Process: First Visit

Assignment 3 : Process

Introduction

 I knew of the pool because I’d driven past its sign several times on my way to other places.  I imagined the pool to be hidden away somewhere amongst the trees; maybe like a lake, deep and mysterious. At one point I asked my daughter if she’d been there; she hadn’t but knew of it and that there was also a gin distillery there that used the water.  Not too long after that I was bought a bottle of the gin for a present – beautifully presented in a blue glass, gold-etched bottle with a glass stopper.  The kind of bottle that a person might want to keep afterwards to use for another purpose.

Time passed by and then, one day last summer, passing there again, the sign loomed larger to me – Silent Pool – I knew I had to visit there. I generally prefer not to do too much research on a place before a first visit so that I can keep an open mind. However, I did go online  to discover that Silent Pool is a spring-fed pool at the foot of the North Downs  and is the only major spring source in the 10.5 miles-long scarp slope of the North Downs between the Wey and Mole Valleys. The pool is managed together with the nearby Newlands Corner (another well-known beauty spot) by Surrey Wildlife Trust, within the privately owned Albury Estate.

(Google Earth Satellite image – accessed 15.5.19)

I also obtained a pamphlet The Tillingbourne Story from a local History Society.  The pool is described as the most fiercely contested natural resource in the valley due to the copious flow of pure water from the pool. It seems that the Pool (then known as Sherbourne (Shireburn) springs was enlarged and made deeper in 1662 with an outflow to an adjacent new pond which was dug out – the Shireburn (Sherbourne Pond).   Sherbourne Pond feeds Sherbourne Brook, a tributary of the Tilling Bourne .  The aim of this was to take the water to supply the fountains at the gardens of Albury Estate which were constructed by John Evelyn. “…. They have command of a spring in this park (the Shireburn) which they bring in a channel to the place where they would have the sand taken away…” (John Aubrey, History of Surrey, quoted p. 28, The Tillingbourne River Story (1985,2006).  The final stretch of the river from Albury to the point where it joined the River Wey near Guildford was important for a long time for corn; the making of paper money, paper and gunpowder manufacture. All this due to a spring-fed pool nestling amongst the trees. This pool was recognised as having value which I think is amongst the important ways in which a space becomes a place – more on that later on.

There is also the connection with Albury and Martin F. Tupper, the person who wrote Stephan Langton or the Days of King John: A Romance of the Silent Pool, first published in 1856. This is the book which included the tale of Emma, the woodcutter’s daughter who, along with her brother Tetbert, drowned in the Silent Pool as a result of the actions of the then Prince John.

First Visit

I spent quite a time there walking around the (fenced) Silent Pool and gazing at Sherbourne Pond from one of its vantage points. Silent Pool has steps leading up to the Gin Distillery on the slope but the gate to it was locked. The distillery itself was closed that day. I also walked up part of the path to the North Downs.  I thought it was a shame that the Pool was fenced around but guessed this was to do with health and safety measures. I’d expected to see water gushing out from somewhere but not so – the water must seep in from below.  The fence was around three of its sides with no access to the inflow side. I chose 30 from 58 as a first edit plus a composite I created.

 

 

My feelings were ambivalent at that stage.  On the one hand there was the unusual colour of the pool (apparently a feature of spring-fed pools which have run through chalk) but, somehow, it lacked the drama atmosphere I’d expected.  When I discussed my idea with my tutor she suggested I could create an enactment of the story using a model but I didn’t feel too sure about that.  There was something in me that resisted the idea of enacting what was essentially actions leading to the deaths of two children.

Instead I downloaded some copyright-free images Wiki Commons images which were mainly Pre-Raphaelite 19thCentury depictions of Ophelia/medieval maidens, as these fitted with Tupper’s tale, and converted some to digital negatives.

What had earlier been in my mind was to utilise some alternative photography methods using ephemera from the pool as a different way of telling the story. As an experiment I created a cyanotype of a maiden and two chlorophyll prints on leaves.

 

 

I also created a composite

I wasn’t too sure about these experiments and I think this was because it puzzled me  – what was it about this Pool that led Martin Tupper to write his story, and then attracted people to visit the Pool and still want to believe the story even though they knew that’s all it was. How did this Pool encourage such ‘magical thinking’? At this stage I turned back to finding out more about the story, its connections with Albury and other artists and photographers who responded to it.

 

References

The Tillingbourne River Story(1984) Shere, Gomshall & Peaslake Local History Society: 2nd Revised edition (2006)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Pool (latest access 15.05.19)

Advertisements

Context – 1. Photographers

 Several photographers came immediately to mind.  These are my main influences and I will add others as I explore the Pool.

Jem Southam

Jem Southam, often photographs the same locations over long periods, using a large format camera to record transitions through time.  His work is already on my list for Assignment 6 and, also provides an excellent reference point for my current Assignment.  During 2002/3 he created some wonderful imagers of a pool constructed by the painter Michael Garton in the ancient woodlands of Stoke Woods in the south-west of England. Garton had constructed this pond where a tree had fallen across a stream and tended it secretly. Jem Southam came across both one day and began to take pictures of the pool.  They capture both the transitions in the woodland and the way in which the traces of Michael Garton’s presence gradually disappear as illness prevents him from working. I am enchanted by the images – see here  .  Michael’s Garton’s paintings can be seen here .  Jem Southam also recently returned to Painters Pool

https://www.instagram.com/p/BvlfoingKr-/

John Gossage

John Gossage found the pond of “The Pond” in 1982 whilst commuting to work.  This is a pond within an unromantic urban environment, on the edge of a city, and you follow his walk around it as you read his book  . Robert Adams wrote about the book here and his view is that Gossage’s focus was on the reassurances of “nature’s simplicities”. Given that the photographs are black and white, and this is an urban pound, why does it interest me? Well, apart from the fact that it’s considered to be a classic, it’s also an exemplar of how to structure a photo book and how he directs our view.

https://youtu.be/_X8-S89aCkA

Esther Teichmann

I wrote about Ester Teichmann’s work here as her work was one of my influences for the experiments I did with layering, using the backdrops of river, fountain and water cascade .  Esther Teichmann   works with both photography and film and her practice looks at the relationship between loss, desire and the imaginary. In the video below she refers to ‘in-betweenness’ which also makes me think of the way in which she uses photography as a portal into another world.  The words ‘liminal’ and ‘threshold’ also come to mind.  Teichmann also refers to how she often begins with writing and short stories and also working in collaboration with other artists in different subject areas.

I have the catalogue for Lulled into Believing,  an Exhibition she held with Henrietta Simson in 2009 – a dialogue between them and between painting and photography. “It is emotionally ambivalent; you’re not quite sure whether this ‘believing’ is a space of deception, a secure space or indeed under threat.  It remains unclear exactly who has been ‘lulled’ into believing”.  Subjects are photographed against painted back-drops or appear in misty blueness.  The limited edition book accompanying her Exhibition Fractal Scars, Salt Water and Tears  (2014) has an original cyanotype cover with a short story in its centre – combining two of my interests.

Noemie Goudal

Noemie Goudal  questions the potential of photography and film, reconstructing their layers as in Les Meconiques (2016),  and through landscape installations as in Haven Her Body Was  (2012)   where she ‘constructed’ a fabric Cascade and a ‘promenade’ backdrop.  Goudal wrote about narrative and story telling here . Two sentences particularly struck me:-

Indeed, the mise en scene photograph, or what has been recently named the Photographic Tableau, is a constructed image which often blends reality with fictional elements and transports the viewer into a parallel realm which plays with the viewer’s imagination.

 Additionally, through the process of the story, the viewer composes his own mental images, recreating a separate sphere constructed in between a shared reality and an imaginary world

 Susan DergesI’m interested in alternative/cameraless photography as I’ve written previously and Susan Derges works with water, using sheets of photographic paper in rivers, and using a flashlight and moonlight to create the exposure. For me, the images she creates are liquid, flowing, and full of mystery, very much concerned with the threshold between nature and contemplation. I don’t think I could hope to emulate the images she produces, in the sense that her process isn’t made clear, but it might be possible to evoke the atmosphere she creates.

The video below relates to Shadow Catchers an Exhibition displayed at the V&A between October 2010 and February 2011 and she points towards all the different ways in which water can be used as metaphor.

 

 

The book Elemental (2010), which I have,  gathers together all of her series to that time, together with key texts and the chronological sequence is grouped according to the four elements and the transitions between them .

 

References

Derges, S (2010) Elemental. Germany: Steidl

Simpson, H and Teichmann, E (2009) Lulled into Believing. London: Man & Eve

https://aperture.org/shop/john-gossage-the-pond-book/

https://michael-garton.com

http://noemiegoudal.com

http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/02/john-gossage-john-gossages-the-pond-1986.html

http://www.britishphotography.org/artists/13645/e/1686/jem-southam-jem-southam-the-painters-pool

http://www.estherteichmann.com/

http://www.susanderges.co.uk

 

 

Assignment 3 : Beginning -Introduction

I had the idea for this assignment last year but it’s taking me quite some time think of the right approach. This will be a story about a pool – well, stories.

The pool lies along the Pilgrim’s Way in Surrey, on the North Downs. Its beginnings lie in pre-history and I can only find contemporaneous references to it from the 17thCentury onwards. The pool is spring-fed so it must have seemed a wondrous stretch of water to its earliest users.  Some sites now refer to it as having been sacred but, so far, I haven’t been able to find any early references to it as such.  It would fit, though, as pagan shrines were often erected around such springs. and, of course, early Christian churches often took over those sites as their own.  It’s near to, and closely connected with the village of Albury one of whose three churches (unusual in itself for such a small place) dates back to Saxon times. Also, Roman remains were found in Albury. The village of Friday Street isn’t too far away.  The name “Friday’ comes from the Old English and could have been named after Frīġedæġ, meaning the “day of Frige”, a result of an old convention associating the Old English goddess Frigg (wife of the Norse God Odin) with the Roman goddess Venus.  Still, I’m conjecturing here, using my imagination.

Artists have visited the pool, it has been said to have been a favourite of the poet Lord Tennyson and was also the subject of early photographic postcards. It’s likely that the latter could have been due to a man called Martin Farquhar Tupper who lived in Albury  in the 19thCentury and created a story about the pool – a story that has stuck, created versions of itself and become true in people’s minds even when they know it’s a story.

(Extract  [21:39/22:24] from the film “Pilgrims Way” (1956) BFI National Archive which is part of the Orphan Works Collection.)

The pool has certainly changed over the centuries, been re-shaped and now has a fence around it.  I felt a bit disappointed to begin with, in fact when I first mentioned it to my tutor, I told her the story and said, “It’s just a pond!” I couldn’t understand why such a fuss has been made about it, yet, after further visits, it’s taken hold of my imagination.  There’s something about it despite its changes – an essence of something which I’m finding difficult to grasp.  This is what’s been holding me back, but I’ve reached a stage where I have to put thoughts and reading to paper to see if I can find a way to evoke its effect through photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collaboration with Dawn Langley

I felt in a slight limbo after the “Time” Exhibition was taken down in February so I was delighted when, Dawn Langley, my student colleague (and co-curator for the Exhibition) emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in working with her on a mini-project.Dawn is studying Digital Image & Culture and her latest work concerns digital afterlife for which she created an intricate décollage project from her own photographs and the physical collages were then photographed, distorted and glitched digitally.

Dawn wrote that she had had further thoughts on this project after feedback discussion with her tutor, where they had both agreed it could be pushed further.  I think bringing them back to digital has lost some of their depth.  I had a thought this morning that maybe I’m not the person to do it, particularly as in my digital afterlife I won’t have any control over what others do with my images. Dawn asked if I would be interested in doing some work on them – whatever came to mind – and I could do anything I wished with six of the digital prints. I said “Yes” straight away and we agreed the deadline would be the end of March which was great for me – enough time to create some work and not so much that I would get carried along too many avenues and lose myself in the process.

Digital images are quite flat and, bearing in mind Dawn’s comment about depth, my first action was to print them, thinking it would be interesting to experiment with different types of paper to create tactile/textured prints. The one on Innova Canvas paper worked the best, bringing out the deep colours. Still with the urge for something tactile I wanted a three-dimensional object and so created a folded box, which I then repeated with thicker paper (‘Traces we leave (door)’ and ‘Traces we leave (glitch)’).

 

What next? Still pursuing materiality I had the idea of printed fabric, so I bought two sets of swatches from Contrado https://www.contrado.co.uk  and ordered a small sample print on silk, thinking this would best bring out the vibrant colours of the image I chose (Traces we leave (Ripple) – originally ‘Rose and Fern’), having created two copies, and ‘twinned’ them.

Roses and ferns began to preoccupy me. I set a rose to dry out for a few days

and, whilst waiting, plus with some sunshine, I decided to create miniature lumen prints with nine of a pack of 5×7 cm expired Ilford soft, glossy photographic paper I had bought from eBay. For this I used some small dried fern leaves and flower heads, arranging them in the contact frame so that, hopefully, they could act as jigsaw blocks.  As it turned out, three of them exposed much darker than the others – the pack must have included a mix of paper I think.

 

I still liked the idea of being able to rearrange them though, leaving them ‘unfixed’ so that these ‘unique’ prints would need to be kept in the dark. Otherwise they would fade – unlike digital prints.

At this point in the collaboration Dawn and I shared individual progress on the project at an OCA Thames Valley Meeting in March.  To be honest I felt slightly anxious regarding how Dawn would react to my responses but she was very pleased.  In some respects, we had been travelling along similar lines too, as Dawn had also been experimenting with introducing more materiality, including printing on a different type of fabric from silk.  During feedback someone commented on what the feeling might be like in handing over one’s work to someone else.  This hadn’t concerned Dawn because the premise of her project had been concerned with Digital Afterlife.  The idea of ashes in a box also struck her,

I created further work during the next couple of weeks; still absorbed with roses and ferns.

 

Two polaroids of a maidenhair fern from two different renovated camera.

An 8” x 10” lumen print of dried rose flowers and fern leaves (exposed on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone Photographic paper) – again unfixed.

Cyanotype print of fern leaves – actually double-sided, the other side being almost a trace of roses.

With time running short, I wanted to offer a painted rock.  My rose didn’t turn out quite how I wished as I just hadn’t realised how intricate roses are!  I turned it into a rose tree instead.

 

Dawn and I met together on the 3rdMay and I handed the completed work to her. In our discussion on the process we touched on appropriation and trust plus the ongoing effect on my own thoughts/feeling on photography.

I had realised at an early point that I was actually involved in a process of ‘appropriation’, but it didn’t feel quite like that because Dawn had invited me to collaborate with her and offered the images to me. Also, I think I would have responded differently if Dawn had offered me actual photographs.  I know I just wouldn’t have been able to cut them up to make collages for example. I already have sets of photographs purchased from eBay which I haven’t done any work with so far but don’t feel able to either throw away or destroy.

I also think that trust is needed on both sides where handing over personal work is concerned and also in collaborative work.  I had already collaborated with Dawn, enjoyed doing so and felt confident to work with her. We’re both members of the same regional group and used to giving each other feedback in meetings. I know I would need to engage in some preparatory work before collaborating with someone new.

During the project I didn’t feel any pull towards creating further composites/layering – indeed I was aware I was looking underneath the layers to reconstruct hidden elements.  Much of my working life was concerned with working through large amounts of sometimes conflicting information to uncover patterns and histories and I think this is reflected now in some of my creative work.  This realisation was further strengthened when I attended the “Interpreting Landscape” Workshop with artist Clare Wilson in April.

The collaboration with Dawn on her project also strengthened my growing desire to be involved in more than just digital photography. I’ve been dabbling around the edges for quite a while now by using polaroid cameras and creating lumen and cyanotype prints, with the intention of seeing how I can use them in coursework Assignments. During March though I also began teaching myself to draw using the book You Can Draw in 30 Days, by Mark Kistler (2011). It even has a chapter on drawing roses! During April I signed on for a free online Sketchbook Revival Workshop – hosted by Karen Abend and with sessions from several different artists using all types of media.  I really enjoyed this but have had to take a break from it because I was neglecting coursework.

So, I’m now more firmly focused on following signposts to different creative paths and just need to find the right balance for myself. I know I’m already thinking photography in a different way too.  Many thanks to Dawn for inviting me to collaborate with her and, so, facilitating a firm though gentle push towards multi-disciplinary work.