Pastoral Refuge Infused with the Political; Photography and Ceramics MAC, Cannon Hill Park

The Birmingham Post (England), August 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Pastoral Refuge Infused with the Political; Photography and Ceramics MAC, Cannon Hill Park


Byline: John Cornall

In keeping with the current vogue for real-life art, especially documentary-type photography, the MAC is currently showing three photographic exhibitions, each concerned with the representation of the British landscape.

Fleeting Arcadias, selected from the Arts Council photography collection, shows how, in the course of the 1970s, the traditional view of Britain as pastoral refuge gave way to a new vision based in social protest.

Fay Godwin's four prints illustrate this well. Two of them, from the mid-70s, seem very much in step with their time in that they seek to convey the entrancing mysteriousness and wildness of Celtic Britain.

In treating a similar subject in 1989, in her study of Stonehenge, Godwin dramatically includes the fence and keep-out sign, as if to remind us of property, class-division, our failure to return to older unities.

Less politically-minded than many of the Fleeting Arcadia photographers, Simon Denison's recent images of British landscape scenery also show in the public spaces.

Denison has an eye for the poetry of human traces in the landscape: ancient earthworks or rusted farm artefacts. He seems to have learnt from some of the photographers in Fleeting Arcadias as he often poses dramatic, expressionist-style compositions in order to underscore the emotion. One wonders, however, whether in the difficult art of British landscape photography such a forcing of the point is really desirable.

The quieter pieces might be the more truthful ones, especially if they also manage to convey a sense of inner drama and sonority, like Denison's portrait of a sheep shed at Brown Clee, perhaps, in which things seem to stand as they really are.

More documentary than art, Kevin Thomas's Corrugated, again in the public spaces, is a colourful record of the corrugated pre-fab Methodist chapels which sprung up around the country, in particular in the Midlands, in the late Victorian period. …

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