University: Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh
Genre: Documentary Landscape
Artist Statement: The coastline of Lynemouth, Northumberand is in a state of simultaneous industrialisation, deindustrialisation. The aluminium smelter was demolished whilst plans were set in motion to upgrade the local coal power station into a biomass furnace. These industries have become entangled with the natural cycles of the land, fuelling a shifting equilibrium between mechanical and rural.
Over six years, I have documented the movements of the land, photographing the powerful digesting force of the environment, as pieces of culture are ripped out of the rock face, and claimed by the seas as the coastline is continuously recalibrated. Histories embedded into sediments are churned into metamorphic sludge. Rough seas cleanse the coastline of its once blackened sand. The tides barter for subsided brick, in exchange for silver coins.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? Photographically speaking, seeing my first set of negatives come out, or pulling the first half-decent print out of the fix are great moments, as I had never had the opportunity to process everything myself before university. At the end of my final year the university awarded me The Andrew Grant Bequest Scholarship along with some money for travelling, and this was a really nice note to end my degree on.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? That’s difficult, sometimes I will use portraiture in projects, a lot of the time I document certain landscapes, other times I deviate from notions of documentary and obscure the image. I’m also interested in appropriating found or archival imagery. And so, it’s difficult to commit myself to one genre. This project, Silver Coins, sits within this kind of long-form documentary of landscape with allegorical value.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? I find myself exploring all kinds of themes, they change depending on what I’ve been reading recently, movies that are stuck in my mind, and of course, the subject that is in front of my camera. In this project, there are tensions between the forces of the environment and of industry, production, civilisation. The visual space that is born out of this tension interests me, it seems as though different time periods have been chucked into a melting pot, it’s entropic.
What initially drew you to the coastline of Lynemouth? My brother gave me Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary on the work of Edward Burtynsky, titled Manufactured Landscapes for Christmas. I was eighteen years old, and I had recently learned how to control a DSLR and how to drive a car. My brother suggested going there and so we went on a trip and took some photos. I wasn’t really aware that there would be utility in repeatedly returning to a landscape to photograph it at the point, and so it took another year before I returned. In my third year of university, I decided to make a real project of this, and start shooting on 5x4 film rather than digitally. That was when I really started to maintain a constant relationship with the landscape, photographing every month or two, rather than every 6 months or so.
What relationship have you built with this landscape over the 6 years you've been photographing it? I have lived away from my native Northumberland for six years now, and so returning to this short stretch of coastline from cities like Edinburgh and Paris, where the experience of life is so different makes the landscape seem extreme in a sense. It’s difficult to remain familiar with this place because of the rate at which it changes visually, even if my historical knowledge of the landscape has expanded substantially.
How has the landscape changed while you've been making this work? Would you also say you've changed as an individual? Industrially speaking, the aluminium smelter has been decommissioned and raised furthermore, the coal power station has been converted into a biomass power station. The coastline however, is changed every single time the tide comes in and out. If the sea is calm, the beach is one of large stones where there might be pieces of metal coughed up by the sea. If the sea is rough, the beach could be covered in sandy clay, with large pieces of industrial material laying in ruin after being broken free from the earth.
What would you like for your viewer to learn from your work? What I have found most interesting in creating this project is aligning what is going on at a very specific section of the coast, where I photograph 99% of the time, with what is has happened across a much larger stretch of land and a much longer timescale, with found images of industry at Lynemouth, and then mapping these stories out so that they point towards a much more general and global happening.
What are your future plans? How are you going to continue this body of work? I keep telling myself that I have enough photographs to finish the project happily right now, but I know that at the next opportunity I get I will be back at the coast of Lynemouth with my camera pointed at something irresistible. It’s possible that I will continue to photograph there for many more years, but I really feel like it is time to start creating a physical product now, even if it is just a draft to build upon. And so I am now in the early stages of creating a photobook. Further in the future, if the opportunity were to come by me, I would love to make some prints for exhibition. With a lot of the large format photographs, there are details in the negative that will become more evident at a larger scale.
Tell us more about the photobook you're constructing to accompany Silver Coins. It’s really fun to handle at the moment. I’ve created some options for spreads. The found imagery is pairing up nicely with my own photographs to give a sense of place that is in keeping with my experiences of Lynemouth. At the moment, I am considering a fairly large book, in terms of both scale and length. I want it to be a slow journey through interwoven time periods, and so, it would be really difficult achieve this without a lot of images, and space for them to work off one other.