Thursday, 6 June 2013

Assignment 6 and the meaning of ‘Forensic landscapes’

The brief was….

‘For this assignment you need to take ‘forensic landscapes’ of Cumbria which comply with the detached, almost dispassionate, and very formal style that characterizes the genre.’

For those with no prior knowledge, the term ‘forensic landscapes’ is a very confusing one, everyone knows what a landscape is and many know what forensic means at least as a general term, if you look it up in a dictionary you would an answer similar to the below.

“ forensic - Of, relating to, or denoting the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of crime: "forensic evidence".”

“forensic - used or applied in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence in a court of law; "forensic photograph"”

So what does this have to do with landscapes or indeed with ‘landscape photography’. Are we looking at two totally different concepts or is there a link?
If you take away the ‘courts of law’ from quote number 2, then you have;

“used or applied in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence”
So photography that applies or is applied to what is factual or evidential. The brief for this assignment was to produce images that are; 
“detached, almost dispassionate, and very formal style” 
Factual, evidential, detached, dispassionate and formal. So the photographs need to fulfill these qualities, but where does the ‘landscape’ come in and how flexible is the term? Below are some examples of the work of Emma Wilcox and an explanation of her work. 

Forensic Landscapes | Eminent Domain  Emma Wilcox

 “In forensics, the absence of something can signify its presence. As reported in the Times, the chemical stain left by a body’s amino acids will suppress plant growth for up to two years, allowing a kind of shadow to remain after the thing casting it is gone.On maps, the edge of a place vanishes and reappears. So do tracks, roads and the original names of things. There are no indications as to actual habitation, climate, degree of violence or calm, or even whether the area is land or water.But the land is marked heavy. It is dense chemically, visually, textually. This density of markings includes human bodies, geological timekeeping, stories told in bars, news archives, and EPA documents.I make photographs at or near night, on foot, and within a 5-mile radius of Newark. I make photographs of things that can always be found, and are always about to vanish. But not easily. And not just yet.”

Emma Wilcox is a photographer concerned with environmental justice, land usage, eminent domain, and the role of individual memory in the creation of local history.

From this I learn that ‘forensic landscapes’ is a very loose term and can be interpreted in many ways.  I can see the thinking behind the photographs I understand the concept but the images make no impact on me. Perhaps I simply don’t relate well to the subject but I think it is more that her individual style is very fractured and I’m really not sure what she is trying to put across.

Moving on….
My reading list suggests that I look at the work of Fay Godwin, Simon Norfolk, Mark Power, Richard Misrach, Jonathan Olly, Jem Southam, John Davis, Clive Landen, Edward Burtynsky, Thomas Struth and Simon Roberts.

Some of these I had already researched and felt that I knew their work, others were interesting but not to the extent that I felt I wanted to delve deeply into the depth of there photographic psyche. However one photographer that stood out and drew my interest was Fay Godwin. I had come across her before and it probably helps that I have similar views on some of the topics of her photography. I am also a keen walker and spend a lot of time watching the land around me change and decline with the onslaught on agriculture and tourism. 
Fay Godwin was a very prolific photographer and much was written about her both during here career and after her death. I think that many of the below comments reflect how I feel about her work and her life as a photographer. 

Fay Godwin
A critic's assessment, by Philip Stokes

“It is only in the context of the 1990 book, Our forbidden land that everything becomes absolutely clear and incontrovertible.  Godwin's work there is an unequivocal, impassioned account of the effects of the closure of vast tracts of countryside for commercial, venal reasons, such as the rearing of animals and birds merely to shoot them.  We see the final logic of the Highland Clearances, in concert with the destruction of the land by those who occupy it without regard for their longer-term responsibilities for its stewardship, on behalf of the wider population now, and in the future.

‘Our forbidden land’ makes it impossible that we will ever be able to look at any of her photographs again without being aware of the passion which informs her output…... Godwin has completed the picture, and responds with sensitivity to the education in the politics of land use which she so powerfully offers through her photographic vision.

Philip Stokes, essay in St James Modern Masterpieces, 1998 

The obituary in the Guardian probably sums up the mindset of Fay Godwin and the passion that was behind some of the seemingly ‘dispassionate’ photographs.

Fay Godwin
February 17, 1931 - May 27, 2005

“There is one odd picture in Remains Of Elmet of a spent cartridge case lying in long grass next to a pile of grouse droppings. It is an emblematic picture, and a pointer to the kind of imagery that would increasingly preoccupy Fay during the later, more radical, phase of her photography.This culminated in Our Forbidden Land (Jonathan Cape, 1990). The Britain she had investigated for her 1970s guidebooks had alerted her to the destruction wrought, in particular, by road building, military training, forestation and development. She liked ramshackle smallholdings, which were the work of individuals making do and getting by; she hated distant authority. Look at her essay, Who Owns the Land? (1994), 17th in Charter 88's Violations Of Rights In Britain series. In the short-term, she deplored how English Heritage and the National Trust "have copyrighted our heritage", and, in the long term, imagined "an Orwellian future".
The Guardian, Tuesday May 31, 2005 by Ian Jeffrey

One thing that stands out and answers some of the questions I asked in earlier post is the importance of ‘Why’ a photograph is taken. Godwin’s photographs all had meaning; they were taken for a distinct reason. Individually this may not always be obvious but certainly as a set or in the case of ‘Our forbidden land’ a book, then the objective and passion behind the photographs becomes clear.     

In her own words…..
“I’ve been called a Romantic photographer and I hate it. It sounds slushy and my work is not slushy. I’m a documentary photographer, my work is about reality, but that shouldn’t mean I can’t be creative.” 
The Times, Tuesday May 31st, 2005

Godwins photographs use classical composition and capture light and texture beautifully. They are creative but the reality of the image is obvious. However picturesque the stone wall and the green fields are, the sign is what the photograph is about. The sunlight wood is beautiful but made inaccessible by the fence. The way the Lurcher has been captured in mid flight is artful and clever but the question is raised, why must the dog be leaping the fence at all? Godwins photographs make us think. They make us question what is happening with our countryside, the inequality of ownership and the rights of landowners and public bodies to restrict the individual’s access.

I am hoping that my own photographs will raise similar questions, not only relating to access and what is forbidden but what impact we are having on our countryside and specifically the Lake District. The national Parks Authorities, how much say do they really have and are they really interested in preserving the countryside or simply utilizing it as another business option. Are the ‘National Trust’ selling out ? 

My aim is to produce linked ‘sets’ of photographs covering aspects of the human impact on the Lake District, covering areas such as Tourism, Erosion and Access and Industry and Agriculture.

© Anna Studholme
The answer to erosion?
© Anna Studholme

Stones flown in by helicopter to make a path
© Anna Studholme

Landslide caused by erosion of multiple pathways
© Anna Studholme

Slate mine
© Anna Studholme
Public Access?
© Anna Studholme

Honnister Slate mine
© Anna Studholme

© Anna Studholme

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