In this blog post photographer Rob Hudson explains his ongoing landscape series ‘Mametz Wood’. ‘The ideas behind Mametz Wood started with an image, as they so often do when we have to navigate the boundaries between the verbal and the visual, between how we think and how we see. It was an image that reminded me of my previous work, some years earlier, illustrating another poem called Mametz Wood by another poet, Owen Sheers. In that poem he tells of the modern day discovery the bones of long dead soldiers in northern France.
“As if the notes they had sung
have only now, with this unearthing,
slipped from their absent tongues.”
It was the year before the centenary of the start of World War One and my mind began to turn over. At first those thoughts were very vague and fluid, it took a great deal of research, reading, contemplation and image making before they began to become more concrete and more complex. I had also discovered a remarkable wood; of ancient sessile oak with stumps and limbs twisted and turned like the imaginings of a fevered mind. The wood wasn’t Mametz Wood, it was a small wood near Bridgend, yet importantly for me, in Wales.’
But Sweet Sister Death
And So To This Hour
‘Photography often clings ferociously to a validation through subject, which is linked to the direct physical relationship between what is photographed and what is in front of the lens. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not how I work, there are better photographers than I pursuing that path. I wanted to follow another route, something more personal to me. For me photography – and visual art in general – can also work through a process of analogy or, at times, metaphor. I prefer to think of my images as a work of fiction, the story is with us from day one, from the small child to the grown adult. It’s easy to grasp while the document is somewhat of a sideways leap in perception, whilst I do allow that it has an undeniable power in its direct relationship to subject. Mametz Wood is simply a work of fiction, a work of the imagination.’
You Can’t See Anything
In The Regions Of Air
‘It could have been made anywhere. What matters to me isn’t the physicality of place; it is how we perceive and experience a place and what it means to us. It is the human experience not the trees, rocks and grass. This isn’t Mametz Wood any more than it is July 1916, except in my, and hopefully your imaginations. The validation I do find necessary is in having a story with a basis in reality. It still needed the grounding of real events behind it even though it may work as a piece of magic realism. The big leap in development came from David Jones’ ’In Parenthesis’. In his long, modernist poem he tells of his experience of WW1 in the Royal Welch [sic] Fusiliers that culminated in the battle of Mametz Wood.’
And So To Midnight
Fear Will So Condition You
‘The first images I made were dark, fierce pieces, angry at the terrible waste of human life over a trivial one-mile square wood in northern France. But Jones’ poetry allowed me to develop the theme from such a one-note response. My thoughts began to accrete, building slowly into something that, whilst still recognising that anger and despair, carried a more complex and subtle message. Complexity, like ambiguity, is something to be valued in visual art. So long as we aren’t so ambiguous as to render our work meaningless or so complex as to render it impenetrable. Striking that balance is, for me, one of the most important parts of what I do, or at least attempting to, because I recognise it’s not always easy or even always successful. When it is successful it’s how we communicate with our viewers most profoundly. I am constantly juggling between accessibility and over simplification and depth and unintelligibly. It is, after all, just a picture, so how else do we add value?’
The Sky Flickered
When The Quiet Came
‘Jones’ poetry embraced both the dull, regimented existence of the soldier as well as the tragic battles, but he told the story through the ’lens’ of myth and legend. It’s not a heroic work, as might be imagined, but the heroism of past stories acts as a counterpoint to the grim reality of modern warfare. It also lends a surreal grandeur to the wood, to the place where so many of the fallen men sacrificed their lives. The wood becomes a kind of tribute, a monument to those that died, suffered or lost friends and family. There’s a certain ’madness’ in that mix of myth, legend and actual historical battle, as there is madness in any war. And war often results in ’madness’, in the damaged minds of those involved. It was this that inspired me to use the images to explore the effects of war on the mind. Using double exposures to both disturb reality and create a strange, surreal landscape that explores the experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or what was then known as shell shock). We can’t be sure what is real and what is imagined, just as the victims of PTSD cannot help vividly recalling the terrible memories of what they experienced.’
And In The Core And Navel Of The Wood
His Lamps Hang In This Black Cold
Over a period of 18 months those initial ideas about the First World War had accreted and coalesced, becoming something new, something far beyond those hazy initial thoughts. I need that time for my work to develop, because at the end of the day the story will out when it becomes concrete and real to ourselves.
So welcome to Mametz Wood…
“And so to midnight and into the ebb-time when the spirit slips lightly from sick men and when it’s like no-mans-land between yesterday and tomorrow and material things are loosely integrated and barely tacked together.”
So Many Without Memento
Rob Hudson is a photographer living and working in Wales.
We got to know Jooney Woodward via her portrait ‘Harriet and Gentleman Jack’ (below) which won First Prize in the 2011 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The portrait was taken at the 2010 Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in Builth Wells and features 13-year old steward Harriet Power holding her guinea pig ‘Gentleman Jack’ (apparently named after the Jack Daniel’s whiskey box in which he was given to her). The portrait was part of a wider body of work about agricultural shows entitled ‘Best in Show’ and Jooney has also spent time photographing the world of equestrianism with ‘The Riders’.
Jooney Woodward has also been photographing the landscapes of Wales, ‘over the last 12 years I have travelled extensively around Wales documenting the people and landscapes I have viewed en route. Having grown up in the countryside, I am often drawn to documenting the familiar heritage and traditions of rural life. I love escaping the chaotic pace of London, to return to an environment where time and space seem less restricted.’
Rhoose Point, Vale of Glamorgan.
Nos 4-5, Ynslas, Ceredigion.
‘For me the countryside feels nostalgic, comforting and inspiring in contrast to urban life. My subject matter is inspired by road trips and exploring. I find Wales perfect for this, especially with its diverse landscape. There’s always something going on from one village to the next. I like discovering these places and documenting them and the friendly communities within them.’
Dot’s Diner, Cemmaes Road, Powys.
‘The aim of my landscape series was to explore society’s impact on the landscape of Wales and to document the changing shape of the country. I wanted to explore juxtapositions of the past and present, looking at how a new landscape is emerging from its history. I wanted to challenge the strong populist vision of Wales and present an alternative but empathic account of the country, one that avoids sentimentality and seeks to explore the nuances of local Welsh culture, attitudes and lifestyles.’
Viewpoint 3, Borth, Ceredigion.
The Victory Hall and Cinema 1953, Llanybydder, Dyfed.
Jooney Woodward is a British photographer who lives and works in London. Born in 1979, she studied at Camberwell College of Arts. Her photography often documents the British at leisure and seeks to explore the relationship between lifestyle and identity. She has exhibited widely, including a solo show at MOMA Wales and has twice been highly commended in The Observer Hodge Photographic Award.
James O Jenkins
Tumble is Huw Davies’ ongoing documentation of his home town Tumble in Carmarthenshire, West Wales. Tumble is an ex-mining community in the heart of the Gwendraeth Valley and this work is Huw Davies’ personal and aesthetic interpretation of contemporary Welsh culture and it’s sense of place.
‘Tumble has become the focus of most my projects in recent years, and is likely to be for many years to come, I am mesmerised by it. This is the place that I grew up in. It is a place that holds my memories and experience, and it is a constant reminder of who I am. Not only has it watched me grow, I too, now watch as the social and psychological structure of my home village changes and moves towards a greater anonymity.’
‘In recent years, many rural communities have seen significant change with great effect, inspiring Davies’ decision to photograph the village in what he refers to as its transitional state.’
‘Having been raised in this close-knit community, Davies recognises that the village he calls home is changing rapidly. The traditional ways of rural society are being challenged by a modern homogeneous culture. He accepts that change is inevitable, even though, whilst he was growing up, the village seemed to be a permanent entity. Houses and buildings that had once been fundamental to community life were now being revealed as transient and only of a particular time – they were being replaced by those of a different time. Businesses were closing down or moving out, some of which had been a source of work in the community for over fifty years.’
‘Change has implications, both positive and negative. The death of the original economy, based on mining, undeniably brought great hardship, but also forged further resilience of the community. However, during the latest recession this has been challenged yet again.’
Born in West Wales, photographer Huw Alden Davies received a BA First Honours Degree in Photography at the West Wales School of Arts, and studied his Masters Degree in Documentary photography at Newport University of Wales. His work has been printed in a number of publications including Portfolio, Blown, The British Journal of Photography and CCQ, and has been exhibited in a range of exhibitions around the UK and Europe. His work from the Tumble series was recently included as part of the ‘Valleys Re: Presented, in the Diffusion Festival’ (Cardiff), and he was also included in the archives of both the National Museum of Wales, and The National Portrait Gallery, London. He currently works as a Documentary photographer, and exhibiting artist, while continuing to document his home village Tumble.
James O Jenkins