From Wild Things XVI: Indian Brook

My own preoccupation with undergrowth and weeds grew out of a desire to show the natural world as I encountered it, rather than as it was being sold to me in the mainstream media and the photographic press.  When I started I was naturally isolated by the sheer practicalities of finding space to photograph in the cramped odd corners of my life.  Later, I decided to avoid too much exposure to other photographers because I felt strongly that my biggest problem was a tendency to take photographs because they looked like photographs.  I wasn’t looking at the world as it was, but rather waiting for a predetermined photograph to come along so that I could capture it.  I spent a long time groping my way out of a lazily-learned behaviour and eventually arrived, somewhat pleased with myself, at a point where I thought I had something uniquely my own.

Then I discovered Friedlander’s landscapes, and Ray Metzkers, and older work from Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Frederick Sommer.  I also found that many other contemporary but less canonical photographers were also grubbing about in the underwood, sometimes for well-articulated conceptual reasons, but among those that resonated most strongly, just because they found the places to be visually fascinating.  The largest surprise was how many of those I found had backgrounds very similar to my own.  I half thought of calling this blog’s “Twigographer” category “Middle-aged Expat Englishmen Who Photograph Undergrowth”, but that seemed unfair to the middle-aged expat English women, and in any case it was too long for the sidebar.  I can’t believe that every single one of us spent our childhood leisure hours mucking about in neglected coppices and golf course gorse stands, but perhaps we did.

 

From Wild Things XI: Indian Brook

I don’t know how old John Brownlow is, but he’s an expat Englishman who photographs undergrowth.  Some of his photographs have a similar narrow field of view to my own, but it is his marvellously constructed panoramas that really excite me, not least because I know from experience how hard it is to maintain any sense of coherence in wide angle views of this sort of subject.  There is a touch of the sublime in Brownlow’s work, but no bombast, and an overall sense of composition which balances the parts and the whole beautifully.  He also occasionally uses colour, which is rare among any of the twigographers I have come across, and obviously speaks to my own interests directly.

 

From Wild Things I

Brownlow’s photographs are spread somewhat haphazardly across his website and his Flickr stream.  If you can live with the incredibly annoying Flickr interface the best way to take a comprehensive survey is to browse the “Wild Things” sets there.  The galleries on his website are easier to navigate, but you’ll miss some recent work.  Wherever you browse, Brownlow has been generous with his file sizes, so I recommend taking the trouble to look at the large images.  These sorts of photos work best at a particular size which is rarely as small as a blog or Flickr placeholder.  The formal and tonal relationships need the correct amount of room to breath and express themselves, and in the sweet spot the detail becomes an accent rather than a distracting mess, so I recommend finding a large monitor and treating yourself to the full resolution pics.

2 Comments

  1. Peter Clothier says:

    I’m glad to have found your site. Your pictures remind me of the work of Andy Goldsworthy, an artist I greatly admire. I’m guessing you’re familiar with his work?

  2. Struan says:

    Thank you for the comment Peter, and the comparison. I love Goldsworthy’s work at both the visceral and the intellectual level, and I would be interested to hear more about any connections you see.

    For myself, I find it useful to distinguish between creation and discovery, and although that distinction forms a continuous spectrum rather than two isolated poles, I feel I am very much at the discovery end of the spectrum, and Goldsworthy quite far away towards the other. I am a jobbing journalist to Goldsworthy’s poet or novelist.

    Whether it’s a hole torn in horse chestnut leaves, or sand stuck to a tree trunk, Goldsworthy’s creations are unmistakedly those of a culturally aware human acting in opposition to its natural forms and processes. I know that the process of nature winning back its own materials is an intrinsic part of Goldsworthy’s art, but the initial creative act is against entropy. That signature meandering line for example, is a clear sign of a specific named intelligence at work.

    A theme that has emerged from my own photographing, and which I am currently developing in a conscious manner, is the way that nature gets on with its own art of the possible whether we are there to observe and validate its actions or not. I’m not hankering after primeval wilderness, but rather a rejuvenation of the idea that nature is amoral. In my favourites among my photographs, determinist human action is present in many ways, but not as a single creative act.

    So, although I am flattered by the comparison, and I will readily acknowledge Goldsworthy as a inspiration, I don’t see a direct connection. If you have time and inclination, I’d be interested to hear how and why you do.