Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Track-way time lapse

Time lapse as a process has become a major part of the In flux project. In most cases there are two to four versions of a scene, taken months apart, without any specific interval timing. I decided early in this project that there is no reason to rigorously measure the time lapse periods. This is due to the fact that my intention is not to offer a chronology of viewing change in specific scenes, but to make shifts back and forth through the times of the images using sequencing and positioning in the presentation of the entire body of work.
This is because I wish to use this method as a way to interpret the role of memory in perception of the environment and to acknowledge that photographs also act as a stimulus to memory, often in a different way to the environment that is being depicted. A memory recall relies on encountering a stimulus, this recall is temporally random, (or radial, as Berger[1] puts it). Photographs, like environments, act as stimuli to memories recalled by the viewer and cannot be controlled by the artist. In this way photographs do not conform to the chronology of clock time[2], so there is little reason to adhere to the fact that they are sequential images, in fact it is rather better to displace them temporally, thereby involving the viewer in a non-linear and perhaps cyclical reading of the works and the scenes they interpret. The temptation to seek out the chronology will always be there, at the moment it is indicated through numbering in the titles of the works. By sequencing in a non- linear way and having gaps in the numbering there will be a sense of incompleteness in the body of work, something that is deliberate, hinting at the incompleteness and differences between viewing a photograph of a scene and the actual experiences of that scene.

Moving away from these temporal considerations, I also consider the process of repetition as a form of familiarisation with the sites I visit. It is a way to understand change, a way of investigating processes of connection with environments. The changing relationships to an environment that I undertake actions within, what is a taskscape (Ingold). Time lapse is one way of visualising this repetition.
When I make a first visit, I have no prior knowledge of the specifics of the site. My movements are random as I seek out potential elements that might interest me (the scenes I make a work about, the signs of change). I go by past experience in a non-specific way. I am not way-faring, following my knowledge of where to go, or following a map (I may have already done this prior to arriving at this site, but once there the map is ignored) but exploring unknown territories, hunting for my appropriate scenes. I am following the information of my senses and feelings are pertinent to this, security of being in the space has yet to be established. I look for resonances between myself, my inner states, and equivalences in the land I am inhabiting. 
On a second visit I begin to way-fare between the scenes I visited before, reaffirming them and following a remembered pathway, whilst also creating new pathways to areas I may not have had time to visit the first time. Spaces I may of looked toward on the first visit and noticed enough to recall them in the intervening period between visits, deciding they would be interesting to investigate. The process of new explorations continues alongside retracing my previous steps.
Having returned I am subject again to similar sights and sounds etc. of the space before me and memories of my last visit are triggered that without presence are unlikely to be stirred. I might recognise a familiar object like a fence post in the wood, knowing I have seen it before, but without the stimulus of seeing it again, I would not have remembered. On a second visit the intervening time since my first encounter with the site is compacted.
Returning to a scene is unlike the hunting experience of the first visit, rather, it is more like a visit to gather the next piece of work, to re-engage with a scene. As time has passed the scene cannot be the same, but then neither am I, what I bring to the experience, what state of being I occupy at that moment has been altered by the passage of time. I feel more secure in being in the space, I am more likely to have conceived of a strategy for a second visit based on the results of the first. I am not only influenced by the memory of being there before, but also the memory lingers particularly of the works I made on the first visit too.

When the lapses of time between visits is a matter of months, difference is more apparent, than at closer intervals, seasonal change tends to dominate, although this is no bad thing, I decided to make a series of works that would have a shorter gap between visits, to investigate a scene with more intensity through time.These are some of the resulting works and some thoughts about the experience of the site that I am visiting.

Track-way #3   11.54 am - 12.51 pm (57 minutes)

I cycle and walk to this site from my home on a monthly basis and so far I've made, or I'm in the process of making 8 works. My only rule on frequency is that I must go once in each month, when in the month is arbitrarily reached, although I would not make two visits less than a fortnight apart and usually more.

The initial response

On the first visit, I noticed a constructed wooden track-way on my way to the location of this scene  and made a work there, at the crossing of a stream, but I recognised why this interested me when I got to this location, perhaps because it was here that the association became clear to me. A specific memory and following series of associations was triggered. I was reminded of another encounter with track-ways, but this time in the context of archaeological work in 1997;

     Bronze-age Hurdle         photo J. Sunderland/Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd

This is a hurdle, a type of track-way constructed in the Bronze-age found near Lisheen, Co. Tipperary Ireland. This is one example of many track-ways excavated on this project when I was employed as a photographer and archaeologist by Margaret Gowan & Co. Ltd. The function of this and the track-way I am now photographing is the same, to cross an area of boggy ground. The anaerobic conditions of the peat bog where this was discovered facilitated the preservation of this wooden construction.

Like the Tree-fall works in In Flux (see earlier postings), the association with the archaeological experience of the past in a major stimulus to making the work. In common with the Tree-fall works, it is not only the empirical evidence gathered through the excavation process that influences the action of making the work, but the memory of the experience of working on this project and occupying the same space as the people who made this track-way in the first instance, being able to imagine their past lives, that creates a resonance between the track-way I have since encountered and myself. This kind of association provides me with the motivation to make works on this site and to investigate some ideas about perception and memory through this scene. It produces a connection between me and the environment, although in the end, this connection through my specific memories are not available to the viewers of this work in it's final form. Akin perhaps to all artworks, this is one of the gaps that the viewers of artworks will fill with their own memories and knowledge, the works should act as a stimulus to a multiplicity of readings on the basis of those encountering it, the viewer can participate in the creative process through their own associations, which will probably be different from my own for many reasons, not only because they have not had my experiences and memory to draw upon, but they also will not have encountered either track-way in actuality, but mitigated through the artwork.

Track-way #2 1.35 pm - 2.12 pm (37 minutes) Version #2

On the first visit, I made one piece, I was in the process of assessing the site and spent many hours there making works at other locations, so this was the one scene of many that I only decided to concentrate on after making the image and a period of gestation.

The return

On the first return to the scene I made a decision to approach this time lapse work differently from the earlier pieces. There is a sense, when in an environment, of imagining what a scene would look like from another position. Part of the normal processes of perception include this kind of filling in of detail or information. When we look at a scene we might spot, for example, a tennis ball. We would only be able to see one side of the ball, but we would assume from our learnt knowledge what the other side of the tennis ball would look like and would be surprised if there was a hole in it when we turned it around. This element of surprise indicates that stored or learnt knowledge of an object or the nature of scenes means that we tend to assume what the elements of that scene that are obscured from us are.[3] In the case of the track way, I became curious to see what would happen if I made the second time lapse piece from the other end of the track way. This is influenced by the nature of the first work, with the track way pointing centrally into the distance, it invites the viewer to consider the other end of the track, so in the next image I proceeded to make a work from the other end.

Track-way #5 4.26 pm - 5.18 pm (52 minutes)

The constancy of returns

Each time I visit this site the central objective is to make two of these works, one from each end. In the first and second visit I only made one piece, but soon realised that there was no reason not to make two on each visit (except it is very time consuming).
Now on each visit I head directly to this scene, not considering the wider environment, not looking for any other potential sites of interest. This shift has happened as I have grown more familiar with the site. I pass a number of locations were I made earlier work, but do not intend to work there again. The process has shifted from the initial sense of exploration and occasionally uneasiness to one of comfortable familiarity of a space I can experiment in. In addition this has now shifted to a sense of mundaneness, I am no longer particularly surprised or inspired by the site, or even the making of the new work. It has become a rhythm, an expected, habituated monthly episode in my life. I expect to see changes, in the vegetation, or the weather. I suspect I would be greatly surprised if a drastic change has occurred on my next visit. I see this feeling of the mundane as part of the process of connection to an environment. Although I do not live in this woodland, my familiarity with it means that I know what to expect. I no longer feel the need to make any effort, but just do the task in hand, this is perhaps inhabiting the space.

Track-way #4 1.04 pm - 1.46 pm (42 minutes)

[1]“…normally photographs are used in a very unilinear way….Memory is not unilinear at all. Memory works radially, that is to say with an enormous number of associations all leading to the same event” Berger J. (1997) Ways of  Remembering in Evans J. ed. The Camerawork Essays  p. 48

[2]“-few would dispute that “clock time” and subjective time are different things” Burgin V (1996) In/different spaces; place and memory in visual culture University of California Press. Los Angeles, London P. 212
[3] “the shape of a ball, because of it’s visual incompleteness, makes us see volume as continued….The continuation as such is indeed compelling, and it is also true that we would be surprised to see anything but the remainder of (the ball)” Arheim R.(1970) Visual Thinking Faber and Faber, London P. 87

Monday, 6 January 2014

A Global environment

The first prompt for this work was a find. Walking along the beach in Owenincha, West Cork, I saw a small globe, about 1 cm in diameter, washed up on the shore. I picked up this plastic eroded sphere with its crude map and the marks of cheap reproduction. Finding such an artefact was a puzzle, carried by the sea from somewhere unknown to me and altered, corroded by salt and friction. I pocketed it and made possession of it.
I found it somehow ironic how such a small valueless thing can be a representation of all the world. I was reminded of Tim Ingold's words on the global environment “By and large, life is lived at such close proximity to the earth’s surface that a global perspective is unobtainable” [1]. He points out that rather than living on a globe, or outside of it, we actually live inside a sphere, in the environment. In a lifeworld. Ingold’s criticism concentrates on the political use of global, in phrases such as global climate change and how this perspective does not help us understand environmental issues because we cannot relate to it in a personal, embodied, way. This highlights the difference between the conceptions of the local and the global. For me the local is a centre of being, it is the body and all of the senses, a locus at the centre of the sphere. It is complex and interactive, simultaneously interior and exterior, connected through perception to the world around it by action, interpreting that world with the aid of stored knowledge and memory, forming experiences. It is not necessarily about the identity of place, as my locus moves with me, rather like a shadow.
Globalisation today is a kind of technological expansion of the scope of the body at the centre to interact with the wider world. This interaction is always mitigated and at least second hand, experienced through multiple media, already interpreted either through the limits of the pathways of technology and the forms that it takes and by others, who make and structure content, It is ultimately limited by a lack of actuality, a lack of physical being in all the spaces we inhabit. True we may be more readily able to experience other places by taking a flight and “landing” somewhere else, but in recent years it has become commonplace to have the choice to connect with the global through virtual digital networks, to link into the matrix provided by seemingly trustworthy international corporations that create the hardware and software we all use. Boundaries between the virtual and physical actuality are being eroded, interactions can be from either source, within our own environments, direct and indirect experience comingles, but because of the lack of physicality it is still impossible to experience the global directly.
Alongside this train of thought, I also recalled the photographs of the earth from the outside, as a globe, resulting from various space missions, most notably NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The impact that both these images and the comments of the astronauts of their experiences of the earth as outsiders appear to contradict the above reading of the global. They had some impact in the rise of environmental awareness, as is illustrated in the use of global images in the Whole Earth catalog. in America.
 The cover of the first issue (see was adorned by one of the famous blue marble images probably taken on the Apollo space missions, although a quick search through NASA’s online image database has not found it.
An un-manipulated scan of the 1972
 Blue Marble  
Images courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory,
 NASA Johnson Space Center

 The date of Fall 1968 suggests it was before the early images from Apollo 11 (December 1968) and certainly before the most famous blue marble image from Apollo 17 (1972) (above), making the publication of this image one of the earliest to reach a general public. Flights before the Apollo missions to the moon were too close to the Earth for a whole view to be captured.
As I write this thousands of images from space are available just a click of a button away, it is worth considering though that at the time of the publication of the whole Earth catalog, this would not have been the case and the impact of these new images of the world would have been greater, But it is difficult to assess exactly what that impact was. The instigator of the whole Earth catalog, Stewart Brand saw the potential of the blue marble as Robert Horvitz points out;
“Stewart wanted NASA to release a photo of the whole Earth because he believed it would have significant psychological impact: it would be visual proof of our unity and specialness, as our luminous blue ball-of-a-home contrasted dramatically with the dead black emptiness of space. Differences in skin color, religion, nationality and wealth, which can seem so important down here on Earth, shrink to nothing when viewed from afar. We are all in this together and humanity is but a small part of a miraculous and delicate ecosystem.”[2]
In the context of the time both the Vietnam war and the cold war were in full swing, the space missions forming part of the cold war politics of the time, so a sense of impending disaster about the environment had many potential sources, including nuclear Armageddon. Space research was the public face of much military research, not least into rocket technologies that could be applied to nuclear weapons, it also lead to military satellite surveillance, the world wide web and subsequently to current open source global viewing software.
The advent of these images from space may well have contributed to changing attitudes about the environment, but the true extent of their impact would be difficult to assess, influences on environmental awareness and concern are multiple and subject to change, they are also still contested. What is interesting in terms of photographic representation of the environment is the viewpoint, viewed from afar. Brand recognised in this the potential to change attitudes, by offering a visual equivalent of stepping back from concerns and observing the whole, as an outsider, facilitating the capacity for a dispassionate analysis of contemporary cultural and environmental concerns.
 As time has past these images no longer have this potential impact, digital technologies have eroded the sense that the photograph can offer visual proof, something that has always been dependent on the context of the photograph, both in terms of where the photograph is used and with what other information, and also in terms of the wider cultural and historical context. The blue marble images have now been widely circulated and synonymous also with the ideas of globalisation and the world wide web, much more akin to Ingold’s interpretation, in that it cannot offer an understanding of our environment because the global is outside almost all of humanity’s experience.
Another factor in the reception of these images, and their impact at the time, is the testimonies of the astronauts themselves, who made the images in the first place, about seeing the world from afar;
“…finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man…”
James Irwin[3]
“During the eight days I spent in space, I realised that mankind needs height primarily to better know our long suffering earth, to see what cannot be seen close up. Not just to love her beauty, but also to ensure that we do not bring even the slightest harm to the natural world”
Pham Tuan[4]
Many of the personal testimonies of astronauts have reflected on the fragility of the planet, when seen from space, in part this reflection is a projection of meaning onto the view of the planet of these astronauts, whose own position, floating outside of the planet’s atmosphere of their own precarious states in space ships, as Merleau Ponty states;
“Joy and sadness, vivacity and obtuseness are data of introspection, and when we invest landscapes or other people with these states, it is because we have observed in ourselves the coincidence between these internal perceptions and the external signs associated with them by the accidents of our own constitution”[5]
The dangers and fears of space travel may well have coincided with and enhanced contemporary anxieties of the time, giving rise to these responses of environmental concern. What is clear though, in these testaments and others, is the direct experience that causes these thoughts and feelings, and not the looking at the results in photographic form of aerial views or of the blue marble itself, recognised by the astronauts themselves;
“I began to understand that it is the personal manifestation of a relationship which, in the absence of direct experience, we can only know intellectually.”[6]
Russell L. Schweickart

I constantly come across this disparity between an experience and its expression, or communication to others in the process of this research, it is the reason that I find aerial photography somehow inadequate, although I do enjoy them, these de-centred uncommon perspectives are not connected to what they depict through experience, but neither are they objective positions. They also are not always sublime, they often have no horror in them to marvel at. So removed from experience by distance, both physical and as a result of the inadequacy of communication of experience, I wonder what if anything they say? There is still something contributed to our understanding of the environment from them, we can imagine this view, ourselves rising above the earth and taking this perspective, to a small degree experience it when taking a commercial flight and looking out of the window. Views of the planet and aerial photographs add to our knowledge as a kind of visual intellect, but do not cause use to feel connected to it, rather they perhaps mirror a sense of disconnection.
All of these factors, finding the physical artefact, remembering prior research and subsequent research that is ongoing has prompted me to try to make some works that will act as a kind of counterpoint to the relatively large composite works already in In Flux. Something that offers a way of emphasising the embodied locus centred work by referring to the dis-juncture of the idea of a global environment as espoused by Ingold, by photographing this globe.
My initial thought was to photograph the globe in the sites that I make In Flux. At first they were all made compositely in order to make them focally consistent, sharp across the entire picture plane. I then added a number of cross hairs, thereby making a reference to the Apollo missions. As it turned out, when I researched the Apollo mission in the book “Full Moon”[7] only the images made on the surface of the moon have these cross hairs, not those taken of the earth in most cases.

After some thought and discussions with colleagues, I have decided to drop the cross hairs, feeling that they are too literal; 

My next thought was to return to the original captures and rather than make the whole picture plane in focus to deliberately make only the globe in focus and the rest blurred.

I then decided to try out another idea suggested by Helen Sear, although this is also not quite resolved or following her original suggestion, which was to use film and a 5x4 camera to make a large image, possibly black and white, of the globe in isolation with a black background. I see the logic, as the blackness is like space and the work becomes rather like NASAs blue marble images, relying more on the nature of this eroded plastic globe to make my point, whatever this is and however it manifests visually. I continued with a digital approach, as a test. Shot on a high resolution camera, these are similarly layered to achieve complete focus. I see this as necessary because it does mimic the blue marble images, which are also fully focused, flattening the spherical nature of the globe to a disk. It helps to make the small scale of the plastic globe less apparent.

 There is still some thought needed as to how these works are resolved. My interest is in the deliberately blurred and obscured environment in the background, where the context of the globe is relatively unreadable, thereby interpreting Ingold's ideas of the global in relation to experience and printing them small in relation to the large other works in In flux as a counter point. I may yet try photographing the globe using film and a 5x4, but this asks a further technological question about authenticity and tradition in photography. A large black and white analogue image of the globe might also provide an adequate contrast to the digital constructions of In Flux

[1] Ingold T. (2000) The Perception of the Environment; Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill Routledge, London & New York P.209
[3]Irwin J. in Kelly W.K. ed. (1988) The Home Planet. Addison-Wesley. Reading, Massachusetts; Meno Park, California; New York; Don mills, Ontario; Wokingham, England; Amsterdam, Bonn, Sydney, Singapore, Tokyo, Madrid, San Juan. (No page numbers)

[4] Tuan P. in Ibid
[5] Merleau Ponty M. (1945) Phenomenology of Perception Routledge, London and New York. P. 24
[6] Schweickart R.L in Kelly W.K. ed. (1988) The Home Planet. Addison-Wesley. Reading, Massachusetts; Meno Park, California; New York; Don mills, Ontario; Wokingham, England; Amsterdam, Bonn, Sydney, Singapore, Tokyo, Madrid, San Juan. (No page numbers, preface)
[7] Light M. (1999) Full Moon Jonathan Cape, London.

Monday, 18 November 2013


If the work so far in In Flux could be described as a form of gathering, drawing a parallel with hunter-gatherer societies, where I am looking for elements of interest, i.e.. signs of change in the environment that are passive rather than active ( equivalents to sweet chestnuts, or blackberries, gathered through photographic means), that I then repeatedly re-visit and follow through time-lapse photography, then this project could be described as hunting. In fact, it is hunting, not with a weapon, a gun or a blow-pipe, but through trapping.

As one of the initial objectives of this research has been to find better ways to interpret the environment through photography, particularly grasping some current cultural environmental concerns, then it is logical to test my approaches gained through research and practise in a suitably current, pertinent situation. So, when I was asked if I would like to photograph the processes involved in the vaccination of badgers, by my friend and ecologist Dave Mayer, at the beginning of last summer, I saw that here was just such an opportunity to to test whether or not I had reached a point where I am able to offer a more connected and communicable approach to an active environmental dilemma that is effecting the rural life of Britain through arts practise.

The problem of Tuberculosis in cattle in Britain, Bovine TB (BvTB), has reached a point were it impacting directly on the lives of cattle and badgers, the livelihoods of farmers and is costing the taxpayer. It is generally agreed in scientific circles that the spread of BvTB is linked to badgers, who also suffer from and spread the disease amongst their own populations and to cattle. What is not agreed is how to deal with this problem. As I write this two pilot schemes in Somerset and Gloucestershire to cull 70% of the badger populations in specific areas are coming to an end. These schemes go against the direct scientific advice commissioned by the British government about the feasibility of such a policy. Vaccinating the badger population from BvTB is the alternative to culling and this is what Dave does, some farmers and organisations like the Wildlife Trust are undertaking this work, who form his clientèle. I could at this point go further into all the disagreements and difficulties involved in this issue, but would be making a very long posting before I actually get to present the results of my first encounter with the process of  badger vaccination as undertaken by Dave, indeed, my first ever real encounters with badgers themselves. This is my reason for making this post.

Perhaps firstly I had better make it clear that I, and by extension, the work I produce, is not an attempt at an objective or unbiased viewpoint, I have my own thoughts and feelings about this, I am against the killing of badgers. This does not mean that I do not have sympathy with or I am unwilling to engage with those who hold other opinions, or those that directly suffer (be they human or animal) as a result of bovine tuberculosis. Engaging in a project that entails me reflecting on and developing strong opinions and feelings should be a good position to be in, a good reason to investigate, interpret and communicate via visual means.

I certainly accept that I am beginning to undertake a journey that involves the gathering (or hunting out of?) information and experience that will be interpreted with visual art, mostly photographic works, but also short film works too.

So, to begin, I travelled to Stoke and stayed with Dave for about ten days, over which I was, in a sense, embedded with him as he undertook his work and introduced to the process, for it is very much a process in the environment. Unlike the work of In Flux, where I am undertaking a process in the environment (the making of artworks as an interpretation of my own perceptions of the environment), in this case I am engaging with another process, bringing two processes together, the making of the work and the trapping and vaccinating of badgers, for I was not just observing but also working with Dave, helping when he needed.

Starting this project I realised that there were three objectives competing for attention;

1.To produce work that would be integrated with the In Flux series (My initial impulse to do this work)

2.To investigate Badger vaccination and develop methods and methodologies that are appropriate to this issue.

3.To produce work that would help Dave and others promote their cause (Their is definitely a need to reciprocate the access and hospitality shown to me by being part of the project directly).

Bearing this in mind, I knew that there were going to be conflicts between these factors and accepted that in order to resolve them I will have to wear more than one hat when working and re-visit the project, allowing for gestation, processing and discussion to occur in the intervening periods before the project is satisfactorily resolved.

So, the work;

The first step is survey of the environment to be trapped. I was not present at the initial visits, but signs of badger activity and locations of set must be established and mapped. Along with the sets there are run-throughs, the more ephemeral signs of badger movements across the land.

Track-way #1

Run through #1

The lower work is a badger run-through, the upper piece the human equivalent, a track-way cut through brambles for us to access a set that we referred to appropriately as the brambles set.

       Track-way                                                                               Run-through

Again, a human track-way on the left and a badger run-through on the right. As well as the sets themselves, there are other signs, like badger hair caught on barbed wire (photographed but not presented here) or bedding dragged out of the set.

Set entrance with bedding
Obviously one of the sources of the problem. if cattle eat this, and the badger is infected with TB, then the possibility of passing on the disease is there.

Dave combines OS maps with  satellite images to make a map of the area, and in consultation with another ecologist, decides where to put out the traps. These maps and the subsequent relative positions are available to me to make work with. At this stage I do not see this as a priority, although it is there as a possibility. First of all I wish to concentrate on what happens at the sites and how this occurs. This process, like my own practise in In Flux, involves repeated site visits but over a shorter time span, days rather than the months or even years of In Flux. Nevertheless, change does occur, In the daytime the humans (and the cattle) occupy the space, whereas at night, the badgers roam, leaving their own signs of activity.  This day/night dichotomy is something yet to be addressed. I think I am right in assuming that my presence at night on these sites would be detrimental to the vaccinating process, disturbing the badgers and making it harder to trap them, so on the specific sites this would not be viable, so this is one of the questions that arises from this first visit, how do I get a sense of or for the nocturnal nature of the badgers? Which leads me to my first instinct-how can I make work that reflects upon the badgers viewpoint? How does a badger perceive the environment?

They are lower to the ground (and often underneath it in sets)
They are very short sighted
Their sense of smell is 700 times better than a dogs

In addition they are very social animals, living in family groups and interacting with other badgers.

I decided that I would work close to the ground and use a shallow depth of field, but found that this was not always feasible. When working with others and trying to fulfil more than one objective, then time becomes much more of an issue. Speed was important, as well as actually engaging in the process myself rather than leaving this to Dave and on a couple of days, his assistants Cheryl and Claire. I will pursue this low perspective further in future.

At the centre of this process are the traps themselves. This is the locus of activity. Early on I decided to make works looking into the traps.

Traps at the first stage

At first the traps are just put in place and bait (badgers love peanuts) scattered around, inside and under a stone at the entrance to tempt them in. The traps are not set but fixed open. This is a point in the process where you get a sense of the beginning of a hunt, that we were beginning to manipulate the actions of the badgers to our own ends. It starts with Dave's experience and in no small amount his intuition. I will ask him to explain how he decides were, and how much it is obvious, (next to a set is obvious, but were next to a set?) What subtle inter-plays are at work? As Dave points out, badgers are wild animals and not as predictable as one might assume. It is obvious to me that Dave is developing a relationship to the badgers, a complex one worth investigating further.


After the night has passed we return in the morning and check if the peanuts are gone. If so, then the traps are" dug in", which means that they are filled with soil and made secure, peanuts are liberally spread around and the stone moves inside the entrance of the trap with a pile of peanuts underneath. Again it is not set. I made many attempts to create composite works of the inside of the traps, the above is the only one that was anywhere near successful. I now think that this was over complicating things and in future I will find a comparative method with single images, more in keeping with the three images above. This interior space of the trap, with  it associated confinement and a view, from the position of the trapped, of the environment around , has enough further potential to get at some of the subtleties around this process and the wider context.
The baiting process usually occurs at least four times, as the stone with the bait is gradually moved to the back of the trap, each time the trap is left overnight and checked for activity. The decision to set a trap depends on the frequency of badger visits and it location, for instance, if a trap is very close to an active set then it will continue to be baited, but never set, as a trapped badger near a set will probably cause undue stress to other badgers in the group. A trap is set using string.



The work,Setting, above, is one I will have to consider. If this composite, temporal work of a process is to be included in this work, then others may have to be made. This project has marked a return to using single images, when appropriate. It has also included the making of film works too, something that was not envisaged at the beginning. This was as a result of a suggestion by Dave that I film the process, largely for training purposes, but also for general publicity. This link will re-direct to the video on you tube;

The video was the first shot and in many ways the most successful. Obviously the temptation is to fulfil a desire to show the full process and an earlier piece included a video from a similar position of a badger being vaccinated and then released (see below). The combined video needed something more to act as a transition between the setting of the trap and the vaccination, the most obvious being the badger being trapped. This would be difficult to film and would require specialist equipment. Something that needs further consideration.

As I mentioned above one of my aspirations is to make works that will sit well within the In Flux project, so I followed the same methods of making composite images of the element of interest  in the environment, the traps from the outside. Then followed this up with time-lapse. I had a more formed idea of what I wanted here, working toward an imagined, conceptualised work. Perhaps because of this I have encountered some friction between what I imagined and subsequently encountered in actuality. The idea was changing as I experienced the process, as I state above, I found myself working with the idea of incorporating my imagined idea of how a badger would perceive the environment and this clashed with the already established methods in In Flux. I think a period of gestation and consultation is needed to resolve this.
There were two different approaches here, firstly I needed a quick method that fits with the work being undertaken as I travelled around the 40 or so traps around the environment under scrutiny with Dave. Here I do not use a tripod but shoot composites quickly and then in post processing I use another method from the usual (Aligning and blending in steps rather than using a fuller form of automation) to achieve the results;

Trap # 8 below (bracken trap) and trap # 19 (nettle trap) above (Dave's numbering)

Trap #8 (Bracken trap) with badger

I am surprised to find that these works are more successful than the more conventionally produced works, at least at this stage;
Baited trap

This may yet prove suitable. Other pieces were made but this was the most successful. The initial idea was to have a trap with a badger in it, but this proved to be too time consuming to make under the circumstances.

The first day of trapping arrived and it was pouring rain. Each of us headed out at dawn to check the traps individually before proceeding to the vaccination and release. Dave instructed us not to disturb a badger if it was in the trap and to close the traps that were empty. I felt a rush of adrenalin, when, alone I saw my first trapped badger. The hunt was successful. We had a further four more that day. In the rain and under time constraints I didn't make any work but proceeded to check further traps and reported back to Dave.

 There are a sequence of events in the process of vaccination;

 Clipping hair


Followed at the end by release.

This process is distressing for the badger and is undertaken quickly and quietly. Beyond documenting the process in this way, suitable for Dave to use in his own work, I am not sure how they sit in the interpretive context of this project. It is hard not to just be an observer, again some thought needed. Perhaps the film is a better way of presenting, although the following work suffers a little from the camera angle in comparison with the earlier piece on setting the trap;


There is very little time for making work between that moment when the trap is opened and the badger making a run for it, but it is an interesting process, varying between badgers. Sometimes the badger needs to be coaxed out by Dave, whilst in other cases you can observe the badger realising that the trap is open and plucking up the courage to run. Sometimes they look directly at the camera, at me if I am behind it. There is a sense that they are judging the situation. I am reminded here of Tim Ingold's description of the Cree hunters' relationship to their prey, that there is a moment of recognition between them. "At the crucial moment of eye-to-eye contact, the hunter felt the overwhelming presence of the animal; he felt as if his own being were somehow bound up or intermingled with that of the animal"1 This short duration with the badger is the time when I resolutely feel the badger's being as a living thing, and have a sense of connection to it, something that needs to be teased out of this work;

This is the point that the badger decided to dash for freedom, just after pausing to assess the situation.

Finally the badger is not the whole of this issue, as Dave clearly understands and formed many of our discussions together. They are part of a triangle, of which the other two elements are tuberculosis and cattle. How to visualise, or otherwise interpret these elements is one of the next steps in this work;

Badger's view of cattle


I have photographed the vaccine bottles but know that further work is needed both on the cattle and on an interpretation of tuberculosis, work that may be studio based in the case of TB, and may involve photographing cattle being tested for TB.

After the last release

To end I would like to thank Dave Mayer of Ecology one-stop for inviting me to work with him and I look forward to further work when the vaccinating season starts again in the spring.

1. Ingold T. (2000) The perception of the environment; essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. Routledge, London and New York P.25

Monday, 30 September 2013

A Summary of In Flux

The aim of this project is to investigate perceptual mechanisms and conceptions of land as a site of constant change using photographic practice as a form of visual communication.

Felled #3 Version #1


This work was initiated as a response to the sense that much environmental issue based photography is problematic, in that it tends to rely too heavily on the sublime, alienating the viewer with an over reliance on the depiction of environmental degradation and the use of methods such as aerial photography, distancing the viewer and leaving them with a sense of dis-empowerment and disconnection, lacking any understanding of the dynamism of land as a site of constant change that we are participants in and affected by in our lives.

A deer in the woods


By drawing on  phenomenology, the philosophy of the senses, in the works of Bergson, Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze, this project has sought to apply an understanding of the mechanisms of perception in the formation and communication of senses of connection to and resonances with land. 

The Cage #1 Version #2

The work has concentrated on how we understand a scene we encounter through a combination of optical information from the eyes and the constructive processes involved in the mind of interpreting this scene. I investigate this perceptual gap that Merleau-Ponty (1968) describes as the chiasm, through photographic com-positing techniques.

Rather than making the work seamless, I deliberately include distortions, breaks and repetitions of elements resulting from both automated and manual digital construction, thereby reflecting on the actual and durational construction processes that occur in the mind of a scene.

A Fox, I thought version #1


A Fox, I thought version #2


A Fox, I thought version #3

The work does not take a site specific approach, rather, it examines woodlands as a site type from Britain and Ireland. This multi-site approach involves many revisits and the use of time-lapse imaging to emphasize difference and change both of the scene and of my perception of it. Although this process is a form of place-making for myself, the artist and participant in the environment, as Lucy Lippard and Hamish Fulton point out, the experience of place cannot be expressed in an artwork. Hence I am not documenting sites, but interpreting them as a generic environment of perception and change. To do this I approach each scene as a dynamic space with many elements of interest, a coherent environment, rather than a specific place.

Tree-fall #1 version #1

Tree-fall #1 version #3

One recurrent and common element of the woodland is the tree-fall. These works were made as a result of the confluence of stimuli from the environment and from my own personal memories of excavating the remains of tree-bowls as an archaeologist. When I first encountered a tree-fall I was reminded of three instances in three different locations across two countries and spanning ten years. I was also reminded of the prehistoric sites I had excavated and the imagined lives of those living there on the basis of the evidence gathered through excavation dating from 2000-6000 years ago.
Although these multiple memories prompted me to make these works, It is acknowledged that the viewer of these works are not going to respond in the same way, they will bring their own interpretations to the scene as they participate in the viewing experience. 
This emphasizes the ambiguous nature of photographic visual communication, leading to multiple readings that are not unilinear or temporally chronological, neither are they geographically fixed.

Blue Land #1

This ambiguity was highlighted when I displayed a large scale version of the above work to a group of PhD arts students and asked them to note, without conferring, what the image brought to mind. There was a consensus amongst a number of them that the work reminded them of a graveyard, something that I, as the one with experience of the actual place, had not thought of.

The works, then, take on their own lives, reflecting on both the nature of perception and memory, and on the dynamism of the environment, allowing the viewer to act as a participant in this process of engagement and creating resonances and personal connections to the scenes depicted.