Finding the right pond for the right fish

RPS exhibition at The Grant Bradley Gallery
RPS exhibition at The Grant Bradley Gallery

This week I went to two events with an eye to scouting the scope of my practice at the beginning of the year. Two local events: the first a networking event for freelance women in Bristol (Freelance Mum), and the second the Royal Photographic Society’s biennial exhibition at The Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster.

I first heard of Freelance Mum when Faye Dicker contacted me via Facebook a few months ago, with interest in my appearance on One Born Every Minute. She interviewed me for one of her regular podcasts (see here), and I was delighted to be able to share the aspects of my work, faith and ambition that weren’t entirely reflected in the programme. This week’s networking event had the high profile attraction of Rob Law, founder of Trunki, who spoke briefly about his journey in business. But the aim of the event was primarily for mums in freelance work to have a forum in a relaxed environment where kids are welcome too – a forum where business stays on the agenda, and common experiences are shared.

When this finished I took the opportunity to pop into the nearby art gallery for its photography exhibition, which in fact I’d already been able to scan online at the RPS website. I knew what I was getting: a row of same-sized same-framed prints, no detail nor explanations of concept except the accounts given by the 3 winners. Somehow the singularity of the entries and their presentation made everything homogenous overall, and I left feeling entirely uninspired, bar a few background questions about undeclared manipulation of the prints.

Both these events were good in themselves, but at neither did I feel at home. Despite the number of interesting events/exhibitions I go to in Bristol, there’s never quite that sense of joining the dots for the development of my practice, and I’m only just beginning to reflect on why. The way I work, and what I produce, doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. I’m not a business in the same way that a studio photographer or wedding photographer is, and it’s not really a commercial reproducible product that I sell. Neither am I interested in photography for photography’s sake, in the gear, the print, the membership of a society. It’s more that I’ve got something to communicate, something that seeks to prompt rethinking and concepts and perceptions. I haven’t got any full-stops, but I’ve got lots of commas and colons and questions. Where’s the pond for my work? Who else looks like my fish?

What can you see in a cathedral of trees?

Narthex I - IVNarthex I – IV, 2011.
New work for exhibition at the Grant Bradley Gallery’s group show Walking Through the Veil.

Trees and forests have long been held as places of mystical encounter. For Britons, it’s in our psyche, and we defend woodland religiously. Even if only as a place of nominally unspoilt nature, it’s a demarcated zone for a different type of relationship with the world.
Here, I’m looking at the view through a cluster of lime trees during a Oxfordshire winter that ascribes something ‘otherworldly’ to the scene. The trunks and branches are silhouetted by an emanation of light which suggests some kind of presence, some ‘pentecostal fire’ to quote Eliot (below). It’s like being on the edge of a holy place, looking down an aisle towards an altar.

What do darkness and light say about concealment and revelation? Does one include you and the other exclude you? Is there a breeze where you’re standing? I’m interested in the perception of liminality – being on a threshold of transformation because a physical encounter becomes a metaphysical one. Feel free to post a comment about my work, and do visit the exhibition.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant.

T.S. Eliot, from Part I of ‘Little Gidding’.