Research Notes 1: The Beginnings

Research Notes 1: The Beginnings

To get me started:

A reworking of the Genesis story from one of my favourite poets Ted Hughes his voice reciting the words in an animated film  – my reasons being poetic, visual and musical imagining and that his voice reminds me of own beginnings.  I recognised his voice the first time I heard it as being ‘from home” (meaning Yorkshire) and I felt the pull in my diaphragm.

There is much scientific evidence of course  regarding how life began on earth – see a summary here .  Cells are the basis of life for all living things and we are all made of ‘pretty similar kinds of cells’ which have mutated in many different forms. Could knowledge of this have led to the “biophilia hypothesis”, an idea first used by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in 1973, but later popularized by the biologist Edward O Wilson in 1984 when he defined biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life” which he viewed as being rooted in our biology. Wilson’s hope   was that a new conservation ethic could be generated if people understood and accepted this inherent love of nature.

 

I’ve recently been reading about the ‘Overview Effect’ a description coined by the American author Frank White in 1987,  following reports by returning astronauts that they had undergone a cognitive shift in awareness during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from outer space”.   The experience transformed their perspective of Earth and mankind’s place upon it – common features were feelings of awe and a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment. White’s description was taken up by a number of important groups and White, who considers himself to be a Space Philosopher, founded The Overview Institute, in Washington, DC, in 2008 to consolidate support and popularize the idea.

White’s view of  the Overview Effect as  an ontologically pre-existent  ‘natural’ feature of the universe, (indicating to him that humans should colonize outer space as quickly as possible) has been challenged of course, for example by Jordan Bimm (2014) who thinks that models of Earth are deeply political objects, asserting American control and technological mastery at a global scale; there have long been questions about the reliability of astronaut self-reporting and there is also an alternative described as “the break-off phenomenon” – feelings of separation, anxiety, and depression reported by military pilots in the 1950s after viewing Earth from very high altitudes. Bimm believes that there is a systemic incentive for astronauts to not report or minimise such negative feelings when they return to Earth and that they are encouraged to report only positive experiences.

However,  Lineweaver and Chopra state (2019) that such effects aren’t limited to what they term a ‘spatial re-conceptualization of where we are’; others are temporal and biological, and the three link to the ‘big history’ of attempts to understand ‘the integrated history of the cosmos’.  They link the temporal overview effect to ‘when we are’ ; and the biological overview effect to where we are on the tree of life – the twigs that are still alive.

To me, the astronaut’s comments fit with a sense of the sublime.   I can understand Bimms’s comments about the reliability of self-reporting and “the break-off phenomenon” but I also thought about it in a different way too. I can understand how, for early mankind,  beliefs arose that gods created the sun, moon, sea, rivers, weather. It must have seemed quite logical then in the absence of scientific knowledge to explain the unexplainable, the sublime and the uncanny as  magical thinking can provide some order in what might seem an enormous and chaotic world where one is at the mercy of forces that are uncontrollable.

Knowledge and scientific understanding increased exponentially over the Centuries, alongside a continuing belief in God and a growing general tendency towards a belief in the individual rather than society and the supremacy of Man overall.  We could achieve anything given time including travel to other planets and far-off galaxies even. Imagine then what it must have been like to get a different viewpoint – a sudden jolt to the senses that would shift perspectives. To experience Earth as a “tiny ball of life, ‘hanging in the void’ shielded by a paper-thin atmosphere against the enormous size of the universe. Earth became no longer a map divided into different coloured nations, warring ideologies and economic doctrines could not be seen” (Lineweaver & Chopra 2019). Some astronaut comments can be found here    and there is also a 19 minute short film  Overview on  from Planetary Collective which can be seen on Vimeo, YouTube or here  

 

References

http://frankwhiteauthor.com

http://weareplanetary.com/overview-short-film/

https://overviewinstitute.org/astronaut-quotes/

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20161026-the-secret-of-how-life-on-earth-began

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/conversation-eo-wilson/

Bimm, J (2014) “Rethinking the Overview Effect” .Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly 2:1 (2014)  (Accessed at https://www.academia.edu/5995107/Rethinking_the_Overview_Effect on 14.11.2019)

Lineweaver, C.H & A. Chopra (2019) The Biological Overview Effect: Our Place in Nature. Journal of Big History III(3); 109-122

White, F (1987) The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution. American Institute of Aeoronautics

Meetings of Thames Valley Group in September and October 2019

Thames Valley Group Meeting 21st September 2019

A few thoughts:-

Documenting someone’s life – person and place – how much the photographer’s choice of view, composition, and resulting images affects the viewer’s perception of the subject. How does that compare with the subject’s perception of their life.  What happens when the subject is allowed to choose. (Barry)

A more unusual use of the word ‘insinuation’ (in Jonathan’s blog  ) – how the path insinuates its way into the brain.

(NB Robert Macfarlane, author of “The Lost Words” has a regular ‘word of the day’ on his Twitter feed . )

(Cecelia) Ways of integrating landscape images with portraits (e.g. Helen Sear) ()

Overlaying symbols of a country over photographs of it (Kevin)

Re family albums – we’re co-creating identity with the dead (Dawn).  My other thought on this is that we’re still ‘alive’ in some way until the last person who can remember us dies.

One image from the day – An example of the imaginative ways in which Dawn create a ‘family album’.

 

NB – an ethnographic approach to the family album. This book is very useful . Have it on my bookshelf.

Thames Valley Group Meeting 19th October 2019

Richard and Pauline talked about the freedom of not doing a degree because you can go in a direction that interests you.  Richard has started on the book-making Course.

Pauline studying Visual Culture but still taking photographs. She has become interested in words in the landscape with that underlying question of how words can strike at a glimpse. We discussed some recent examples – agreeing that these are more in the street photography genre. We moved the prints around, discussing which worked well together.

Really interesting to hear how Dawn is finding the MFA at Farnham. They’ve gone straight into creating collaborative work in large/small groups.  Dawn had created a tissue dress from an old pattern – linking with part of the theme of ‘generation’ . How they curated an ‘exhibition’ and then re-curated.  How crits work and the kind of questions asked – e.g. “What would you take away; what would you add?”. Dawn is also doing an online Art course. Showed us a way of ‘letting go” – masking-off four rectangles on paper and painting over the tape (see below)

Sue showed us her work on Creech Wood and how she’s experimenting with slideshows with and without audio. Discussed use of ambient recordings and difficulties of obtaining ones free from wind noise.

I didn’t have any coursework to show but talked about my ideas for Assignments 4 and 5 on landscape.  For Assignment 4 Critical Review I’m thinking of writing on the notion of “Home”.  I explained how I got to thinking about this as a result of the continuing Brexit debate and comments about nationalism and patriotism. What is it that makes people feel patriotic towards their country; what underlies this feeling – something about attachment to home which, of course, links with feeling homesick and nostalgic.  Is it possible to evoke such feelings through a landscape image – conceptual or traditional as opposed to a pure social/documentary approach?  I’ve done a fair amount of reading and note-taking and also collected together some examples including work I saw last year at the Brighton Biennial weekend. With 2000 words I need to keep my essay quite focussed whilst acknowledging links with culture and identity.  Two suggestions were to have a look at the Museum of Migration, London    and also to research District 6 Museum in Cape Town, South Africa . I was also reminded about my project on my dad’s letters, sent to me when he was in the Army in Egypt. I hadn’t thought of them in this contex so was very pleased to be reminded and talking about this also reminded me of my dreams of Sheffield in the past and how these ended once I had been back in more recent years and seen how the estate has deteriorated.

My current idea for Assignment 5 is a project based around “War of the Worlds” written by H.G. Wells when he lived briefly in Woking. Wells refers to many local places and nearby towns and I could re-trace these in the present.

I went away feeling very supported and with much more enthusiasm for coursework than I had when I arrived at the meeting. I also decided to try out Dawn’s experiment with painting.

 

 

 

Exercise 4.1 : Critical Review Proposal

Planning for Assignment 4

I was delayed on planning for this Assignment due to the need for cataract surgery on my right eye but once I’d could see properly again I emailed my tutor with some ideas at the beginning of September. See below for relevant extracts from our exchange.

I was interested in all five of my condensed ideas but, thinking them over, realised that my thoughts were circling around notions of “Home” both as a place and also as a psychological need or yearning that called strongly during absence.  This isn’t a new concept for me during my time with OCA as I’ve written about this before – the effect of moving house reasonably often; how I ‘make myself at home’ in a new area; what it was like to re-connect with the neighbourhood in Sheffield where I was born and lived until I was married, and the shock of seeing how it had deteriorated over the years.  Before then I’d had regular dreams of going in and out of neighbour’s houses and doing the shopping for my mum, but all these stopped once I’d actually re-visited the neighbourhood and experienced the cognitive dissonance between memory and reality.

This concept of ‘Home” became more highlighted for me as a result of the continuing Brexit debate and comments about nationalism and patriotism. There’s certainly been much in the press and I was interested to read this article in the Guardian about the new literary genre that’s developed.   I asked myself what it was that makes people feel patriotic towards their country; what underlies this feeling of attachment to homeland, home; those feeling of homesickness and nostalgia?  I also wondered how much it’s possible to evoke such feelings through landscape imagery – conceptual or traditional – as opposed to a social/documentary approach. One project that I’d seen at the Brighton Biennial last year had had a strong impact on me – “Homesick”the work of Hrair Sarkissian which I wrote about here with its multi-media and performative aspect, but could there be others?  This would be my starting point also bearing in mind the strong links between home, attachment, identity and self.

I wrote down some further thoughts around “Home” :-

The place of ‘Home” in landscape

Trauma and landscape

Ruins, scars, what’s left behind as evidence

The difference between the impact at the time, photographs and “late” photography

The Place is the metaphor for the humanised event, experience, emotion

Can artworks be a virtual place? “Nurture” us.

Self not fixed (object relations)

Degree of stability – being rooted versus tramping the world (Yi-Fu Tuan)

The nature of home

Childhood home – caters to the bipolar part of our nature

Home is a house… and in a larger sense ….connection with self and change in self

The importance of place depends …

Landscape and the notion of home

Home links with identity and self, in the person, but the ‘place’ of home is landscape

Home, space and place

A conceptual approach to landscape

You can still be a “self” away from “home” and grow away from that place

What I left behind – leaving home

Home and memory

When we say “home” do we mean “identity”?

Nostalgia

 

With too many thoughts again swirling round in my head I created a word-cloud for a different view.

 

I have read much around the topic but decided I also needed to understand a little more about the role of attachment and object-relations theory to enlarge my understanding of the psychological aspects – not that I will necessarily include those  to any length in my Critical Review (only 2000 words after all) but to give me more of a baseline from which to venture forth.

 

 

Exercise 4.5: Signifier – Signified

 I’ve done this exercise in two previous Modules and so I thought I’d do something more different this time and have a general look at the theme; show how it’s not a new idea, just that Barthes used these particular words and also move the theme along to TV advertising.

The Trusty Servant

Below is a reproduction of a 1579 wall painting of The Trusty Servant by the poet John Hoskins. The being depicted is part man, part hog and part donkey, is painted on the wall next to the kitchen of Winchester College and is accompanied by verse in both Latin and English which provides a reading of the image.

 

 

I found a later reproduction of it this morning as I was doing some ‘tidying-up’ of files. It was among some copies of old photographs of Winchester that I bought from eBay a few years ago and I’d never noticed it before.  What a strange coincidence to find it now! This later reproduction is slightly different and with a more legible verse that explains each ‘sign’.

 

Queen Elizabeth 1

To begin with Queen Elizabeth I’s portraits were relatively simple but their style changed as she aged, became mythical to her subjects as “The Virgin Queen”, and new painting techniques were developed. These later paintings were elaborate and full of symbolism, for example the Rainbow portrait which, to me, exemplifies both levels of sign (signifier and signified) and myth as outlined by Roland Barthes.

 

(The Rainbow Portrait, c. 1600-02, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger)

There are many analyses of the portrait on the web so I won’t re-invent the wheel. It’s such a sumptuous portrait and hard to imagine her actually wearing it with those eyes and ears all over it, the serpent with its heart of love, the pearls symbolizing her virginity and the rainbow of peace created by the sun of her wisdom.  It got me to thinking how we might see a portrait of our present Queen, or even our Prime Minister.

Adverts

The exercise asks us to look at adverts with clearly identifiable signs but as I’ve been looking through adverts it seems they’re changing either becoming more subtle or attention grabbing such as the Marmite Elections dreamed up by Unilever marketing in the lead up to the 2010 General Election.  These played on our taste buds in a different way instead of the much earlier ones which told us how healthy marmite was and how full of vitamin B.  The notion was that people either love or hate marmite so that the public could vote for either side just as they would be voting in the General Election. I couldn’t find any information as to whether sales of Marmite increased as a result of this advertising campaign so found it hard to see any point in it.

On the other hand, there were several anti-smoking ads that made their point graphically, and succinctly.

 

Even a beautiful face becomes lined through the effect of cigarette smoke so no woman’s skin is safe from it.  A pregnant mother’s tongue becomes a tiny hand coming out of her mouth to take the cigarette – signifying that cigarettes are as harmful for the unborn baby as well as the mother

Television adverts provide much more scope for companies to get their message across with movement, music changing scenes and ‘stories’.  I found a very entertaining and pictorially explicit ad on You Tube for Libresse ‘feminine hygiene products’ – one of them being Viva La Vulva which was aired in November 2018. This used a catchy song, humorous approach, women young, old, black and white and multiple signifiers – oysters (of course), pulsating shells,  pomegranate seeds cakes, pastries, knitted/sewn objects and so on – celebrating/signifying the wonder of feminine genitalia and how the products of Libresse can take such good care of it . Some might ask, “What’s that to do with landscape”, which is the topic of this exercise after all but that depends on how you view landscape.

My final advert uses a different approach, the feel-good factor of gaining good from caring for strangers (and dogs).  Even a simple act of caring can pay dividends.  It was Winner of Best Ad of 2014.

It’s an advert for an insurance company although the viewer doesn’t find that out until the end and the name is very small.

Exercise 4.4: “Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men”

The essay we are asked to read was originally published in Exposure 23:1 (Winter 1985) and I note from the link we were given (an earlier website of hers  ) that Bright’s essay was attempting to answer the question, “Why are there no great women landscape photographers?”. She commented subsequently:-

With twenty years of hindsight, I can appreciate the polemical tone of the essay as an artifact of its time in the mid-1980s (raging gender wars within the Society for Photographic Education where I was active in the Women’s Caucus, an exciting energy as artists and scholars were speaking truth to power in the academy and art world and inventing new critical tools to dismantle entrenched minority privilege (D. Bright, 2005).

The essay My comments/ reflections are in blue

Bright begins by considering “Why landscape now?” a resurgence of landscape photography in the coffee table book press; viewed as , ‘an upbeat and wholesome sort of subject’ appealing to timeless values at a time when images of land were used ‘to evoke the universal constancy of a geological and mythic America seemingly beyond present vicissitudes’. (p. 1)

This reminded me very much of the content of Exercise 4:2 in relation to England except that Taylor’s chapter concerns people and place, whereas Bright’s essay only concerns the landscape itself.

 Bright argues against the idea of using landscape images as an antidote to politics, or regarding them just as ‘the occasional aesthetic pleasure’.

Whilst I agree with her, I have to confess that the idea of the constancy of ‘the landscape’ is inviting to me at a time right now when the UK is going through its own vicissitudes!

Landscape as a subject of visual representation is a modern phenomenon. Landscapes were painted as ‘fields for noble action’ in the 17thand early 18th Centuries; followed by the more natural landscapes of Dutch artists (the word landscape initially referring specifically to Dutch paintings) , then followed by English landscape painting. “Whether noble, picturesque, sublime or mundane, the landscape image bears the imprint of its cultural pedigree”. Formal choices of inclusion/exclusion have been the focus of most art-historical criticism so far but, “the historical and social significance of those choices has rarely been addressed and even intentionally avoided” (p. 2). A very important point for me to keep in mind and, of course, this again relates back to Exercise 4.2. and Taylor’s desire to address such aspects.

Bright then links Norman Rockwell’s illustrations of an idealized ‘generic place’ with the connotation of a semi-rural golden age from which a ‘ruling middle class minority draws its symbolic identity and nationalistic context – its ideology”. At a time when the majority experience repression. She states it’s time to look anew at the cultural meanings of landscapes (influences, interests, perpetuated ideologies and – the thrust of her essay – why does the art of landscape remain “so singularly identified with a masculine eye?”  Bright goes back to history  – the late 19th Century nostalgia for a pioneer life that had become obsolete – “a veritable Cult of Wild Nature” with the attendant creation of a middle-class tourist market, with the creation of landscaped park and forest preserves for the use of and elevation of the aspirations and manners of immigrants and workers, and the claiming of wilderness areas to be preserved as legacies for the future. She comments on the religious overtones of this, using the word ‘worship’ when quoting tourist numbers in 1908 and 1928, and asks what kinds of landscapes were being gazed upon so keenly. (p.3)

Bright quotes historians who described how tourists were looking for spectacle as in published postcards and advertising etc, rather than ‘wilderness’; with the re-designing of Nature to conform to conventional pictorial standards and the consequent central role of photography in this kind of merchandizing. The advent of Western motion pictures succeeded in masculinizing the western landscape along with marketing strategies for selling , “everything from cigarettes to Presidents”.  (Philip Morris’s Marlboro Man and the ex-film star President Ronald Reagan with his hat, horse, and axe). (p.4). She describes how the western landscape had become a complex construct, and Nature commodified – sites offering visual spectacle specially chosen for tourists and a romantic dream for liberal conservationists engineered from modern experience whilst containing the vestiges of the mythical frontier, providing the opportunity to create a new world out of nothing.

“Repressed or unexpressed” [is] “a landscape that cannot be apprehended strictly in terms of geographical or aesthetic categories”, called by J.B. Jackson ‘a field of perpetual conflict and compromise between what is established by authority and what the vernacular insists on preferring’. (p.4).  Bright refers to the revealing of the political interests that organize landscape – subjects not clearly addressed by the practice of landscape photography – and proceeds to assess some of the shortcomings of traditional approaches of art photographers.

Here I think she covers a wide swathe of approaches from the 1940s, through the 1950s and 60s which concentrated on the emotions of the photographer at the instant of exposure not visual style, taking the view that this enabled magazines such as Aperture to publish work ‘statistically’ diverse. Bright states that intuition and expression were central issues, not visual style.  Yet, to me certainly, Robert Frank, one of those photographers referred to, has a distinctive style which points covertly to societal divisions and characteristics.

 Bright’s view is that Aperture ‘forces’ were “eventually challenged and overwhelmed in the late 1960s by John Swarkowski’s curatorial juggernaut”. (p. 5) – making a case for what he believed was the essential character of landscape photography – his “trandescent theory” which was that real artists of the photographic medium were those who “’intuitively’ discovered the plastic possibilities of their medium without regard for prevailing aesthetic standards or any other cultural constraints”. (p. 5).  These included Timothy 0’Sullivan, the post-Civil war expeditionary photographer (see my earlier blog post here)  now selected and legitimised by the Museum of Modern Art.  Such photographers were taken out of context and curated into the 1981 Exhibition and catalogue for Before Photography, by Peter Galassi (p.6

 What interests me is the contrast between this and the earlier 1975 Exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, curated by William Jenkins for the International Museum of Photography, which marked the moment when the apparently banal became accepted as a legitimate photographic subject with its political message and reflecting a growing unease regarding the erosion of the natural landscape by industrial development and the expanse of cities (see my earlier blog post here

Bright notes that the lack of context was a useful strategy for ignoring representation of gender and race differences and the paucity of representation also of female photographers.  She marks the contrast with the photographers represented in the 1975 New Topographics Exhibition (Sigh of relief on reading this because I’d thought she might miss this out!).  However, whilst the curator, William Jenkins. claimed these photographs resisted interpretation, because he believed the photographers had endeavoured to withhold any judgement or opinion, Bright sees them as, “….. charged with meanings that derive from the personal identities and histories of the photographers and are, in turn, viewed by an audience with their own ‘social and psychic predispositions (p7).  I think here she could be touching upon ‘the death of the author’ (Roland Barthes, 1967). Bright believes that the view that New Topographics were moving beyond social critique was due to ‘impoverished expectations of what passed for social critique then, plus the context of an increasing environmental movement in the mid 1970s “would have granted these photographs a pre-given set of meanings available to most politically liberal viewers that made aesthetic detachment all but impossible to sustain” even though art museums and galleries use various methods (presentation, neutral walls, minimal labelling, a reverential hush etc.) to ‘subvert’ these meanings. Robert Adams is used as an example of the way in which the photographers themselves could accept this ‘aesthetic discourse’. In a passage from his collected essays, Beauty in Photography (1981) he describes how, after spending weeks on a commercial assignment photographing open-pit mines, he wanted to photograph a monument erected by the United Mine Workers to commemorate the Ludlow Massacre (where the Colorado state militia gunned down striking miners and their families) in a way which would indict new strip mines there but,  the miners were mostly uninterested in a union and probably members of the National Guard themselves now.

“I was left at the end of the day with a sense of the uncertainty of evil, of the ambiguity of what photography could do with it, and of the fact of my own limited skills. After years with a camera I had wasted still more time trying to do what it apparently was not given me to do”.

Deborah Bright’s critical view is that Adams was dealing with his own ambivalence about the commercial assignment by, “projecting onto the miners a patronizing disappointment in their inability to share his noble outrage” when he could have found common ground with them by acknowledging their mutual decisions ‘to take the money and run’. She also points to Adams’s use of the passive voice – asking who told him he could not make such photographs. Bright also compares what she describes as a more recent problematic attempt by Adams to address local social realities near to the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Flats Nuclear Weapon Plant  with a contemporary Rock Flats billboard project by John Craig Freemen for his MFA Thesis.  The latter got little notice whilst Adams got an Aperture monograph and international museum shows.

Bright views this as how the art world continued to ensure silence and self-censoring, but could it also have been due to Freeman being at the start of his career and thus much less well-known? Freemen was born in 1959 gained a Visual arts Degree from the University of California in 1986, followed by a MFA degree from the University of Colorado in 1990. I found his blog here   where he talks about his project. It’s interesting to view Freemen’s documentary-based landscape photography and also to see how his work has developed since using emerging technologies to produce public installations.  His project began in 1989 and with some funding from Greenpeace, huge coloured billboard faces were made and mounted over the course of about a mile. His blog post includes links to further images and a video and, to me, there was a sense of excitement and involvement about the project. I do think, though, that Bright is conflating different time periods – approaches to photography being in flux – and not allowing for this.

 Robert Adams (b. 1937) was a mainly self-taught photographer.  Having gained an English degree at the University of Redlands, California he then gained a Ph.D in English in 1965 at the University of Southern California in 1965 and then teaching English, he bought a camera in 1963, learned technique from a professional photographer and began to teach only part-time in 1966 in order to have more time to photograph. He met John Szarkowski in 1969 and, in 1970, began working full-time as a photographer. I see that Adams’s Aperture Monograph was published in 1983 but it seems that the monochrome photographs were taken in the early 1970s.  They certainly look of that era and the layout of the monograph has a ‘traditional’ layout of a photograph on every page. The message is much more muted compared with the later project from Freemen. I also get the impression that Adams’s style of work has remained constant unlike John Craig Freemen who has adopted new technologies.  I think that one of the questions to ask in future perhaps is how recognizable each photographer’s style is.

Following this critical view, Deborah Bright returns to landscape and a question asking what landscape photographs can tell us “about how we construct our sense of the world and its relations”. (p. 8).  Here she looks at two other bodies of work made at the same time, with similar subject matter and addressing related social anxieties.  She compares the work of John Pfahl’s Power Places   (1981-1984)  – “beautiful” corporate style images of nuclear power plants connoting that power plants can be appreciated as objects, energy is natural and that human exploitation of energy resources is necessary –  with that of Lisa Lewenz’s Three Mile Island Calendar (1984) which Bright describes as, ‘wittily appropriating the popular seasonal calendar as a vehicle for her seriously considered vision” concerning the way in which residents are put at risk by corporate decisions to develop atomic energy.  Bright also looks at the different marketing strategies – Phal’s work being marketable to potential moneyed collectors whilst Lewenz mass-produced her calendar at an affordable price enabling her to reach a wider audience .

Three Mile Island Nuclear power was left with just one reactor after a 1979 accident (without loss of life or injuries but with potential, disputed health effects from radiation exposure )  and is due to be closed this year  (see here) .  I couldn’t find much at all on Lisa Lewenz, apart from blog posts for this exercise from fellow OCA students and  online articles about a later film she produced.  

 Bright continues by considering the kinds of subjects that might be addressed by a contemporary landscape practice (the more urban, and domestic for example) She thinks that women could have a ‘special stake’ in documenting spaces used mainly by women, such as shops, home, beauty salons, which are designed by men ‘for maximum efficiency in the promotion of impulse buying and over-consumption’. Bright wonders how such spaces could be re-imagined ‘for the benefit of maximizing women’s potentials as social actors rather than shoppers?’ “Where are the women? she asks. (p. 9) providing a few examples of where they are not and then mentioning Linda Connor and Gretchen Garner who have taken inspiration from 1970s ecofeminist writings by Carolyn Merchant and Susan Griffiths and looked towards a more emotional response to nature and women-centred landscape photography.  However, Bright links this with a traditional view of male/female differences – men ‘act’ upon nature whereas women ‘are’ nature and cannot separate themselves from it, and suggests it would be more productive to look instead for new possibilities for practice and discourse for everybody. She looks towards cultural geography, urban planning, and landscape architecture where the environment is , “viewed as a terrain of social symbols and contradictions” – projects by architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, geographer J.B. Jackson; urban studies scholars such as Kevin Lynch and Grady Clay who look at visual sign systems, and cultural geographer David Lowenthal on the significance of memorial landscapes. (p.10).

In Bright’s view such approaches can stimulate new thinking on how to, “see landscapes as humanly organised spaces that are historical and dynamic rather than primordial and timeless and sets out a structure to achieve this – become more conscious of ideological assumptions that structure our approaches; examine the restrictive terms of the art museum and gallery and ask ourselves whether we need to seek out other markets and audiences for our work. On the other hand, if art-market success is achieved by a photographer engaged in socially committed work, they must, ‘be vigilant about protecting the images from being repackaged as autonomous aesthetic objects, despite the reality that , “any issue-oriented work will inevitably become separate from its specific context by the passage of time …”.

Deborah Bright concludes the essay by linking the landscape genre’s resurgence with the Reagan Revolution which has given multinational corporations virtually free reign over the economic and physical environment and an attitude from art lovers/buyers that ignores the effects of such in admiring photographs that are aesthetically pleasing despite the industries they portray. Her message is to use landscape photography, “ to question the assumptions about nature and culture it has traditionally served” and not to view it as ideologically neutral but, instead as, “ an historical artefact  that can be viewed as a record of the material facts of our social reality and what we have chosen to make of them.

This essay was written over 30 years ago so nothing is new but it still resonates. Bright does seem to take an either/or view of what landscape photography should be but does acknowledge this in the 2005 quote I gave at the beginning. At present a variety of approaches seem accepted in landscape photography so long as there’s a rationale for them and there’s a freedom about this. I’ve long wondered whether women photographers create a different kind of landscape photography from male photographers – something for the future.

 

 

 

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.

Thoughts

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”.

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PS 6th November 2019:  I’ve just come across this You Tube video (after seeing an excerpt from it on Twitter).  A view of Britain in 1943 – from a USA perspective.

 

References

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

https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article-abstract/101/2/488/156600?redirectedFrom=fulltext

http://orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/

https://guerillawire.org/social-care/behind-brexit-lies-a-yearning-for-a-past-we-destroyed/

https://www.publishersweekly.com/9780719037238