In my original proposal for this research, whilst talking about human constructs built for survival in remote places, I wrote:
“These constructed elements can be in conflict with the visitors’ romanticised expectations of a “sublime and picturesque landscape”. Visitors can perceive these elements as intrusions or impositions onto the landscape that jar with their expectations.
Yet, over time, with weathering, redundancy or just presence these elements can become accepted, even attractive, focal points within a landscape. Do these elements change as they age or do visitors’ attitudes change as the elements gather historical and social significance through their use and persistence?”
These questions concern me because I find myself losing interest in human constructs as focal points once their age means they have lost all traces of recent human activity, activity that I can recognise and to which I can emotionally relate. I have no problem relating to currently active constructs or derelict constructs from the 20th Century, even from Victorian times but anything earlier, especially pre-Enlightenment, seems beyond my imagination.
These standing stones at Calanais are a good example. They are beautiful, and I took their image because of their sculptural qualities, not because I could feel any emotional or other connection with whoever had built or used them some 5000 years ago.
Here is another example, Castle Stalker. I have no emotional or empathetic connection to the people who created it or lived there. I cannot imagine what their lives were like. This image is not about the human aspects of the castle. Instead, this photograph is all about the light and shapes. The castle is merely an interesting sculptural and geometric focal point that contrasts to the natural shapes of the hills and clouds behind. It is, in its way, spectacular and attention grabbing, but again, I have no emotional connection with it and, as such, it is an image that will bore me very quickly.
Scenes, such as the three shown below, do have emotional attractions for me. The cottages are very definitely derelict, but the materials from which they are made, the tyre tracks, furniture and, most importantly, their purpose and function, are all easily recognisable and relatable. For me these places have a tangible emotional content. They are faded by age and weather, but I can feel that things happened here, people lived, argued, had crises here and this was within my lifetime. The images have narratives with which I can engage.
The above images demonstrate a subject matter and style that I have been using for many years. Yet, as my research progresses I am finding such scenes less satisfying. Perhaps this is because the subject matter, Dereliction, has now become very fashionable and so it is increasingly difficult for me to say something new about it. Or, perhaps the narrative and emotional content are just too obvious, too easily romanticised. Certainly, my colour palettes and lighting for these images is much closer to that used in the romantic, landscape painting of Victorian times rather than contemporary photography.
These days I am looking for more powerful, and probably, more recent constructs to be the centre of my images as shown in the examples below. Also, I am using more realistic, more muted colours to express my feelings towards the subject. I am moving away from trying to evoke the skills of the artist with their “painterly” effects and obvious narratives, towards more realistic and, hopefully, more intriguing images.
As human constructs age and weather they do start to blend in with their landscape and become features of, rather than intrusions into the natural world. For myself, it is at this point that they lose their human narratives and become merely focal point objects, thanks to their, usually, more geometric, rather than natural, shapes.
In this article I have only been investigating my own reactions to the aging of human constructs. I still need to understand how others view them. Do they, like myself, start to see very older constructs as sculptural rather than relating to a former human usage, once the traces of activity have eroded? Or do they always evoke a human narrative and emotions for others?
One success of my researches, to date, has been a move away from trying to create “painterly images” with obvious narratives and towards more realistic and, hopefully, more intriguing images that will make the viewer think about my motivations.