Photographing things that aren’t there (i)

http://www.bethatkinson.co.uk/Missing-Buildings

Missing Buildings, by Thom and Beth Atkinson is a project which captures sites where buildings have been “removed” from the streetscape – perhaps by fire, as a result of wartime bombing, maybe even deliberately. The clues of the removal are there if you know what to look for..most frequently incongruous architectural neighbours or internal walls re-rendered as external, with chimney breasts showing clearly.

The houses are gone, the sites are frequently built over, so we are left to imagine what may have been there and to contemplate what happened to eradicate all but small traces.

As with much of this type of photography it would be difficult to interpret without the initial words, but after that you can let your imagination take over.

A touch of Romanticism

Ozymandias and furnace core

Needed to get this one off my chest. One of the feelings I get as I wander around these sites, even the ones which are built over, is “What was it all for?”

This is scarcely original – ruins have been used as a salutary reminder of out short time in the light for a good couple of hundred years, if not more, and the idea of combining this particular bit of romantic poetry with the remains of a blast furnace core is so obvious I need to work it through, if only to prove to myself that I’ve done it and rejected it.

The basic technique however is worth considering. The text colour is similar to an oil paint produced with ore from the Cumbrian iron ore mines, and the supersition onto the original image points , I think, to the absent referent, the iron and steel industry which is no longer there.

After worrying these ideas around in my head for a couple of months, and plenty of research into picturing absence I think I’m beginning to make proper progress.

Hannah Collins

At my tutors suggestion I have been looking at the work of Hannah Collins – in particular “In the course of time”. It is difficult to get a good picture from the relatively limited material available on her website, but the project appears, to me at least,  to be about the decay of a society and the memories it leaves behind.  Of the images I could find online, this one from the Tate collection, coupled with a poem by the artist is perhaps the best illustration of that. 

However both this and the other samples available on the artists website make extensive use of objects in place – a luxury which with a few limited exceptions I don’t have in the places that interest me.

Closer to the challenge I face is her work Drawing on the City – especially Part 3 An industrial history, which proposes an artistic treatment for the location of a soon to be demolished power station in Barcelona. In particular she suggests using the side wall of the building to form a sort of terrace which would allow future walkers a direct physical link to the past. The idea should be seen within the broader suggestion that it links with other “horizontal artworks” at other locations to create a web of memories that relate to the reasons people were initially drawn to Barcelona.

Again, the presence of a physical link is something I don’t really have available in most of my sites, so I will need to concentrate on other relics/artefacts to create that link in my images.

References

Collins, H. (n.d.). In the course of time – Hannah Collins – contemporary artist and film maker. [Online]. Available at: http://hannahcollins.net/projects/archive/in-the-course-of-time.html [Accessed: 1 May 2016].

Collins, H. (1994). In the course of time II. Tate. [Online]. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/collins-in-the-course-of-time-ii-t06971 [Accessed: 1 May 2016].

Collins, H. (2008). DrawingCity book3. [Online]. Available at: http://hannahcollins.net/images/pdfs/HannahCollins_DrawingCity_Book3.pdf [Accessed: 1 May 2016].

Locations

My tutor made the following comment in response to my first assignment (he made more than just this comment – obviously):

Your best work should be built upon for Assignment 2 – the landscapes here. I don’t think they will all be on your doorstep and travelling is going to be a part of finding the most powerful and telling places.

So I’ve been out and about and my collection of Cumbrian blast furnace locations is growing quickly, as the list here demonstrates. To my mind few of these show a real sense of ‘something gone’ and ‘lost industry’ and that is going to be a challenge I don’t think I can meet with straight photography. The more desolate looking of these rely on gloomy weather, and the occasional bit of ruin, both of which are well established visual signs of something missing, but feel like a cliché.

A typology of ex-blast furnace locations also lacks any real conviction…generally a typology needs to show some consistency, which given the mix of fields, industrial estates and domestic settings here is simply not visible in these images. There is no clear end use which hints at former uses and in addition it doesn’t feel a terribly interesting project – at least artistically – to simply capture a series of essentially general views.

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Workington, Oldside

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Whitehaven

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Workington, West Cumberland

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Workington, New Yard

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Millom

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Maryport, Solway

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Maryport , Number One

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Workington, Lowther

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Harrington

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Distington

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Workington, Derwent

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Cleator Moor

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Barrow in Furness

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Workington , Barepot

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Askham in Furness

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Scratching the surface of the archive

There appears to be a huge archive of historic imagery, and the occasional interesting artefact, that I suspect will help me convey my final ideas. I acquired these postcards and the share certificate with view to incorporating them into/combining them with some of my other images. How? I’m not sure yet, so it’s probably experiment time.

Ashes to ashes

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This image is as good as any I have taken at capturing the feeling I get standing on the old ironworks sites of West Cumbria. A huge industry that employed thousands of people is essentially gone, and the remnants are being reabsorbed by the countryside from which they were carved.

I guess I could be accused of nostalgia, but I don’t believe it’s that. I didn’t live here when the industry was alive, and many of the sites were closed decades before I was born…I have no familial link to this particular past. For me at least it’s about the idea that this huge enterprise, with all it’s ambitions and early grandiose claims eventually gives in to nature – the iron runs out, the coal runs out, the money runs out or moves elsewhere – ultimately entropy wins every time.

The challenge is to capture that without accidentally making it a political point, which is acknowledged but not intended, and to capture it visually.

This image is a tuyere in the slag heaps at Moss Bay. Tuyere’s were used to direct the air into the base of the Bessemer converters that converted pig iron into steel. They were subjected to huge thermal stresses and were regularly replaced. Lime dissolved from the slag is slowly depositing on this one as the film of water that runs over it evaporates. It’ll probably be eroded from the cliff before it is fully absorbed, but for now it stands as a metaphor for the fate of the industry.

Agustin Bayon

Spain seems to have a knack for producing great little art museums in regional capitals and major cities. Oviedo has a jewel in the Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias.

I’ve visited it before, and this time I was visiting specifically to see what I took, at first, to be a photo by Agustin Bayon called ‘Yuki y Catherine’. It turns out, as far as I can tell, that it is actually a drawing – albeit a hyper-real one.  The piece is a diptych…the right hand image feature a half-portrait of a woman on the far right…the left image features a block of text on the far left.

According to the limited information I have found on the web, Bayon is known for combining text and images. Yuki y Catherine would appear to take this to its logical extreme with Catherine (an assumption based purely on the physical characteristics of the portrait) represented entirely by text. As the text is in Spanish I have a bit of work to do to confirm this assumption. I also need to count the words as this seems a clever take on the idea that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.

Either way, this is another potential idea for combining words and images. It also sparks a couple of ideas…for example, could I reproduce the word ‘rust’ or ‘steel’ in the language of every country which uses Workington steel rails? Or perhaps an image of Workington or a blast furnace or Bessemer converter with a written sketch of Sir Henry Bessemer? Or perhaps some overblown claim about the future of iron and steel making?

As a footnote, although I did not visit all of it as it is spread across two buildings, if you are in Asturias the museum is well worth a visit. It features works by Miro, Goya, Dali and Picasso among many other Spanish/Asturian atrtists from the 14th century onwards. The contemporary collection alone is worth several hours of your time.

Update: 11 April 2016

I’ve translated a few snatches of the text only because they are very difficult to read in the image I captured and I don’t speak Spanish. While they may make sense in totality, it is difficult to see that they directly represent Catherine suggesting that the viewer/reader is left to infer something about her from the material.