terra incognita

terra incognita; geography, autobiography, metaphor. (2012)

‘You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus’ Mark Twain, 1889. 

Writing in Camera Lucida Roland Barthes acknowledged his debt to the work of Jean-Paul Sartre in dedicating the text to Sartre’s 1940 study L’Imaginaire, a psychological and phenomenological investigation into the nature and role of imaginative consciousness, addressing the imaginary in thinking, in emotion and in life generally. Twain is quoted by Liz Wells between ‘contents’ and ‘illustrations’ in Land Matters, her major work on landscape photography, and I have to acknowledge his words articulate a notion within my trajectory quite perfectly. But there are many notions, some remain more difficult to articulate and others defy articulation. 

terra incognita is a representation of land, a representation of place and more, it is a composite in that it is landscape and portrait at once. Seeing and feeling are in symbiosis. And, within my representation I find no reason to differentiate between whether what I see is what I feel or, what I feel is what I see. 

I began my journey with influences, inspirations and references for a project; #01 on the list was place, significant space, and distance, not a distance that could be measured in linear units but the distance that is measured in memory. #02 was to reduce control of the creative process, allowing an accumulation of marks and erasures as did the NYC Abstract Expressionists circa 1940/1950, facilitating the unpredictable and ‘chance’ as did the Surrealists circa 1920. #03 was seasonal change and the cycle of life, reference to mortality and the close association of Winter to death. #04 was a phenomenological trajectory similar to that undertaken by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida. These four influences, inspirations and references I chose to take forward, others left me (or I left them) and in between I accumulated a few more. 

Post shoot, exploring the texts of Rebecca Solnit (writing in A Field Guide to Getting Lost) and Liz Wells (writing in Land Matters) I identified reference that reiterated specific notions which had silently driven my project. Solnit explores loss, losing and being lost through memory and that which is associated with the past and threatened with extinction. She considers loss as ‘affect’ and ‘quality’. Barthes brought together themes of photography, memory and death and acknowledged his admiration for the writer Marcel Proust whose novel In Search of Lost Time was the subject of a lecture prior to writing Camera Lucida. Wells references how Proust points to ways in which photographs reconfigure particular memory, or substitute for it, or even trigger and evoke image of specific place experienced in a different circumstance than that depicted, or, rather like a fairytale, can provoke associative memory, fantasy, reverie or desire; a ‘mini-haunting’. 

In March 2011 the sudden death of my beloved father ruptured my world. The unanchored psychological space in which this irrecoverable loss left me was the antithesis of known territory. My rationale to journey to a place that could be defined as both ‘remembered’ and ‘forgotten’ is echoed in Solnit’s consideration: ‘the places are what remain, are what you can possess, are what is immortal. They become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you and in some way you too become them. They are what you can possess and what in the end possesses you.’ 

In her introduction to Land Matters, Wells proposes that biologically, we are an integral element within the ecosystem and that our relation to the environment in which we find ourselves, and of which we form part, is multiply constituted and that the real, perceptions of the real, the imaginary, the symbolic, memory and experience, form a complex tapestry at the heart of our response to our environment, and, by extension, to landscape imagery. Elaborating on ‘space’ and ‘place’ she proposes ‘space’ as conceptually complex and etymologically slippery (and sometimes apparently contradictory) in that it may refer to that which is not known, and thus cannot be precisely categorized; for example expanses of land, or of time or a concept of ‘space’ that is not physical. There are determinate areas where a function is specified but precise use may be fluid, psychological space is one of them. Within this understanding the act of naming would then represent potential comprehensibility. When Solnit discusses representation she reiterates that the terra incognita spaces on maps signify the fact that the cartographers knew they didn’t know, and that awareness of ignorance is not just ignorance; it’s awareness of knowledge’s limits. Thus to acknowledge the unknown is part of knowledge. Although these texts were explored post shoot concepts discussed underpin and articulate fundamental elements of my practice. 

Solnit questions: ‘is it that there is a place where sadness and joy are not distinct, where all emotion lies together.’ Yes, I believe there is. Acknowledgement of innate fragility, indifference to the furious momentum of digitized contemporary culture and pursuit of sanitized perfection intensified my inclination to slow down. My objective was to harness nostalgia, embrace the anachronistic and attempt evocation of a delicate tension. Shooting on 5”x4” instant film imbues preciousness to each capture but more so because my choice of stock was haunted by the potential threat of non-existence. Due to global demand falling below sustainable levels FUJIFILM UK Ltd were notified about the discontinuation of FP-100c45 on the 19 November 2011, the last shipment order for the film was November 2011 to arrive in the UK December 2011 dependant on stock levels at the time of order. terra incognita and subsequent 5×4 instant film projects are shot with stock purchased at this time. Production is physical; manifestation of the latent image is unpredictable and final printing embraces damage not overtly visible, a reiteration of vulnerability and my psychological state of being at this time. The land I photographed is not solid rock; it is an amalgam of illegibilities, impasses, obscurities, memories and the indelible impression of loss. Throughout production considered process became equally as important as subject matter and visually realization rests somewhere in between the abstract and the real. 

Wells discussion of ‘space’ and ‘representation’ suggests that the pictorial offers more than graphic representation; that it articulates subjective memory, not only in relation to literal readings of images but also in terms of emotive affects in that we may look at a picture, which is essentially mute, yet respond to sounds associated and, that in terms of landscape, the geographic imaginary conjured up is complex. Referencing The Poetics of Space Wells discusses how Gaston Bachelard emphasized the relation between the experiential, the real and the imaginary. Bachelard’s enquiry into human response to space sits alongside discussions of beauty and the sublime that have been central to art theory. (Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Francois Lyotard). His starting point is the human imaginary, and that which cannot be cast in terms of logic, words or explanation, but which induces depth of sensory response to the extent that an image or feeling resonates and haunts (a reiteration of Proust). He explores the phenomenological import of poetic imagery, resisting reductionist containment in terms of the scientific, semiotic or psychoanalytic. This poses problems for relevant, academic explanatory systems, more at ease within the systematic, the logical (a reiteration of Barthes). 

Last note. Wells discusses ‘pastoral heritage’. She states that in terms of art practices, women’s experience may be less immediately evident in the genre of landscape, there are few examples of British women making landscape work until after the First World War. In England, in the nineteenth century women were not themselves landowners, their relation to land was mediated via a father or a husband. More generally, when women photographed out of doors, it was largely for the family album. These were not intended as landscape pictures; rather they were part of the domestic diary. The concept of mediation via the father and the non-intention of landscape image by women to be presented as landscape image alone, are pertinent to my objectives.