Exercise 4.3: A Subjective Voice

A brief reflection on any current and previous circumstances that may/may have influenced my view of the landscape.

I have written on/around this topic in previously see here and, more recently, here

I didn’t know about ‘landscape’ in my early years of course.  However, even now that word when first heard or read makes me think momentarily about the countryside first even though I know it means much more – land-scape, how humans have shaped or mis-shaped the environment around them. Thinking further on this I realise that the countryside was a place for leisure and play not somewhere to live. We played in the street and, when I was old, walked to the local park. I’ve never wanted to live in a rural area.  Then again, as an adult, I’ve never wanted to live in a large City and feel slightly claustrophobic amongst tall buildings and acres of concrete.

I’ve lived in Surrey for many years now and have appreciated the opportunity to live in the suburbs, yes, but always near to green spaces and trees and usually to water.  To me it’s important that everyone has access to green spaces. In one of the blog posts referred to above I wrote about the plans for large housing developments in the area where I live which will encroach upon or displace Green Belt Lands and create a further burden on local health, education and road systems, not to mention the local Fire Service which has been denuded due to cuts. There have been many objections to the planned size of these developments.  People need houses but they also need the supportive infrastructure to go with this. The cynic in me thinks that the developers will get their way whilst the optimist in me hopes they won’t and common-sense will prevail. Revised plans have been put forward for further consultation and public comment. I’ll certainly be engaging in feedback and discussion locally but am not sure whether I would be drawn towards a photographic project around this as it could take many years for the whole development to come into fruition anyway.






Exercise 4.2: The British Landscape during World War II


 “Landscape for Everyone”, a section from A Dream of England (1994) John Taylor

 Summary notes

Taylor begins by referring to George Orwell’s Essay The Lion and the Unicornand that Orwell “showed how patriotism ran deep, and ran away from reality towards emotion”, its strength coming in part from a mystical sense of the past; England being a country where the voices of ancestors or mythic leaders were heard, and where the unconquered nature of historic sites overtook their peacetime significance as holiday resorts.

Landscape was a route to levels of emotion which were acceptably patriotic without being too nationalistic (in contrast to the warmongering fascists).

Taylor then goes on to refer to it being conventional to see through to the past, as it were, by looking at the English landscape referring to the writing of C.F.G. Masterman, who in his introduction to E.O.H. Joppe’s book England(1929), imagined “looking down on England at intervals during the centuries” – turning a wheel and pausing at key historical moments up to the ‘black blots on the landscape’ that were the legacy of the Industrial Revolution.

Fears that the countryside would be destroyed by industry (dating from the early C19th Century at least) were overtaken in 1940  by the fear of invasion from abroad, at which point the mythic history of the country ‘unconquered for a thousand years’ was,  ‘central to patriotic propaganda which imagined England to be magical, and centred on the village, the squire and the sense of a community close to the past and to nature’ – a state which meant that England would ‘triumph’ even if the enemy invaded.  In contrast to this the countryside was ‘rendered illegible to strangers’ through camouflage and removal of directional signs and travel for its own sake was replaced by that of evacuees, refugees and the military.

The countryside was no longer a place for pleasure and wartime restrictions meant it could not be easily visited, ‘its pastoral beauty had to be remembered’.  The dilemma for writers and photographers was how to reconcile these differences. Earlier topographic books were reissued by Batsford in 1941-42, which extolled the freedoms of travel within the diversity of the English landscape. The public were constantly reminded that the war was being fought, ‘to preserve the historical nature of English freedoms in an English landscape’. This worked along three dimensions of the viewer’s sense of historical continuity– the layered historic periods evident in the English landscape; the Romantic’s love of English scenery, (‘which had become common coin by the twentieth century’), and the moves for social reform made in the nineteenth century – the ancestral, aesthetic and moral.

Pretty views were no longer enough for picture editors so photographers gave landscape views a ‘war angle’ – e.g. including evacuated children in the foreground, with a caption saying the war had given them their first glimpse of the beauty of England. There had been some earlier battles between landowners and working-class ramblers from industrial centres, e.g. those in the 1930s at Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, but these battles were replaced by a search for a common purpose, promoted by the Ministry of Information and the press with the idea that the beautiful landscape of England belonged to the whole people. An example is given of stories in Picture Post; pre-war picture layouts were used to highlight social inequalities whilst using positive terms about decent working-class pursuits. The same methods were now used to illustrate the differences between Britain and fascist Germany, e.g. “’English’ girls relaxing in deck-chairs on the promenade, whereas ‘German’ girls sat in lecture halls and were given a ‘good talking to’ by Nazi leaders”.

However, as a contrast to any perception that England appeared peaceful and relaxed, strategies were also used to connote “a proud history of battle against would-be invaders from mainland Europe, and the stubborn streak in the British character.  Photographs were also used to show how Britain was being mobilised to withstand the German threat, as in photographs of Dover Castle and the natural barriers of the white cliffs which also stood in as a message of farewell and recognition as airmen and troops later, left them behind and returned to them.  Other pictorial strategies were used, such as in the early days of the Battle of Britain where the press showed civilians looking upwards for signs of threat and salvation. These pictures evoked both the eyeline artillerymen used to shoot down the enemy, ‘and that by looking up civilians were as vigilant as gunners or Home Guard spotters’ as well as being optimistic and looking to the future.


There was something about the tone of Taylor’s writing that irked me – something pejorative in his use of language as he utilised those earlier commentaries to underpin his views. I was struck by his use of words, for example, warmongering fascists.  Did Orwell write this (there are no quotation marks), is this Taylor’s view or is he generalising from other writings around that time? I questioned the underlying purpose of the book – what was Taylor’s overall thesis?

The mention of patriotism also struck home at a time when the UK is struggling through the Brexit crisis, where the outcome of the Referendum has been to reveal deep polarisations within our population and the underlying tensions which can no longer be denied but still await political attention. Patriotism is a word that has been bandied about, and linked negatively to Nationalism and Fascism.  Feelings of patriotism have also, I think, been played upon and manipulated towards a positive and optimistic stance to what is happening – albeit one which seems to lack any firm grounding in a will to think laterally and seek/produce a considered solution.

I ordered John Taylor’s book and have read Orwell’s essay which was very enlightening not only in terms of its context at the time but also now when much is being said and written about the need for a new kind of politics.

The book

I’m still part way through the book which is quite dense in its ideas and convoluted in its approach to the topic.

In the introduction (p4), Taylor describes the themes of the book as,  [….]the use of text and pictures in representing England in ways tourists might wish to see it: tourists’ experience of ‘reading’, signs and how they enter the game of travelling in time; how landscape and photography are implicated in this game, and how the game contributes to a sense of national belonging. He confines his argument to landscape in England and his overall framework is to write about photography and landscape in three different periods:

c.1885-95 –mass tourism and mass photography having a new and discernible impact on the notion that the traditional ways of life in England were rapidly disappearing and thus needed to be recorded and preserved for posterity.

c.1925-42 – when England was strong enough to withstand the effects of war on the home front.

c.1982-93 – when ideas about celebrating England’s heritage served the need for unity

Common themes throughout are the mass production of entertainment for tourists; avoiding anxiety by seeing the landscape in a proscribed manner and constantly remaking the idea of a stable England.  In other words, Taylor is presenting his material as examples of moments, “that impel people to use landscape to define themselves and establish their security and sense of belonging to the nation”.

The short section we were asked to read is actually in the middle of the book (p198-205) so that is another explanation why I found it harder to grasp Taylor’s thesis.  I think he’s misleading about George Orwell because he gives the impression that Orwell had written about ‘mystical sense of the past” etc which he hadn’t in his essay. Although Taylor bases his book around tourists, this particular section has nothing to do with tourists and is more concerned with the use of earlier travel books or new images to remind the population of the land that was being fought for, ‘to preserve the historical nature of English freedoms in an English landscape’ –  with photographs illustrating the difference between the country and fascist Germany and their ways of life;  to show how the country was being mobilised against the threat and to suggest that civilians were as vigilant in defence as the military.

George Orwell (1941) The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (accessed at http://orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/

I have read some of Orwell’s work previously but not this particular essay which is in three parts. I found myself nodding agreement at much of the writing whilst having to keep bearing in mind that this essay was written in 1941 and much has changed since then in the make-up of the country and what Orwell refers to as the ‘common people’.

Part I: England Your England concerns the need to recognize “the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty” and that divisions between nations are “founded on real differences of outlook”. Although England is made up of many different types of people there is something distinctive and recognizable in English culture and Orwell lists some of these attributes. Orwell makes the point that, Just because patriotism is all but universal and not even the rich are uninfluenced by it, there can be moments when the whole nation suddenly swings together and does the same thing, like a herd of cattle facing a wolf.

Part II: Shopkeepers at War comments on Socialism, stipulating that to “Common ownership of the means of production” one must add approximate equality of incomes, political democracy, and abolition of all hereditary privilege, especially in education. Orwell looks at the German version of Fascism – being a form of capitalism that borrows from Socialism, ‘just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes’ and then at the difference between Socialism and capitalism. This is not a difference of technique but needs a complete shift of power. “England is a family with the wrong members in control.  The necessary moves cannot be made while the social structure of England remains what it is and all talk of ‘equality of sacrifice’ is nonsense.

Part III: The English Revolution. My understanding of this part is that Orwell believes old classifications/distinctions between Right and Left broke down when Picture Post was first published. “They merely point to the existence of multitudes of unlabelled people who have grasped within the last year or two that something is wrong”. At that time he believed that the Labour Party would never be able to achieve a major change because it had never possessed a genuinely independent policy; being primarily a party of trade unions; meaning it was directly interested in the prosperity of British capitalism. Orwell then looks at Fascism Communism and other Marxist parties and why they didn’t take hold and moves onto his view of an English Socialist movement that can, “swing the mass of  the people behind it, drive the pro-Fascists out of positions of control, wipe out the grosser injustices, and let the working class see that they have something to fight for”. He looked to the rise of a specifically English Socialist movement that would really touch the heart of the English people and proposed a six-point programme to achieve this.

Further thoughts

I know that I’ve taken much time (too much) over this exercise and still haven’t finished Taylor’s book which does tend to wander backwards and forwards between the three periods he covers. I found two reviews of the book; the American Historical Review    refers to his ‘absorbing and very readable text”, whilst also commenting, “The jumps in chronology are unsettling, and the thematic links at times seem rather tenuous” . Another  comments “British art historian Taylor engages in a mission of political correctiveness, following the Marxist credo that human activity can best be explained by the forces of oppressive economic and class structures”, whilst acknowledging that he has, “done much detailed research into some valuable and overlooked elements of photographic history”.

Taylor looks at tourism and the public face of England as it were, and he provides much photographic evidence including the attempts of some photographers to subvert bucolic notions of landscape. So far as photography is concerned there is certainly a project there for looking at what’s happened since the book was written and how landscape photography is being used to promote or subvert an image of a pastoral/mythical England.   I recently read an blog article that was written in 2016 and has recently re-gone the rounds of social media.  “Behind Brexit lies a yearning for a past we destroyed” outlines what was gained after WW2 and what has changed for the worse. I am questioning how much of patriotism is based upon remembrance of a better past and how much on something else. Does it also stem from feeling grounded in a community, having a sense of belonging and feeling at home? What is it like for a stranger, a refugee not a tourist to come to this place and leave country and home behind knowing they might never return there? What is the nature of ‘Home”.



Taylor, j. (1994) A Dream of England: Landscape, Photography and the Tourists’ Imagination. Manchester University Press
















Response to tutor formative feedback June 2019 o Assignment 6 progress

 I reflected on progress February to end of May 2019 here .  Below are the relevant extracts from the combined formative feedback report: My responses are in blue italics.


 Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

Assignment 6

– keep up the shooting for Assignment 6, try to analyse what you are drawn to in your shoots and why, if there are any patterns with this and any gaps in visual messages you think need to be captured.

This is something I’ve already been doing, and including in my write-ups. It’s a fairly quiet area, certainly so far as Ether Woods are concerned, yet I’m continually surprised by new events that keep occurring as people interact with their environment. One of the problems with developing a narrative is, of course, that these types of interventions into the landscape are different from planned land-management by the local Council. They’re ad-hoc, transient so a narrative that seems dramatic or poignant quickly disappears. I’ve realised that such occurrences particularly interest me – because of all the questions as to how, when and why they occur.

I’m thinking that, at my next review, I need to start thinking about potential ‘sets’, how everything is fitting together.

Start to bring in some of your visual research in relation to the transitions brief in these posts too, to show that you are constantly trying to stay informed about new approaches that could inform the development of the project.

I do have a resource list but this is a needed reminder to actually document my research and reading. I’ve already realised that much of what I’m focusing on in Assignments in general fits somehow or other with ‘transitions’ so there is plenty of cross-referencing material I already have. Also,  whilst doing an initial survey on relevant material for an idea I have for Assignment 4, I discovered several relevant artists I had already written about in previous Modules so I need to update on these too

– Also, if introducing new camera equipment that hasn’t been used before in the shooting for a project – for example you take the tilt shift wide lens out with you in April – be aware of the change this will have on the images themselves and how they might sit with earlier work, will there be a noticeable difference? Will it look inconsistent and does that matter for your particular strategy? Be mindful of this moving forward – I’d be tempted to stick to one lens on a project such as this one. Using exercises and assignments to experiment with other equipment for future projects.

Yes, I’d certainly realised that.  It was just so tempting to use the tilt-shift amongst the trees.  I think it’s good advice to stick to one lens – I mainly use a zoom lens anyway which is a very good multi-purpose one.

Suggested reading/viewing


The Heath – Andy Sewell, (re:A6) critique both the work and the design of the book, if considering book formats for assessment

Tessa Bunney – http://www.tessabunney.co.uk/project/farmerflorist/ The way Tessa publishes her projects and introduces them, how she uses different types of images to tell her stories and her way of representing communities who work with the land

I think you’d also enjoy reading about one or two of the films of Margaret Tait, especially The Drift Back and Land Makar, in relation to looking at how people live and work with the land and her exploration of the land around her. https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/newsbfi/ lists/remembering-film-poet-margaret-tait

I’ve looked at all of them and will write about this in a separate post.

Areas of strength and for development

 The formative feedback report was a combined report with Assignment 3. I’m including the whole of it because I think the areas apply to Assignment 6 as well.

Areas for development:

I’ve taken all of these on board.  It’s easy to be tempted to keep an image just because it fits my theme or I feel attached to it and I’ll make more effort with strict self-monitoring.  What I’m doing with Assignment 6 at present is to weed out ‘weak’ RAW images as I’m processing through Adobe Bridge. 


I wrote about the Memorial Fields/Ether Woods early on here but I’m wondering whether I need to do more site-specific research. I’ll ponder on this as I think visual research needs to take priority.  I gain a lot from peer feedback on my work so this is something that will continue. Another addition to my list for the next review of progress will be to think on potential presentation. That’s another example of the value in attending meetings of OCA Thames Valley group as this always brings in new ideas as does reading other students’ blogs and exchanging comments/views with them. 

Response to Tutor Feedback on Assignment 3

 My tutor provided written feedback for this assignment.  As previously, she has commented on both Assignment 3 and the ongoing Assignment 6 Transitions Assignment so I will address each of those in separate posts.

Feedback on Assignment 3

Here are some extracts, with my comments in blue italics:-

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration
of Creativity

The edit

From the outset it is clear you are very attracted to this site and have enjoyed making this
work. There are some successful images here but I think you could re-think the edit somewhat
to really tighten it visually, to emphasize conceptual ideas and connotations. For example, the
algae and the apparent density of the water is a really interesting visual quality to this
pond/lake – it could be the time of year, but either way it is fascinating, the way it glows and
reflects surrounding foliage seems unusual – that level of abstraction… this to me conjures up
ideas of the surreal, phenomenological, ghostly, and mysterious goings on which you talk
about when researching its history. Also it focuses the viewer on the texture and tone of the
water, especially when set behind foreground foliage – allowing for contrast and shift in depth
through the image – we’re able to gaze into it and imagine what lies or laid beneath, it almost
has a hypnotic quality too which I think serves your subject very well. We’re able to compare
the real and the reflected, which is very engaging.

I was very pleased to read this as it shows that I was meeting my aims for this Assignment. The reflections are unusual which is why I was so attracted to the water and I have worked on the premise that it has always had this quality. I’ve also discovered additional reference material.

In the rest of this section my tutor provides a detailed analysis of my choices – the majority of which are approved but replacements are suggested for some of them (I have to acknowledge that with a couple of them I was aware there could be a problem with over-exposure but hung onto them!) and I will deal with this in a separate blog post. I had been concerned about including too many similar images, but my tutor actually suggested more images which show the algae and the light on the water. This just goes to show me that if I think I’m taking a risk with an edit then it could be a good idea to be even bolder about it.


It’s great to see the reflection post for the assignment, your presentation section discusses the
approach you will explore, including titles and captions. It is important to use your assignment
from your tutor before preparing for assessment. These kinds of decisions take a surprising
amount of trial and error and are all part of the core creative process.

I certainly found it useful doing this in more detail as it will be an aide-memoire at a future date.


Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

Comments here mainly relate to Assignment 6 and I will address these in a separate blog post, although advice to stick to one lens on a project is a good one to follow (I had referred to using a tilt-shift lens during my work on Assignment 6 and how this gave the photographs a different ‘look’ as this prime lens has a different effect.)  which is an ongoing project, except for:-


Ex 3.3 stands out as an example of you engaging deeply with the materials and sources
provided. You introduce relevant independent research (Handful of Dust exhibition) to counter
and shape your opinion. You also conclude in an objective and open manner, seeing multiple
sides of the debate.

This is helpful feedback and provides a useful pointer towards Assignment 4 the Critical Review in terms of the use of relevant research to counter and shape my opinion and being objective.


Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

For this assignment you have undertaken a significant amount of research – from investigating
the site itself, it’s history and associated images, literature and ephemera to reading theory
around the land and the subject of ‘spaces and places’ and visual research, looking into the
likes of Naomie Goudal, Esther Teichmann and revisiting John Gossage’s The Pond. You should
really be proud with the breadth of this work Catherine. Though this is fantastic, your reflection
on photographic work here tends to offer an overview of the photographer’s general approach
(useful but make sure that you pull images as illustration and deconstruct them, just like you would a quote).

I thought I’d got the hang of reflecting on photographic work this time and being as succinct as possible as one of the areas for development for Assignment 2 was to try to keep the write-up concise.  For Assignment 3 I divided contextual research into several sections (see below) and my draft for the section on photographic work was longer – for example I went into more detail in the way that John Gossage had set out the layout for his book – but I cut it down.  Using actual images is more complicated due to copyright issues and the time needed to gain approval for use. This will be less of an issue for Assignment 6 as it spreads over a longer time period.

Learning Log

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

There is lengthy documentation of your process here Catherine, which is great to see. All posts
show that a lot of effort and consideration has gone into the making of your final work. The
reflection on your Thames Valley Group meeting was particularly well structured (perhaps a
little long at the start), recording what you took to the meeting, the ideas you were grappling
with and your feedback and critique is well documented, using images as illustration. It was
useful to break up the different posts as you have, this allows you to go into detail without
things becoming unwieldy and hard to follow.

I’m pleased that my idea of breaking up the different posts gained approval so, with that in mind, perhaps there’s now more leeway to go into more detail on photographic work.  Regarding the comment on the start of my reflection on Thames Valley group meeting being ‘a little long’, I’m not sure I agree with that. My reflecting on the use of text, led me on to thinking about explanation (of which there often seems to be a lot now in relation to concept) and that’s why I decided on the mini-experiment.

Suggested reading/viewing


The Heath – Andy Sewell, (re:A6) critique both the work and the design of the book, if considering book formats for assessment

Tessa Bunney – http://www.tessabunney.co.uk/project/farmerflorist/ The way Tessa publishes her projects and introduces them, how she uses different types of images to tell her stories and her way of representing communities who work with the land

I think you’d also enjoy reading about one or two of the films of Margaret Tait, especially The Drift Back and Land Makar, in relation to looking at how people live and work with the land and her exploration of the land around her. https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/newsbfi/lists/remembering-film-poet-margaret-tait

I think the suggested reading mainly applies to Assignment 6 – although Tessa Bunney’s work could be a useful reference if I decided to do more documentary style work on the Artisan sites around Silent Pool.



I have addressed Areas for Development in my responses above (I hope) but the summary is a good aide-memoire.

I’m particularly pleased on the ‘Strengths’ feedback and had certainly made efforts to streamline the historical research for focus and relevance and to make sure I documented the printing process and presentation ideas. I know that I can gain feedback on my prints from meeting of Thames Valley group when our attending tutor is present but still think it would be a good idea at some point for my tutor to actually see prints.

Assignment 6: Progress 25th February to end of May 2019

I had a final February session on the 26th ; one session in March; three sessions in April (I did have good reasons) and one on the May Bank holiday, although I’m not counting that because it was Ottershaw Fair that day when I filmed a very short video which I could include if I do a compilation video.

Choices are getting more complicated because I can’t stick a marker in the ground for an exact spot to photograph from, so I remember as best I can, but take extras from a slightly different angle ‘just in case’.  Also, of course, some images turn out to be a better quality than others although not exactly from the same spot as others.

February 2019

21 chosen from 78.


Some very bright days, with the sun casting heavy shadows through the trees.  The sun isn’t warm enough to dry the mud ruts left by the Saturday Park Run group. The ‘Christmas Memorial” tree is looking very bare, although some catkins have sprouted on other trees; there is, at last, a view from the Viewpoint and the little ‘tree man’ is sprouting ‘hair’. ‘Posters have appeared asking everyone to look out for a run-away dog.  There is a sense of waiting.

March 2019

21 chosen from 38.


Buds are appeared on some trees and catkins are growing larger. I went into a clearing I hadn’t visited for a while and saw some changes. A sturdy branch structure with a blue tarpaulin inside.  There was also a folded notice stuck on the ground in front of it, so of course I had to look; unfolded it said “Don’t touch” so I quickly folded it back! There’s also a bird box fairly high up a tree and logs artistically arranged. I pondered whether this was to do with a local forest school – a great idea which seems to be spreading in the area.

April 2019 (three visits)

3rd.  18 chosen from 78.


I took the 24mm tilt-shift with me this time.  This manual lens is excellent for sharpness and, of course, tall trees but it has a different effect from my usual zoom lens so I’ll have to wait and see how it melds with other photographs .

The day before, on the usual dog walk, we’d seen a group of young people gathered amongst some trees a bit of a distance away and wondered what was happening.  We didn’t approach in case they were having a picnic – a great attraction for dogs. Today I saw that many bunches of flowers had been left in that spot, wrapped in cellophane and with messages tied on them.

The dog is still missing and it seems to be travelling quite a circular route from the messages regularly appearing on Facebook.  The difficulyt is that people are asked not to approach or try to catch it because it’s so nervy but just to phone-in the sighting. I also spoke with a very friendly gentleman who was quite keen to have his photograph taken with my tilt-shift lensed camera.  It’s good to see the blossom beginning to show on the trees.

10th. 29 Chosen from 85. A bright day with strong shadows again.



It’s lovely to see green leaves, the broom flourishing and tree blossoms.  The bunches of flowers have now been taken out of the cellophane, dismantled and placed around the base of one of the trees.  Green ribbons have been tied around other trees.  I videoed the scene as it seemed a lovely tribute to whoever had died (I gathered from messages elsewhere that this was probably a tribute to a young man who had died tragically and this had been one of his favourite places).

Woodland Memorial – April 2019 from Catherine Banks on Vimeo.

16th. 6 chosen from 16.


One of those days when there’s an almost white sky and everything is very bright. I wanted to get a better view of the small ‘tree man’ who I’m now beginning to think of as the Green Man.


It’s been interesting to see the Spring changes – the white blossom and the ‘view’ actually emerging at the Viewpoint spot due to trees being bare.  Everything will change again as the trees gain their summer leaves. What I’ve realised is that I’m most interested in the human ‘interventions’ in the woodland.  It could have been a coincidence as the name on the messages were different, but did the Christmas memorial tree have an influence on the creating of the memorial to the young man?

I have created other videos – a football match, the structures in the clearing and visitors to the Bank Holiday Monday Fair on the Memorial Fields.  I’m thinking of creating a compilation at the end of the Project.



Reflection on Assignment 3

Reflection on Assignment 3 prior to Tutor Feedback

I’ve already reflected on the editing process as I documented it but I thought it would be helpful to think more about the references I used, potential presentation strategies and what next.

Photographer references – original and subsequent?


In his project Painters Pool Jem Southam actively referenced the work of Mike Garton, the painter and his friend who was driven artistically by a determination to try to render, through the act of painting, complex visual and spatial fields perceived by immersion in this dense woodland,  My subject was a pool, overtaken to some extent by ‘commerce’ yet still retaining, for me, a fascination to look, to gaze to imagine what it might have been like centuries ago. Before men took possession of it. Garton actually created a pond from a stream that had been partially blocked by a stream. Garton made a dam from the tree, e-directed the stream and dug out a shallow pool which he quietly maintained for many years.  He rarely painted it until just before he died.

Southam wanted to see how the photographic medium might be used to deal with a similar set of concerns. Whilst doing so, over time, he also documented the growing ‘absence’ of Mike Garton’s presence. Southam’s camera peered through trees at the pool, saw it through the seasons as trees grew, shed leaves, changed colour in Autumn. I’m aware that I also have a tendency towards peering through trees with my camera.

John Gossage is one of the New Topographics photographers. His approach is quite downbeat in portraying reality yet evocative in portraying the edges between woodland (almost scrubland) left to creep its way back to nature and the outreaches of urban sprawl.  In his book he directs our view in a certain way – as I have attempted in my own sequence – but leaves us to form our own opinions on what we see.  Gossage’s “The Pool” has been described as a foil to Walden’s pool.  There are several definitions of ‘foil’, but I’m assuming that, in this case, it means something associated with another to provide a marked contrast – something like an ‘anti’ referencing then.  I can’t find anywhere that states that Gossage intended to do this but I’m guessing he probably did because the intention of New Topographics was to challenge the Picturesque (see here)

Thinking of the Picturesque takes me to Keith Carter who also referenced Walden’s Pool.  The more I looked at Carter’s image the more I could see the similarity with some of the coloured postcards  I had collected whilst working on Assignment 3. These were more idealised than some of the monochrome ones – or is it just the colour that makes them ‘pretty’ and more picturesque.  I felt concerned that my images would be too picturesque which was why I was so determined to find a different approach.

I played around with the inspiration from the work of Esther Teichmann and Noemie Goudal. I’m not a painter and so my route towards Teichmann was to experiment with a composite. I think I probably should have persevered more as a way to layer fictive past and present but know that I prioritised and chose a more nuanced approach.  Goudal’s work, again, concerns layering reality with fiction and she uses installation in the landscape to achieve this. My interest in her work led me to have an image printed on fabric and I haven’t yet let go of the idea of creating something pondlike for myself, or a hanging background, as I do like the effect.

Alternative photography

As I’ve written before, I’m very interested in this.  Many of my experiments are on my Instagram page which I use as a place for them. Somehow or other, though, I never really to get to use them in an actual Assignment.  Cyanotypes might have been a good approach and, again, I haven’t let go of the idea of wet-cyanotypes but the main problem for me is that cyanotypes are a very different shade of blue from the blue of Silent Pool. I’m not going to say it’s time wasted because it isn’t as the experiments do help me to think in a different way. Perhaps this allows my imagination to just take over and lead me somewhere else.  Which it did – to go gain further inspiration from other artists and photographers.

Other artists 

Widening my explorations really did work for me because through doing so I was able to clarify an approach that might suit my aim. I wanted my images to be impressionistic of Silent Pool whilst still retaining recognisable features in the series itself. I’m becoming more and more aware of the varieties of repetition in artists’ work whether photographing the same sites through the seasons – showing the effects of time and nature – or adding layers of paint to portray shifting effects.  Clare Wilson’s work encouraged me to photograph Silent Pool in ways that showed more subtle changes of light and reflection in its waters.  Of course, I had to choose between images for the series, but I hope I was able portray the changes without the images together seeming repetitious.

I did feel that I was taking a risk in trying something different but gained reassurance from seeking peer feedback at both a meeting of  OCA Thames Valley Group    and also recently in a Hangout with “Bridge” a recently formed group. “Bridge” was created by fellow student Anna Goodchild, with the aim of supporting students who are near the end of their Course or have graduated to continue to maintain a supportive network. Anna commented that to photograph ‘silence’ is a challenge and how my project has given ‘Silent Pool” a voice.

Historical context

This was important, firstly because it situated Silent Pool through time and, secondly, because this showed me how I’m linking themes.  Similar to Assignment 2 and the Basingstoke Canal, the story of the pool concerns the way in which man has harnessed natural resources originally for commercial gain and then how this changed through time. I was actually able to imagine the real events as they occurred and also gain insight into Martin Farquhar Tupper who must have been quite an unusual person. Looking at the postcards was very useful as well in enlarging my understanding of those early photographers who saw opportunities there as well as linking them with Coursework and views on the picturesque.

I’m also pleased that I didn’t get too absorbed in the research even though I enjoyed it.  It was an aid to my photography work as opposed to taking it over. However, I would like to spend more time reflecting on ‘magical thinking’ or, perhaps, ‘suspension of disbelief’, because this plays such a large part in our lives even now. I’m still surprised, although impressed, at the way in which Martin Tupper got people to ‘believe’ in his story even though its literary quality was poor plus they knew the story wasn’t true.

One thing I didn’t do

My tutor suggested I could use a model and portray the story.  I wasn’t too certain about that – given that the story is fiction, melodramatic and essentially about what could be termed as manslaughter.  If I did then Tom Hunter’s work would be an obvious reference point. There is a sequence there – Thomas Hardy utilised stories in newspapers for his novels and Tom Hunter referenced both aspects. Alternatively, I could reconsider using a model but in a different way – something like Helen Sear’s work in Company of Trees (2015) (video on Vimeo).  Remembering as well that Sear also created a video installation of Pond (2011)  and on You Tube.  Maybe that would be too ambitious at the moment though.


At the moment I have a series of photographs, sequenced in a specific way. They could be individually printed and exhibited, again with the sequencing in a particular way. Should there be captions and/or titles? What about a photo book?  If so, I’m thinking of something handmade rather than printed – again there’s the questions of captions/titles and also whether other information should be included.  Some historical information could be appropriate. I’ve noted that Jem Southam used captions followed by the date/s in his book of the Painter’s Pool.  John Gossage has no captions to the photographs in his book, but it does have an introduction and essay.

I would like to do more with the postcards – they’re such a good resource. Should I do a layered sequence with my own images? I could also create my own Postcards, even ‘stamps’, although I did that for my final Assignment of Digital Image & Culture with photographs of my Second Life self.  I wouldn’t want to be seen as repetitious.

I still have that hankering for something on fabric.

Looking ahead

In terms of continuing themes, as I’ve referred to above, I know I’m interested in layers of time and how Culture operates with us.  In a sense the water of Silent Pool was acting as a mirror for this in reflecting it back and also as a window to gaze through and reflect on history and also borders, edges, liminal spaces.