see line mappings of the walks he has undertaken along with fairly straightforward (and very beautiful landscapes).

So it's about walking? Well, walking's involved but I get the feeling that's not the journey that's being depicted here. The photographic representation is the journey - the way in which earth, body and mind are connected - and the difficulties in doing this are at the heart of Jonathan's practice. It's like a photographic sculpture, a work in progress that is intended to get the totality of how we experience the landscapes. I expect words, music and sound to be incorporated eventually. It will never be complete.

There are no simple answers in other words. The beat of the heart, the tread of the boot, the flake of snow burning on the cheek of a face are all part of the conundrum of physical representation that Jonathan is trying to resolve. There is cold hard data, there are words, pain, fears and uncertainties - all are part of a package.

The journey, the visual journey, the psychological journey is depicted here. Nothing is certain, and nothing is clear - because nothing ever is.

For Jonathan's thoughts on his process, read below.

My Practice

The Landscape

At the heart of my work is the constant struggle to find new ways to visualise and the present the landscape.  I have explored new technologies throughout my exploration of the landscape and through this thinking my motivations have developed and evolved.
The earliest work I created on this path could be seen as the genesis object for my whole practice, the 3D model of a footprint, created from a series of photographs that I took when out exploring the landscape.  The model represents a shift in my thinking about photography and photography in the landscape.  I wanted to question how the landscape was viewed in contemporary society, viewed in the personal sense but also how it is continually surveyed, mapped and recorded through new technologies.  The aesthetic of the work is very important when compared against the rest of my body of work.  I have favoured this rather detached, technical aesthetic throughout the whole project and I am only now beginning to realise it has come to represent the conflict between the personal and the technological viewpoint of the landscape.

At this point I feel as though I was still trying to work against photography in my practice, purposefully trying to avoid any photographic representations of the landscape.  In hindsight the work could be seen as quite critical of the mass consumption of imagery, the constant uploading of the same tourist snapshots that we take.  The work of Penelope Umbrico was a massive inspiration but I believe the work was more focused on the idea of the survey. 

 Through sites like Flickr and Instagram, we are constantly surveying the landscape, consciously or not.  We are creating a record of the landscape in much the same way that the early King Survey photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan did.  It felt natural then to choose Yosemite as my subject, the model above is Half Dome, a mountain in Yosemite that is one of the most recognisable landmarks of the American landscape.  The mountain has been immortalised by photographers such as Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins and by scores of people each day who photograph it. 

The model above was created using the same software that I used to create my footprint, but by inputting images downloaded from Flickr, and the famous Ansel Adams photograph.  The distance between myself and Yosemite played an important as I sought to question the way the world is mapped and recorded from afar.  The second part of this project consisted of me appropriating imagery and data from various sources such as the US Geological Survey and trying to place them into an art context. 

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For me, the work has come to represent me questioning my own personal relationship with both photography and the landscape.  The next piece of work I created could be seen as a departure from this area but they are very connected.
I began to focus on the experience of being in the landscape itself but I was still searching for a way to quantify this.  In a way I was still working against using photography itself, but I began to use the walk to explore how we use the camera as a recording device in the land. 
The work consisted of a series of walks over an unnamed mountain in Wales, I recorded these walks using a GPS watch and heart rate monitor.  The GPS data harks back to the idea of the survey and the map, by carrying out a series of walks I was able to create a view of the mountain purely from where I walked. 


The data was then compared against my heart rate data that was recorded on the walk.  The data from my heart was used to create a map, a map that is both personal and universal.  If I was to walk up the mountain, my heart rate would increase, creating an actual map of the land similar to the GPS tracks, however if I stopped half way up the mountain my heart rate would decrease.  This cycle of walking and pausing created new landscapes in the data.  If I paused to take in the view, or breathe a new hill would be created in the data.
By using my body as the recording device I became the surveyor of the landscape, a personal landscape and the actual landscape.  At this point I began to embrace this idea of the subjective landscape and the landscape as an experience. 

“We invent or create the world as we look at it, it has no being beyond our own awareness of it”
It seemed natural to me when thinking about the landscape as experience to explore ideas surrounding the Sublime.  The effect of the Sublime on my body would be both physical and psychological.  I planned to carry out a series of walks to find what triggers this sense of the sublime in myself, and combine photographs taken of this moment with the heart rate data that I was also collecting. 
Since the British Romantics in the 19th Century, the landscape of Scotland has long been associated with the theory of the Sublime.  By walking I was able to confront these personal ideas, using the camera not as a means to record the landscape, but as a way to express an emotion. 
The photographs that I created along these walks have a symbiotic relationship with the landscape and its effect upon me.  The photographs I took are my view of the landscape but there is a symbiotic relationship between the effect of the landscape on me and the way I force my feelings upon the photograph.

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Monday, 2 May 2016

Daragh Soden's Young Dubliners

 Next up from the Documentary Photography Course at the University of South Wales (formerly known as Newport) is work by Daragh Soden. Daragh is a multi-talented photographer from Dublin. These images are from his series, Young Dubliners, but he also makes more conceptual work that questions the role of the photographer and the assumptions of documentary.

Young Dubliners already has a life of its own; it will be shown in Dublin later in the year as part of a wider project on Irish youth, and Daragh is working on how to integrate text and image through pieces of his fictional writing based on his own experiences growing up in the city.

This is what he says about the work.

"Young Dubliners is a celebration of the unique character of Dublin's youth, the place where I grew up. During a time of time austerity, the young people who would inherit the consequences of actions taken by the powers that be are championed in empowering portraits."

"It's one of the things about adolescence, everyone goes through it. Yet, it's different for everyone. Everyone is dealt a unique set of problems and challenges, some much more so than others."

"The young Dubliners in the pictures are all united in their youth, but are divided in Dublin. Around the figure in the foreground, the extent of social division in Dublin is apparent."

 A man was cutting the grass when we ran down the big hill to the chipper at lunch time. When we got to the road the sweet smell of the grass changed to tarmac. Dylan’s da was there, raking the hot black stuff.

-Is that your da Dylan?

-Yeah, he said looking down at the ground.

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Friday, 29 April 2016

Jessica Hardy: 'These are all fictions of me'

Next up from the Documentary Photography course at the University of South Wales is Jessica Hardy with her project, The Running of the Tap. 

This project is very much in progress. It was partly inspired by the work of Laia Abril, with references to Rosy Martin and Jo Spence (who Jess wrote in her final paper - the link between research and practice coming good ), but most of it is coming from Jess's own experience with bulimia. 

It's an intensely personal project, with words from diaries, from school year books, reflections on former relationships and friendships, both uplifting and toxic all coming into play. 

Those elements and those words are still waiting to be resolved (which is difficult because they are quite brutal words), but the images relive key chapters from Jess's life, chapters that connect to the development of her bulimia and her ability to confront it through its causes. 

This is Jess's Statement:

‘Through the medium of visual reframing we can begin to understand that images we hold of ourselves are often the embodiment of particular traumas, fears, losses, hopes and desires’ (Spence, J, 1988) 

Recreation of memories allow one to reach a deeper understanding of themselves by exploring their thoughts and feelings attached to each moment. I now presently have Bulimia, an eating disorder that involves purging after eating. I believe that this could be linked to my past experiences, so through using the technique of recreating memories within photography I learned to help myself understand and accept what has happened to me to move on from it. After constructing my past selves I then worked with creating my present selves to understand where I am now in my life and again try to gain an understanding and acceptance of who I am.

‘These are all ‘fictions’ of me – as are all photographs. Each shows different ways of ‘seeing’ myself.’ (Spence, J, 1988)

Rosy Martin writes: ‘By acknowledging aspects of myself and my past, which I might otherwise hide, or see as my ‘shadow’ side, I have freed myself from internalized restrictions and oppressions, and have come to accept myself as I am.’ (Spence, J, 1988)

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Thursday, 28 April 2016

Rocco Venezia's Nekiya: A Journey Into the Land of the Dead

Next up on the overview of work from students on the Documentary Photography course at the University of South Wales is Nekiya by Rocco Venezia.

Essentially Nekiya is the idea of the journey of recovery of the self by flipping the conscious and the unconscious mind and travelling to those dark inner spaces where the real monsters lie. It's a trip to the underworld of the self in other words.

For Rocco, the symbolic recovery of the self, his trip to the underworld involved a literal trip to the River Acheron in Greece, the river that in Greek mythology separates the living world from the Underworld, from the Kingdom of Hades.

And of course it's taking place in Greece, which is undergoing its own crisis of self. So there is a mix of the personal, the symbolic, the mythical and the political. It's a work in progress, but it's ambitious and there's a story that is being told. It'll make a great book (and I've got my name down for a copy because he's making a bunch for the end of year show)!

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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Molly Kempster and the Marginalisation of Women in Agriculture

all pictures by Molly Kempster

So I gave my last lecture in Room H8c in Caerleon a couple of days ago and yesterday I gave my last tutorials to third years there before the world's oldest Documentary Photography Course completes its move to Cardiff.  And so, as we head towards the end of year shows, it gets me a little bit sentimental.

After giving fifty odd lectures to these third years in the previous two years, the same number of seminars and numerous tutorials, it is a pleasure to see them write about their work and talk about their work and make their work (which I rarely get to see because I teach history and theory) in a way that goes beyond the content they have been given.

It's the idea that they have gone from having images, theories, ideas and histories put into their world to becoming people who are creating their own worlds. So hearing them talk is like receiving something back from their world - like getting a lecture, a seminar, a tutorial in return, somethng that isn't just theoretical in a distant way or image-based in a cold way, but something that connects back to the real world and examines how it has been shaped and understood over the years.

I've heard about the history of soil and how it has been mapped and shaped by the politics of land use, I've heard about Greek mythology and a photographer's personal journey to the depths of hell, about somebody who has learnt to live on the land, to fish and hunt, about the link between the heart and the land, about the body and ritual, and then some more.

In keeping with this, the next few posts will feature a series of works that are just coming to fruition for the end of year show. All these are from Documentary Photography course at USW and you can follow them at




First up is Molly Kempster. 'Blue Bib and Braces' portrays women working in agriculture in the UK. What I find most fascinating about the project, which is a straightforward documentary, is the way it links in to the history of women in agriculture, and the way they have been marginalised and written out of visual and social history since the dawn of the British agrarian revolution. Nothing happens by accident and visual representation counts. This is what Molly says about the project (which is still ongoing).

‘Blue Bib and Braces’ is a photographic project that represents a number of extraordinary women from the south of England, who continue to defy the gender stereotype and myth that surrounds the farming industry by actively participating in job roles within agriculture, alike those of men. The existence of these women is presented through a series of uniform portraits in order to evoke the feeling of hardship and emotion that accompanies these job titles. Women have, and will continue to be the ‘backbone’ of the agrarian industry.

(and if you want to study on the Documentary Photography course, remember it's called  Documentary Photography, not anything else. There's a reason I say this. You'd be surprised!)

Monday, 25 April 2016

So Farewell then Room H8c Newport (aka Caerleon)

So farewell then Room H8c, base of Documentary Photography in Newport for the last 20 years. I gave my last lecture in there today - from next year it's all Cardiff where Documentary Photography will still continue bigger, better and stronger back in an urban setting!

The choice for the final slideshow was either Ester VonPlon's Requiem

...or Mark Power's Lambada.

Sad or Happy. Death or Rebirth. We went for Happy!

Bye Bye Newport. We'll all be Port Forever.

Anne de Gelas and the Recovery of Self


So there are people who aren't written about and one of the pleasures of this site is I can write about them and hopefully more people get to see their work.

One of the least-written about artists is Anne de Gelas. I wrote about her beautiful but tragic L'Amoureuse five years ago. This told the story of Anne's search for herself following the death of her husband on a day out at the beach.

T., my lover and father of my son, died on April 5, 2010 of a brain stroke. He fell beside us on a beach at the North Sea. The violence of his death put me in front of a big void…a silence that echoed in my head only equal to the brightness of the blue sky which no planes crossed because of the ashes of a volcano in anger, my anger.

So the book's about the search for herself - which comes after the loss of self, the loss of multiple selves in fact, and the strategies employed to reconnect, to disconnect, or simply to evade the question.

It really is a most beautiful book and (even though it is in French) I find it hard to fathom that nobody else has written about it in the English language. Perhaps it's time for an English language edition.


Now de Gelas has a new book out. It's called Mère Et Fils (Mother and Son) and it's about how de Gelas's relationship with her son has changed, how her son has changed, the intensity that has become upon him since he became a teenager, since the death of his father. 

It's also about de Gelas herself, and the return to femininity and a desire that disappeared with the death of her partner. 

So it's a collaborative project, one of shifting identities, one that deals with the most difficult challenges that life can throw at us in a thoughtful and very moving way. Again, it helps if you speak French, but the depth of the work comes through no matter what the language. This is work that confronts life. 

See more images here. 

See the limited edition artist's book here