As discussed in our initial phone call I have an interest in the remains of the steel industry in West Cumbria, which formed a focal point for some of my work during Documentary 2. At the time of the discussion I was considering a number of ways I might develop this for Body of Work, primarily:
- Brightly coloured images of artefacts, caused by manipulating clarity, contrast and saturation in Lightroom. As explained in my blog I have dismissed this idea – largely on the basis that it has no driver beyond aesthetics and pure fun;
- Large scale – monumental – images of individual artefacts as a way of examining the effects of the passage of time on these items, and acknowledging the lack of any obvious monument to this period in the history of the area; and,
- Photographs of all Cumbria’s blast furnace locations – effectively a typology of absence.
We also discussed the personal impact of the remaining slag banks and how/if I might wish to reflect that in the final project.
I had already completed some background shooting, mainly around the brightly coloured artefacts, and the artefacts themselves on white background – the latter are included on the contact sheets together with some examples of the former.
The images in the contact sheets concentrate on the last two bullets – close-ups of the artefacts and blast furnace locations. The examples provided as individual images are primarily the latter.
Taking the work forward
These initial shots have demonstrated that it is practical, in certain circumstances, to produce very large scale detailed images of some of the artefacts with the equipment I have available. They have also demonstrated the accessibility of the sites of interest. The slag banks themselves are a known quantity from previous assignments and represented here by a single sample and contact sheet.
At present, for reasons I will discuss shortly, I am not ready to relinquish any of these strands of my initial ideas.
Reflections on genre
An obvious starting point for discussion about genre in this context is the Becher’s work on blast furnaces (Dewdney, 1982), which can be seen as an early example of conceptual photography. It could be considered to be slightly ironic, since neither the blast furnaces nor the Becher’s are with us now. It might also be considered conceptually as a form of aftermath photography, in the style of much of the work on show at Tate Modern’s Conflict, Time, Photography (Baker (ed.), 2014) in 2014.
In her discussion of Shot at Dawn, Chloe Mathews (Mathews, C.D., n.d.) talks about re-inserting figures in to a landscape to ensure they are not forgotten. While I could sustain an argument about re-inserting lost industries into the landscape to address the fading memories of what made West Cumbria the way it is today I’m no longer comfortable with that as the prime driver for the work.
These landscapes…even the artefacts… have a powerful hold on my imagination, creating de Loutherbourg type images in my mind (Anon, 2015).
Given this, there are clearly elements of psychogeography at work, but on deeper reflection I feel there are also significant elements of personal journey.I have been pondering the reasons for my interest in these, and other, remnants of the areas past, and am starting to see elements of personal journey. Although I have lived here for over 20 years much of my time has been spent on the road – my nearest office is 50 miles away in Scotland and for long periods I have spent 3-4 nights each week away from home. I am left wondering if my interest in the history of the area is not really an attempt to insert myself, mentally into my surroundings…in effect to put down some roots…and my photography is a way of actualising that process. Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s work Edge of Empire (Sutton-Hibbert, J., 2014) is an example of a similar process, with the artist re-establishing his memories of place.
There are a number of questions the analysis above leaves unanswered in my mind, not least “Why the steel industry and not the coal industry, the other mainstay of the local economy for much of the last 150 years?” I think I can answer that on the basis of personal experience as I was born into a coal mining village in northeast Somerset.
Setting that to one side, I believe the ideas outlined above give me some solid leads. I can clearly develop the blast furnace locations, the artefacts, as fetish objects, have indexicality to the lost communities and clear relationships to time passed. To complete the picture I need to start thinking about other things I have done to set down roots and perhaps make this more personal and less analytical as a project.
Anon. (2015). Coalbrookdale by night. Wikimedia Foundation. [Online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalbrookdale_by_Night [Accessed: 24 January 2016].
Baker, S. (ed.). (2014). Conflict, time, photography. United Kingdom: Tate Publishing.
Dewdney, J. (1982). Bernd & Hilla Becher- blast furnaces. [Online]. Available at: http://c4gallery.com/artist/database/bernd-hilla-becher/becher-blast-furnaces.html [Accessed: 24 January 2016].
Mathews, C.D. (n.d.). Shot at dawn. [Online]. Available at: http://www.chloedewemathews.com/shot-at-dawn/ [Accessed: 24 January 2016].
Sutton-Hibbert, J. (2014). Award winning photographic portfolio of Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Glasgow, Scotland-based editorial, portrait, corporate and reportage photographer. | edge-of-an-empire | 1. Award winning photographic portfolio of Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Glasgow, Scotland-based editorial, portrait, corporate and reportage photographer. [Online]. Available at: http://www.jeremysuttonhibbert.com/Images/Edge-of-an-Empire/1 [Accessed: 24 January 2016].