Photography and Place: Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery Exeter (RAMM)
Symposium : collecting regions- photography and a sense of place 18.9.19
The remit of this symposium was to invite conversations on photography and photographic collections in the South West and wider UK in relation to aspects of place. Photographs relate to place in various ways including their documenting capacity and the direct inscription of the world on their surface. Therefore, photographs directly inform our imagination of a place. How do collections like this develop? In turn, a specific place can also inspire the work of photographers and photographic artists: the symposium included a focus on Dartmoor, in particular. (RAMM 2019)
Marie-Kathrin Blanck who has just finished V&A curators training programme working at RAMM and the V&A explained how she reviewed the Ramm photography collection as: Interdisciplinary, some fine art, books all relating to Exeter and the South West local history of the museum and how she formed a collections development policy to 2025: Place and portrait photography.
Richard Crangle freelance researcher shared how during his project “Home to a million thoughts” where he reviewed identified and digitised the RAMM lantern slide collection approximately 4700 images. Of the photographers and collectors who slides he worked with it was notable that these early photographers were often chemists as their skills aligned with developing photographs. I was particularly interested when he described how Alfred Rowden, a natural historian, whose 1200 slides gave a detailed record of the local landscape when but especially so when combined with contextual support e.g. notebooks of local rambles, and titles and dates and annotations on the slides. Having studied the “picturesque” in landscape photography it was good to see this in action as he shared some of the slides of Charles Wilcockson, a picturesque capturing of his tour of Devon; and his motivation for portraying it in this was as compared to his home town of Warrington Devon was exotic. This work was contrasted with the slides of the Bakers whose photography was more realistic and their motivation entirely different, to record places before they change.
The keynote speech was from writer, curator of exhibitions and professor Liz Wells entitled: Sense of Place, land landscape and region.
She reflected on what it means to talk about landscape in the context of the UK and shared the definition of photographer Marlene Creates that landscape is not a geographical process but as an interest in place.
To illustrate this she cited a variety of work such as:
- Anna Atkins a botanist and photographer who made cyanotype impressions.
- Susan Derges: interested in the physical effects of movement light, Japanese aesthetics whose work is both documentary and aesthetic. She specializes in camera-less photography and creating visual metaphors to explore the relationship between the self and nature, what underlies the visible. I must explore her work before starting my assignment 5.
- Garry Fabian Miller: walks and collects in the landscape before making his camera-less photographs in the dark room.
- Jem Southam: Revisits place over time developing an intimate familiarity with place, exposing the differences between geological and human time. His picture titles are simply given to log time and place.
- Chrystal Lebas: interested in the effects of the movement of natural light and shoots over time (2-6 hours) and like Southam is interested in change over time. Her work Project: field studies-walking through landscapes and archives 2016 where she re-photographs Wells suggests shows change but questions does it show history, though she believes it does when images are combined with text can be complex abstracts of information.
- James Ravillious: interested in land use which he depicts in his images of rural life in the west of England.
- Walter Lewis: also interested in land use but for the future. Wells points out that his website committed photography, purposeful, he documents rural enterprise. Lewis describes himself as a wanderer and photographer, having looked at his work I will revisit it for my assignment 6, particularly “woodland conversations”.
- Susan Collins: explores transitions networking and time, the imperceptibility of the slow movement of time and was commissioned by RAMM for the exhibition Whatever the weather.
- Richard Long: Performance art installation. Whose work I have researched before.
Wells suggested that we might consider the benefits of intimacy over accuracy in landscape photography? She compared traditional landscape photography that are human centric with conceptual landscape photography which can be aural or tactual. Wells points out that in documentary photography contextualisation is crucial to construct a sense of place and is interested in multi sensorial sense of place. She pointed out the triangle of making an image – showing an image – seeing an image. She quoted Deborah Bright’s Of Mother Nature and Malboro Men a cultural An Inquiry Into the Cultural Meanings of Landscape Photography, which I have just read, “every representation of landscape is also a record of human values and actions imposed on the land over time” (1989:126).
Other contributors to the symposium:
Brendan Barry : photographer and camera maker spoke of his recent summer school and reviewing his camera making work subsequently was illuminating, I’d no idea you could make cameras out of butternut squashes and pineapples! He talked about photography as an immersive experience, and remaining in a place to absorb it then photograph, rather than looking for something to photograph. He suggested you ask yourself “What is the landscape provoking in me ?”
Jo Bradford: photographer artist green island studios. As a response to having 2 small children and not being able to carry her photographic equipment around she worked with an iPhone on “A love letter to Dartmoor in 365 photographs” (2015). This she posted on Instagram including some views from windows/doors. She tagged Dartmoor and her followers grew. I was interested that she made the decision not to include any location notes. She is now trail running and shooting, note to self! She has published a smart phone photography book.
Emma Down: Hidden Histories archivist who has worked on James Ravilious and James Deacon images for Continuity and change in north Devon in the Beaford archive – Archived 10, 000 images of photos and negatives 85,000 created as an archive originally.
Ravilious’s images are often used by photographers to impact in a certain way yet Ravillious aimed just to document. She suggests that he did skew the representations, as he often photographed extremes of weather and the traditional rather than the modern and in presenting them in black and white giving an aged feel. He photographed ways of life that would soon disappear, transformational photography. She described him as planned and organized, he over exposed and underdeveloped images like Adams and shared Adams love of the landscape. He used Leica camera like Cartier Bresson though subjects usually knew they were being taken, not so much the moment as Cartier Bresson but planned.
Deacon experimented more with style, photographed more teenagers which was his peer group.
Both of their views of north Devon that they were representing were influenced by their backgrounds and must bear this in mind even if billed as documentary.
Garry Fabian Miller : fine art Dartmoor based photographer who specialises in camera less photography making images in his darkroom by shining light through glass and paler shapes and recording on photographic paper. He is one of the most progressive figures in fine art photography. I was interested in his view that though his images are now abstract representations made in his darkroom he considers himself a landscape photographer as he is embedded in locality and place, this is his stimulus. He shared how within a locality there are spots that become relevant at different time of year/day because they become magic then. He described his belief that photography is the medium of exposure, an active thing in the world, it’s felt, it enters the brain through the eye and is felt in the brain, also beam of light on later with chemicals, so it’s how to expose images in his head and bring out in the darkroom – hence his “Chemical based photography”. He makes the point that art should be ambitious and matter worldwide and speak to people across cultures and therefore photographs that are intimate about a place can be relevant in another place. He is exhibiting in a show in Paris “The meaning of colour”. His work is representational, for instance a circle of red again yellow background, which he says represents berries on Hawthorne trees which is soaked up and reads as green. He has sites that he visits regularly several times a week.
I was also treated to an explanation by National museum of Wales Cardiff curator Bronwin Colqhoun of how she has developed their photographic collections from 2015. Before this time their photography was multidisciplinary photography and 2017 their pure photographic gallery opened. I will now have to revisit the museum, in their collection they have:
- John Dillwyn Llewelyn collection (married to relative of Henry Fox Talbot).
- David Hurn edited archive 1500 new prints of documentary photography his and others his “swaps collection” approximately 700 photos includes Sergio Larrain’s work.
- Eugene Smith – three generations of Welsh Miners to which an additional layer of narrative was added.
- Bruce Davidson – Welsh Miners Portfolio
- Wolfgang Suschitzky – Photographs form time there
- Martin Parr work as well as new exhibition Martin Parr in Wales opening Oct 24th
- Clementine Schneidermann – it’s called Ffasiwn recent graduate of Newport
- Lua Ribeira Noises in the blood now a nominee for magnum photos
- Mihal Iwanowski “Go home polish” lives sin Cardiff – walked home documenting his walk home to Poland
They are trying to get a grant to obtain photography from photographers who had visited Wales such as Robert Frank.
My Learning points:
This was very useful conference, it not only focused on the work of photographers, but the work of curators and archivists, as well and subjects such as what is the remit and how to define a photography collection.
- It provided me with new emerging photographers to watch and new to me established photographers to research.
- I am inspired to find out more about camera less photographers as I have heard so many of these photographers talk of their work today and be talked about.
- It was particularly interesting that James Ravillious who my tutor had suggested should research came up in several ways during the day. I hadn’t realized that Henri Cartier Bresson inspired him, most especially the qualities of humanity and honesty. One of his images of a person scything was compared to one of John Hinds and it was immediately obvious that the later was a picturesque rather than an honest one.
- It has given me an insight into the perspective of archivists and curators of photography
- It has helped me to reflect on how you can develop a collection of photography around place?
- Returned me to discussions of the picturesque versus the realistic
- Returned me to exploring both the intentions and impact of photography
Most of all it has stimulated my thinking about what is Place as one that can inspire photographic work.
RAMM (2019) Symposium: Collecting regions – Photography and a sense of place / Exeter: 18 September 2019 (s.d.) At: http://britishphotohistory.ning.com/profiles/blogs/symposium-collecting-regions-photography-and-a-sense-of-place-exe (Accessed on 21 September 2019)
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