Ku Po Schon - Where are you going? (The way of the photo troubadour)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2022.14 | Issue 9 | Oct 2022

Jeremy Hastings (Staffordshire University)


A practice-based riddle…..

I make art walks, but I am not a walking artist

I make photographs but I am not a photographer

I tell stories

Am I a story weaver?


This piece is a story.

It is how, and why, and where, and what, and what happened next.

A See-Saw.

A journey on foot, walking with a camera.

Slow

Methodical

Purposeful

And

Meandering

The movement of still things

A pendulum of steps


If I don’t make a walk, there is no image.

The walk feeds the photograph.

The walk is the code, but its photograph does not need de-coding, if one knows how it is made.


This landscape changes and so do I

External and internal overlap

No longer an observer

but completely involved


Research Statement

Being on the journey is always more satisfying than reaching the goal’ (Kaage, 2019: 126)


Travelling and working, walking for me is both a political act as well as performance. Allowing a questioning of power and ownership, not only physically but intellectually engaging with philosophical disciplines as well as pictorially over established territories and landscape. This life has been like my practice: peripatetic. It is informed by Arne Naess’s teachings of Deep Ecology.


It is both a physical and immersive exploring of terrain and environment at a human pace of travel – on foot, unmediated, following traditional routes, investigating space, borders, and frontiers. Both temporal and transitory, a visceral encounter when mind and body engage with the land, (Serres 2011) leaving no trace, responding to deeper patterns of harmony by walking.


Using photography and text then recorded voice these moments evolve into places of documentation. Interrogating the ‘now’ and ‘then’. My work is saturated with nature.


The catalyst for my practice-based research came shortly after a 21-day 400km art walk to The International Walking Encounters Conference at Prespes in 2019: http://icowaf.eetf.uowm.gr


Having walked there I then gave a paper and ran/participated in various a ‘walkshops’. During my walk the main question I was asked was: Ku Po Schon - Where are you going? The people seemed to be unconcerned about where I had come from, much more with what/where I was going to….



It led to a film by Christos Ioannides which involved me being interviewed:



Context

The layout of my work started a long time ago when I walked out into a landscape of unknowns carrying all I had. I was just eighteen. I was not, back then, an artist although I had known that that is what I would become since the age of nine. However, I knew I had to move to progress and continue moving. My search for artistic nirvana continues through a need to both occupy landscape as well as being occupied by it. As a result of this forty years practice, I have now embarked on a practice-based PhD, a validation of all my journeys as artist. I am an ‘animator' of the walk. In order to support/fund my art-work I have planted trees, scythed acres of hay, grown food, worked cows and pigs and travelled widely for other land work as well as spending fifteen years with a travelling community theatre arts company - Word And Action, questioning the power of the proscenium and the relationship between audience and artist/actor creating a system of working together to create new stories/theatre/writing and performance.


Reflecting upon this original work, re-imagining possibilities for my research as well as interrogating this transference of power to audience, the relationship between perceiver and receiver an interrogation of the power of the ‘White Cube’. Work that is deeper than just looking. Using my model of the three ‘C’s (Consider, Contemplate and Communicate) I continually examine, question, and own my approach to making photographs: When we see, what do we look at and then do we see what is there? Do we really look? Why we think we look. What do you see? What do I see? Why? What? What happens next? Who sees and who saw? Who will tell the story?


Interestingly, wherever I was and whatever the draw to the land was always present. Post my durational walk across the Southern Balkans in 2019 a working title for my PhD emerged: Beyond the Picturesque the manifestation of landscape change via the embodied experience. As part of an emerging Romantic 18th Century movement William Gilpin (1768) proposed a ‘pretty as a picture’ aesthetic and coined it ‘The Picturesque’. This paradigm is still considered valid today. Acknowledging the dramatic change of rural landscape due to agro-technological-industrial development, the artist can disseminate this intervention and relevance mediated through walking and photography. Contemporary Photographers such as Raymond Moore, Fay Godwin, Paul Hill and John Blakemore have questioned the critical engagement of landscape occupying cultural and geographical histories through their own practices.


The PhD required a historical reference point to be able to indicate a sense of rigour within. The aim of my research is to examine landscape changes that have emerged since Gilpin’s picturesque, experienced by the perceiver then brought to audience. I proposed to walk two rivers that are referred to by Gilpin: The Wye (Welsh Borders) 144 miles and The Duddon (South lakes) 27miles. Through locating the framing of my practice and research via walking and photography, embarking on a literature review, answering the emerging research questions, I traverse the gap between artist and audience by re-situating the grammar of the reveal. I propose that this See:Saw dissemination becomes a catalyst for the viewer to re-engage with a photograph.


Aim

This research investigates the schism between artist and audience in relationship to applied environmental aesthetics (Yrjo Sepanmaa 2016) and the picturesque. Acknowledging the phenomenological experience between perceiver and environment (Berleant 1992) whilst interrogating:

  • physical geographical shifts, agrarian revolutions, and industrialisation landscape impacts upon landscape

and

  • bridging the schism between artist and audience, questioning the perception and reception of the picturesque between artist and audience, the language of ‘the gaze’.


Image 1: When a factory becomes as cathedral 2019 (35mm slide)


Questions

Working with philosopher Bergson’s (1964) Elan Vital, utilising his work on Duration – walking long distances over several days I intend to interrogate the way landscapes inform and engage. Bergson’s theory of no pre-determined concept of time will allow a questioning of differences between a democratic/heritage approach to the picturesque. I will investigate how the rhetoric of a bucolic English landscape ‘post’ picturesque is now observed, visualised, and experienced. As in Image 1 when a cement factory becomes a ‘cathedral’ to the eye.


Originally, through a comprehensive literature review – enabled by Covid lockdowns, four research questions came into being:


1: How can the schism between walking artist and audience be bridged?

2: How does an audience perceive the environmental aesthetics presented by the artist?

3: How do I as artist communicate this with an audience?

4: Can photography be more than just evidencing pictorial media for landscape change?


Through my practice-based work I realise that as artist, the story of land is both created and woven into me, a palimpsest of landscape deep within. I carry it. I have as artist researcher a responsibility to question, share and understand. The story is emerging through because of the long-coming research question - a chrysalis of land, embodied artist, photography, text – these four questions have now been now parred down to one:

How does the artist bridge the schism between artist as perceiver and audience as receiver?


Rationale

The walk is my artwork. All the items/artefacts following are not because of the walk but as direct happenings/event/moments during the walk. My texts and photographs are in the present, As I proceed the photographs and text emerge. The intention of an art walk is of work in motion. Gaston Bachelard (1994) emphasis the relationship between the experiential, the real and the imaginary, this is particularly relevant in my recent (December 2021) 5-day winter art walk tracing the Great Manoeuvre of the Greek Democratic Army 1948 in the Pindus mountains. It is purely analogue.


Image 2: Larach (35mmSlide)


I deliberately leave out human presence as a reality reasoning that the landscape echoes both a human present and presence but not seen - landscape is a human product - telling us something about cultural attitudes and histories. In my mother tongue Gaelic, the word Larach is particularly import here: Larach – a place where something happened once but is now unseen: Image 2: A monument in an empty village tells the story of those missing in action. The cleanness of the carved marble indicating a formal loss of men from wars that this now empty and ruined village has endured. The place is empty. Once a busy farming village, raised by the National army in 1949, nature is taking over.


There is very little real wilderness anymore. Most landscape is a result of human intervention, transforming a natural phenomenon which immediately as walker, I am part of (the human is part of my photograph - you just can’t see me).


My accompanying texts recorded digitally in an attempt for a different dissemination:



Methodology

  • Walking – One foot in front of the other, usually alone. Long and durational journeys of many days. Being self-sufficient.

  • Photography – analogue, fixed lens rangefinder using a camera handed down to me, mechanical and repairable. I use monochrome reversal slide film made in the EU. It is a fit with my eco practice of the four R’s – Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Reinstate. A single an artefact for each image. I am in-charge of taking the image, I am not an extension of the digital button (Flusser 2000).

  • Writing – Using a fountain pen (refillable) in handmade pocket sized, Carnet de Voyage: the notebooks made/fabricated before I depart. All part of the preparation. Each has a longevity and a ‘no throw’ ethic. Earths and plants become crushed and colour.

  • Voice – reading and recording on ‘Sound Cloud’ the collected texts written during the walk, recorded post walk:


  • Planning/logistics - Only ever paper maps and compass. I have always had maps and again see no need to purchase GPS systems that require ongoing financial and digital support as well as made of plastic and a watchful eye in space. Gathering the correct, well-made, long-lasting equipment to survive the trip – tent, mat, sleeping bag, stove (Eco fuel only), proper clothing and other necessities that can be carried alone. These are picked based on my experience of walking from as far North as the Artic Circle to as far south as Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

  • Slow: there is no rush, it is deliberate in context and procedure, made in human time.


Non au Loups – No to the Wolves

I choose the analogue, not because I shun the digital, purely it is because practically it is much easier – no need for charging/battery/cables, easy to fix. Robust in the field. My notes are made on handmade paper then fabricated into a book before I depart. In Image 3 I returned to my film an refer to my Carnet to find: Non au Loups (graffiti in the Cevennes) – Do the wolves read this? Why do they not want the wolves? What do the people fear?

For all their modern attributes (quad bikes, good paths, warm houses) those who live here still manifest the past as folklore to become the driving force of fear and rejection of nature.


Image 3: Non 2019 (35mmSlide)


My camera and Carnet de Voyage, maps and compass are not purely a mechanical/physical/analogue recording devices but an action of artist in the moment, Elkins (2013). Symbiotic based on mutuality, a phenomenological way, poetical engagement, a praxis with land and human. By accepting the ordinariness of territory, taking only what I need; stoic in its approach, maybe frugal, austere, acknowledging temporality, I am creating a walking weaving into the nature through direct daily contact with the land. The body is the walk. Finding a silent comfort of being part of nature. These multi-day journeys bring with them a sense of longing, melancholy, searching and memory, sometimes difficulty. An individual performance, as a labourer toiling the land, this work is hidden once the yield is realised. Walking is a fundamental human action Kaage (2019) that allows a deep connectivity with the land, when we walk, we are landscape.


Using pencil or a fountain pen and colours from the earth - old habits die hard. And again, they are both difficult to break and break. Paper and pencil - easy peasy! Using my hands to make things, be it images, texts, books or whatever else may be around the corner! Then voice these texts on my return:



Image 4: Fourteen hours walking towards the mountains – Western Macedonia 2020 (35mm slide)


I carry everything I need. A human engagement with landscape. Less is more.


Documenting and illustrating moments of my journey, exploring the ‘gap’ between juncture and translation to audience. These incidents (viewed as transparencies and heard/read as texts) manifest an assemblage of hidden stories. When one walks as I do, one has no choice but to invoke nature time Kaage (2018). Moving slowly and deliberately I cannot help but be part of the picture, not a ‘passer through’ but a ‘being in/being part of’. The only windows are our eyes, the only air conditioning is the wind. Through my journeys I hope to realise a state in which, as walker I am ‘with-in’ via the embodied experience. The heightened sense of empathy with the earth when on foot, like the mountain I am there, whether seen or not.


Image 4: Exploring the embodied experience, story with image Library Cabinet Staffs Uni 2018


Reasoning

Furthering a residency, Ilam Hall Park, 2018 regarding the picturesque ‘Pretty as a Picture’, I investigated the visual reaction of the visitors/walkers to the picturesque in Dove Dale. Interestingly, the landscape had changed, the ‘view’ was no longer Gilpin’s original, leading to more questions than answers (participants photographs did not tell the same story as the original paintings, although taken from the same place, children chose paint over camera). This is key to my future ongoing interrogation. The English eighteenth-century ‘picturesque’ style had been with making wild and natural places (private country estates) more beautiful, in contrast to the twentieth-century reconstruction; the ‘green and pleasant land’ taken over by ‘dark satanic mills’ of the 19th century. Bermingham (1986) presents a guarantee of the value of nature, landscape represented through an ideological vision.

Brady, V. (1998 p. 433) ‘implies a division between the self and land’ supporting Hirsh’s process of intervention through which nature separation manifests itself between subject and object: as per the experience of viewing being ‘subject’ and the countryside as ‘object’. Photography mimics this, engaging aesthetics as ‘beauty through the form’, Friday, J. (2002). However, my work is a conjoined practice; photography when walking, the action of making art whilst making art by walking; navigating contemplation and response in the same breath. Walking place to place, day after day.


New knowledge

This research will extend the emerging body of walking art through the materiality of photography and story. It will develop an understanding of dynamic space via embodied practice, post picturesque landscape Prior (2010). The significance being a re-evaluation of the language of ‘the gaze’ and picturesque. Showing how the embodied artist conceptualises and contextualises these experiences in bringing together:


  • a re-situating of walking art within present critical vocabulary indicating the embodied artist is not merely a ‘responding to’ but ‘engaging with’ landscape and audience. My practice is one of lived experience, sharing that story.

  • A new way of engaging audience as catalyst for the preceding field work through storytelling.


This new knowledge will bring meaningful insights to considering a new picturesque not just in recognition of the environmental aesthetic, creating new strategies to question imagery, but also of an enquiry into geographic/historical changes Prior (2010).


Testing

What is emerging is a gathering of all my previous work, a validation of over forty years of practice.


Developing the methodology, I used whilst working in Word And Action, I am now working on a new idea of how audience and artist can share more than just an image or idea. I call it See:Saw.


  • See:Saw a new way of showing work through the direct engagement of artist, audience and story.

  • Each member has one slide, a slide viewer that enables a private, intimate view of a photograph (see image below)

  • People are invited to share what they see, I then tell them about the moment of image making, the story of how I got to it (All voluntary – nobody is forced to say/contribute anything).

  • This questions the visual relationship between viewer and what is viewed.

  • Filling the audience’s individual imagination with the slide’s presence through story understanding a ‘conscious attention’ of the artist being present, bringing together new stories and myths from the original artefact and walk.


These slides become perceptions of the real, imaginary, symbolic, memory or experience, reflecting upon Truth and Landscape as per Robert Adams (1996):


Three Verities of Landscape – geography, autobiography, and metaphor.


This is key to See:Saw. Anchoring my work beyond just an observer making a photograph. The authority of a photograph depends upon the construct of view. I consider this as a means of interrogation of environment.


Gilpin (1782) created a system of seeing, building upon a renaissance view of the world’s imagery ruled by thirds. Seeking harmony with his paintings and landscape he was depicting, thus his Picturesque emerged. (Often intervening with the physical view by adding/placing trees/buildings in a more visually pleasing position in his paintings - an early form of ‘photoshop’!)


Image 5: See:Saw – an exhibition in a box – the ‘photo-trobadour’s lot’


Speculations

Does my context of practice through the testing of See:Saw influence or facilitate a new images through the eyes of the viewer? What becomes of the process of reception and eventually new interpretation?


Through my ongoing research See:Saw demands that the other viewers listen, engage and respond without even seeing the image that the sole viewer is witnessing. They must trust the explanation in the same way that other audience members trust them when they describe their slide. The individual analysis of the viewer when shared with the remaining audience brings a new inflection to the image/artefact. The slide in hand becomes a new private artefact of inter-relational aspects between artist and audience. Does it therefore become symbolic of another story invented there and then, the narrative of artist/audience, perceiver/receiver?


Testing continues. Using the paradigm of Theatre in the Round; the audience/spectator becoming spect- actor are vital to this work – without them there is no show. A myth created by a viewer in the present by a photo troubadour and his portable exhibition in a box.


A response to the riddle

My rangefinder camera has no battery, no light meter, it can be repaired easily, a fixed 35mm lens.

Not made of plastic. It has a solid and real feel. It is old like me, is a hand me down.

Nothing to do with nostalgia. It is purely practical:

The camera needs no electrical support. Part of the low-tech journey.

A choice of monochrome.

Requiring the viewer to look deeper, to fill in their own gaps.

Demanding a waiting for the image to fully reveal itself.

Again and again, and again, step by step all about slow.

My kit is pared, prepared and tested. It all has a purpose.

Engaging this work I am aware that certain organisations push for Beauty

A landscape dressed up supporting certain ideas of approaches and aesthetics of place

……………..as well as photographic coding in order for the spectator to see…………….

recreate a new topographic vision (after Wells 2011)

and become

spect -actor.


“The landscape is changing – it will always be different”. Mark Ruwedel (photographer): Selections from Four Ecologies 10 Nov 2021 WWW accessed Feb 2022


Like a stream emerging in the mountains

that already knows its final destination

………………………………………………………...….but not quite yet.


www.art.jeremyhastings.uk


References

  • Bachelard, G. The poetics of Space Boston, Massachusetts Beacon Press, 1994.

  • Bergson, H. Creative Evolution London McMillan(1964):

  • Berleant, A. The Aesthetics of environment. Philadelphia, PA Temple University Press. (1992)

  • Bermingham, A. Landscape and Ideas California (1986):

  • Brady, V. South Of My Days Pymble Aus. Angus and Robertson p433. (1998):

  • Elkins, J. Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic (The Stone Art Theory Institutes) - Penn State Uni: USA(2013)

  • Flusser,V. Towards a Philosophy of Photography London Reacktion (2000)

  • Friday, J Aesthetics and Photography Aldershot Ashgate. (2002)

  • Gilpin, W. Observations on The River Wye and several parts of South Wales Cambridge CUP.(1782)

  • Kaage E Walking London Penguin (2019)

  • Kaage E Silence London Penguin (2018)

  • Naess A https://iseethics.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/naess-arne-the-shallow-and-the-deep-long-range-ecology-movement.pdf Oslo Uni Oslo (1974)

  • Prior, F. The Making of the British Landscape, London Penguin (2010)

  • Mark Ruwedel (photographer): Selections from Four Ecologies 10 Nov 2021 WWW accessed Feb 2022

  • Serres, M. Variations on the Body Minneapolis Univocal (2011)

  • Sepanmaa, Y. Human Nature and Aesthetic Ecosystem Services: Nature in the Service of Humankind and Humankind in the Service of Nature Finland Contemporary Aesthetics Magazine Vol.14(2016))

  • Wells L. Land Matters, London IB Tauris 2011


Here is the clue: The slides exist but the walks are past events – an event/life of its own at that particular time. An experience.