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I return frequently to the same small stretch of the River Dove, a two mile walk from my home in the Peak District National Park, shunning the hills and views that draw others and spending my time haunting unremarkable corners. For the past eight years, water has been my canvas. From the outset I’ve been fascinated by the way that the sensor records reflected sunlight as streaks and splashes of white, which at times exhibit a complexity that reminds me of Jackson Pollock’s pourings of paint. For this series, I’ve chosen to examine in detail this natural mark-making. The camera extends and develops my own vision, revealing new truths.
The human relationship with water is complex: it is the essence of life, yet we pay it little attention unless we are the subject of flood or drought. Each river and stream is a complex repository of memories that we may add to our own associations: hydrological flow remembers features, edges and resistance; surface caustics remember light and record surface perturbation.
Our own memories are less reliable than we care to think. Each time we recall something, we rewrite the memory in our brain. A littoral drift takes place amid neurons. Likewise each image differs. This divergence in the field, coupled with our own unreliable recall, prompts me to look at the ways in which these unique moments in time can be interpreted and the variety of ways in which they may be represented.
Successive abstractions remove the stream from the land that bounds it. The water from its context, withdrawing the subject along with the sense of scale that we rely upon. The colour from the image; the light from the water. The conversion of the positive image to a negative one.
Photography as a creative process is one of exclusion, and here I ask “What else can I take away?” What is disclosed and what is withheld lies within the artist’s domain. Existence is emphasised through successive absence:
absence of land = water
absence of water = light
absence of light = dark
At times existence and absence may be reversed, testing our perception of subject, signal and noise, figure and ground. The contrasts in and reversal of the images prompts me to re-assess the respective role of light and shade, and the darkness reminds me of the shadow that we all cast over our environment. What if the shadow is the substance? When this has gone all that remains is the light, tracing the ways taken by the water. A memory. A memory of water.
In some parts of the world, water is becoming but a memory.
An initial period of interpretation and sequencing led me to make a one-off artist’s book, exploring the properties that different papers imparted to the images. Experimentation has transformed my vision and my photographic practice, and I’m currently trying to extend this ‘play’ to the production of prints. A video of the handmade artist's book can be viewed here.
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