Joseph Horton

University: University of Westminster

Graduation: 2015

Genre: Contemporary Documentary


Artist Statement: The project has been on going for nearly a year now but developed momentum this summer. Set up on a hill over looking the river, which stands as the border to Wales, the series documents the people and landscape which divides its identity between the two countries. With scattered villages throughout the area the images were taken on top of Garway Hill, which is home to the hamlet White Rocks, alongside scattered cottages and farms. I took interest in looking at the identity of the area, thinking about how the landscapes history can shape and guide the lives of the people who live within it. Still within its first draft I compiled the series in an attempt to pull together these ideas. I'm looking to continue the work and develop the roles of the people and their relationship with the landscape as a place lost in the in-between. 

From the series  White Rocks

From the series White Rocks

What are some standout moments from your time at university? The standard of lecturing really opened my eyes to how photography can be used. I was quite fresh to photography and so, through learning more and more about how photography has developed in contemporary art, it really started a chain of curiosity.

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? Contemporary Documentary, with my work revolving around the documentation of an area, landscape or individual I couldn’t say that I am not a documentary photographer. But with the expansion of photographic language I feel the use of the documentary photography is being pushed. In this sense, the initial traits of documentary photography lies at the centre of my work, but the semiotic and polygamous nature of the material allows for a more lucid style to be applied. Blurring the lines between conceptual work and documentary. I would add that with my work being at the beginning of my career, experimentation plays a strong role, along with the foundations of presenting a narrative. Starting with a straight forward edit before developing a more conceptual based presentation is something I am working toward.     

Images fom the series   White Rocks

Images fom the series White Rocks

What themes do you find yourself exploring? How we interact with the landscape, how we shape the landscape, and in turn are shaped by it. Often this is represented by direct, side by side, visuals like this series. But also, in the individual images I make, I'm looking to present a mood/emotion in the landscape through a choice of colour and the signifying subject. Often with my black and white work I'm looking at the forms within the landscape which reflect this, for example the symbolism of a weeping willow. I sometimes feel that black and white photography can give the artist the freedom to make connections between objects away from their intended use, applying a greater focus on tone, shape and form. 

What theoretical influences have you had whilst making this work? I couldn’t name any current readings but I guess my interest in the divide between conceptual and documentary photography was the most significant when thinking how to progress the series after this initial start. Post-graduation it has been at the centre of exploration in my practice. How to convey a narrative around a specific story both through the use of photography’s objective nature and its ability to subject.

From the series   White Rocks

From the series White Rocks

Can you tell us about the selection of camera equipment you’ve used when making this work? Is there a specific reason as to why your images are black and white? I shoot on a Mamiya RZ67. I usually flip between black and white and colour depending on what I'm interested in at the time. I had been working in black and white for a while and when I began this series it felt right to continue to do so. It seemed appropriate, looking at the landscape I started with searching for shapes and forms which allow the subject matters sculptural aspects to come through. 

Have you discovered anything new about your way of working since creating this series? Because I shoot from a tripod I'm trying to make sure I am less critical about what I photograph. Before, I would look and try to make an estimate whether a shot would work before I set up. Whereas now I usually walk with the camera and tripod on my shoulder and if I feel something might work... then I'll take the photograph. I'm also trying to be more impulsive while I take portraits, and ultimately shoot more frames. I would sometimes only shoot 2-3 frames per person but I'm beginning to push myself to shoot a roll, or even two.

From the series   White Rocks

From the series White Rocks

Why did you choose to make work in this particular location? Have you got a personal connection to it? I grew up in the county but it wasn't until 2013 that I began visiting this location. My parents moved there and so I would visit them for weekends etc, but that was about as far as my personal connection would go. When visiting I'd walk around the hill and the surrounding areas, discovering hidden houses along overgrown tracks, and the more I found the more I was drawn to the location. With the hill running the edge of England and Wales, it became apparent to me that this landscape had become lost, it's identity split between the two cultures. A reflection I was hoping to also find the in the people.  

What do you hope for the portraits to add to this series of images? Portraiture is a really important part of my practice. The juxtaposition between landscape and portrait pushes the idea of balance between the two. I’m looking for a reflection of the landscape in the people as well as a human essence in the landscape, both of which feed into each other to bring the two together. Although this is something that I think about a lot in my work it is particularly important in this series. 

From the series   White Rocks

From the series White Rocks

Would you say you’ve found it easy to photograph this landscape because you initially had very little attachment to it? Do you think your images would be different if you had a deeper connection? The landscape may not be a place I know but it is not unknown to me. Since I first visited the area I’ve always enjoyed its remoteness, and I never felt out of place, so there was never a barrier to cross. Geographically it was strange, but the exploration of the area was something I enjoyed, there is something about discovering an area for yourself, on your own time, which allows you to develop a sense of place.

How did you find people to photograph? What did you talk to them about? At first I met a farmer who my parents knew, who then suggested I meet someone else. This allowed me to meet the first few people. After, I would go and explore, finding places of interest and knocking on doors. The architecture in the area is very classically rural, with a lot of Victorian cottages and even people who have built their own homes which was something I was really drawn to, regardless of the end goal. I knew I wanted to meet people who lived as individuals, and their homes seemed to reflect their personality.  Without a camera at first, we would chat about their lives and what they did but not in depth. Then I would come back at a pre-arranged date and take their portrait, chatting about things from the price of scrap metal to loved ones who had passed or left.

Images from the series   White Rocks

Images from the series White Rocks

Do the people in your images call this landscape home? I met people who had been born in the neighbouring house, and had never left the landscape. Others who had moved here later in life. But all of the people live on the Hill.

How are you going to finish this body of work? I want the series to develop a voice, I feel it sits in the research stage. I want to focus the series, talking about the lives of people in rural areas (quite possibly from the male perspective), speak about the divide between the youth and the old, the old and the new, within this area separated in cultural identity. I’d like to use details and found objects owned by the sitters in an attempt to make the series more intimate. Looking for signs in the landscape which mirror aspects of the people, playing with relationships between the two. By moving away from a linear style of documentary I think it allows you to be more abstract in how you use the subjects, allowing you to develop a mythology behind the work which stems from its index but is not restrained by it. The end goal would be to compile it into a book, but this is some time off.

From the series   White Rocks

From the series White Rocks

Are there any other photographic themes or subjects that you’d like to experiment with? My work often draws on the idea of masculinity, a theme which also appears in this series. The idea of masculinity in contemporary culture has been, and is, evolving drastically. The role of the male ideology is bridging a divide between its historic and fixed nature of the provider, strong in mind and physic, and beginning to be broken down within modern culture. My work, like most artists, is often a reflection of my own thinking and the idea of masculinity and how it is to be a man has been something that’s come out of my work recently. I think it’s a fundamental question based on questions of who you are. The more I work with this series I think the more this will present itself. As even though I want to present the lives of people, their image for me, will ultimately act as a catalyst.