Aftermath, Behind the scenes, Book Making, Landscape

Photobook Publishing (1/3)

4 minute read

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In a this three-parter, I interview photographers venturing out for the first time into the sometimes intimidating world of book publishing. Each has their own take on the process, and speak with refreshing candour about their experiences.

First up, my former boss and gifted photographer Steve Meyler. His latest project, 66 hours, employs the landscape as metaphor to talk about a tragic episode in the history of a coastal community. You can read all about the project here.

DN: Hi Steve! I thought I’d share some ramblings from folk about book making and I wondered if you would like to contribute. Hope so. Do you have any pithy tips for aspiring newbies in the wonderful world of publishing? Love to hear your thoughts…

SM: Here we go – my two penneth – just rattled this out for you, whilst sitting in the sun (summer 2019!ed) and enjoying the sea breeze…

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First, decide what your aspirations are.

Do you want to be the next Stephen Shore, or are you happy to publish for friends and family? Without being a terrible pessimist, the world is full of amazingly talented snappers generating fantastic work, it’s unlikely most ‘smudgers’ that self-publish books are going to end up with the world at their feet.

What’s your aim when producing a book?

The best, purest and most noble reason to create a book or zine is to produce an object; as beautiful an object as possible, to share with others. As photographers, we tend to focus our attention primarily on content but it is perhaps wise to remember you’re also creating and presenting/selling an object. Would you tote your best work to and from galleries in the worlds cheapest portfolio case? – probably not! I’m still very much a newb to this world myself and squarely fall into the category of publishing books in small runs for a local or friend oriented customer base.

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Where does cost fit into the overall scheme?

My only goal is that the projects pay for themselves if there’s a small profit, that gets funnelled to the next piece. If there was to be a loss, then I would do my best ensure it wasn’t a big one. This leads to the first golden rule derived from my experience – don’t order too many books from the printer. There are printers out there that specialise in small runs of self-published work and will produce as few as 50 copies at a time. These are digitally printed works (more on this later).

In your experience, can you describe the technical aspects of the printing process?

So, if you have a huge market to service and require a minimum of 500 books then Offset printing is the way to go. Superb quality from carefully made printing plates that are yours to keep, which, if there’s a mistake (typos etc.) are there forever. The cost per copy is very low in high volume. For B&W with high contrast and deep rich blacks, duotone is the recommended process.

For small runs of books which can be corrected from run to run, the digital press is the answer. In recent years digital presses have come on in leaps and bounds and a good printer will produce images (particularly in colour) that rival an offset press. For high-quality B&W on digital, I would advise using a 4 colour process to create what a printer calls ‘rich black’. The alternative is a ‘flat black’, this is the preferred option when cost is the primary concern or the depth of black in your images is not a concern. Paper choice is, of course, a personal matter but for photographers, the opacity of the paper is Important, ‘bleed through’ from the previous page is undesirable.

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Where would you suggest people start with the design of their books?

I would suggest using a professional designer unless the work overall is lo-fi or very simple indeed. Photographers get rightly annoyed when they hear about amateurs taking work away from them and producing sub-standard work, the same goes for book design – pay a professional, it’s worth the money.

So you have your run of beautifully designed and realised books, can you talk us through your approach to marketing?

The final part of this mini business is of course pricing. If you’ve been snapped up by Faber & Faber for a 20 book deal, you don’t have to worry about the next bit. If you’re self-publishing in low volume, however, It’s a very simple retail business price segmentation. If a copy of your book has cost you £20 to produce, then a standard profit margin would be a further £20 for the author, bringing your wholesale price to £40. Any retailer or onward seller will then want the same margin leaving your RRP in a bookstore at £60. This final pricing segment can be mitigated if you sell in person but it’s easy to forget the additional costs of running your mini-publishing house, a website or money handling fees are examples. When it comes to shipping, the cost, of course, varies with location and this has to accounted for in your production costs and profit margins. The best way to ship photobooks and ensure they arrive in perfect condition is to use an oversize cardboard padded bag. Wrap the book in plenty of small bubble wrap, ensure it fits tightly into the bag and the package will survive any manner of abuse. The packaging cost will obviously be commensurate to the quality and cost of the contents.

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Thanks Steve! Do you have any final words of wisdom to share..?

Remember a book is a long term investment, don’t be too discouraged if initial sales are slow. Your creation will be for sale as long as you have stock and its gratifying to know that people will part with their hard earned cash to own your work and keep it in their home.

66 hours is now sold out, but Steve has some fine prints for sale in his online store, as well as other contemplative and provocative projects that deserve time and reward scrutiny.

 All images ©Steve Meyler

 

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Environment, Inspiration, Landscape, Stories

Equilibrium (Ecocide)

5 minute read.

Pictures in honour of the extinction rebels.

The following is an extract from influential human geographer Yi-Fu Tuan referencing mythology and environmentalism.

‘In the Chinese cosmological order, things that belong to the same class affect each other. The process, however, is not one of mechanical causation but rather one of “resonance.” For example, the categories east, wood, green, wind and spring are associated with each other. Change one phenomenon – green, say – and all the others will be affected in a process like a multiple echo.

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‘So the emperor has to wear the colour green in the spring; if he does not the seasonal regularity may be upset. The idea here stresses how human behaviour can influence nature, but the converse is also believed to occur. Nature affects man: for example, “when the yin force in nature is on the ascendancy, the yin in man rises also, and passive, negative, and destructive behaviour can be expected.”

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‘Environmental influence is clearly recognised in the cosmological order of the Saulteaux Indians. Thus the winds are not the only powers in nature that have to be classified and located in space, they are also active forces in conflict over the middle ground where man lives.

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‘North wind declares that he intends to show no mercy to humans; South Wind, in contrast, intends to treat humans well. The fact that North Wind cannot defeat South Wind in battle means that summer will always return.’

Mythical Space and Place, Yi-Fu Tuan

Pictures made in woods north of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire threatened with destruction by the HS2 Project.

All images ©djnorwood 2015

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Book reviews, Inspiration, Landscape

Bastard Countryside

‘The city, in its Victorian overcoat, the muck of centuries on its waistcoat, bored Ballard. He promoted this new place, the rim. The ‘local’ was finished as a concept. Go with the drift, with detachment. The watcher on the balcony. Areas around airports were ecumenical. They were the same everywhere: storage units, hangars, satellite hotels, car hire companies, apologetic farmland as a mop-up apron for Concorde disasters.’

– Iain Sinclair, London Orbital

900 words –

‘Bastard Countryside’, the new book by photographer Robin Friend takes us on a tour of the so called ‘edgelands’ of the UK, pointing out the beauty, mystery and sublime in these 21st century backwaters. In a small autobiographical passage in the front of the book, Friend acknowledging that we still live in a world largely defined by the socio-economic constraints of the past, especially in terms of land ownership and use. Yet this is much more than a dry survey of the rural landscape. It is an archaeological adventure both impressively expansive and movingly intimate. A metaphorical quest of self-discovery as much as a survey of a bruised and battered Britain.

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© Robin Friend 2018 courtesy Loose Joints

The pictures aren’t rooted to any specific geographical locale, either by topographic reference or text. Instead, they seem gloriously unhinged, able to float free of worldly constraints to instead occupy a space that hints at a greater resonance between the image and the unconscious.

Friend’s enigmatic approach could be seen as adding to the mis-firing cannon of so-called ‘edgeland fetish’ as identified by the writer Robert MacFarlane, who provides the lucid afterword. Yet this malediction is confronted by one image in particular – the forelorn carcass of a stranded whale – its blood still leaching into the surrounding sea. This is the factual pivot around which the rest of the work’s fictional narrative seems to balance, tipping the argument away from delusions of the pastoral towards something altogether darker, more political and relevant. Like an embedded harpoon unleashed from the decks of the Pequod, Captain Ahab’s ship in Moby Dick, this image becomes engrained in us, adding poignancy and, paradoxically, life to the book as a whole.

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© Robin Friend 2018 courtesy Loose Joints

On this exploration we’re encouraged to meditate on the possibility and meaning of what we find. Friend’s photographic style shuns the cool formality usually associated with historic schools of landscape photography, instead drawing us in with a sophisticated palette of muted tones, interspersed with discordant notes of red and blue as nature’s harmony is rudely disrupted.

Elsewhere, and bearing in mind that, on the face of it, this is an interogation of ‘the countryside’, the archetypal ‘verdant hills’ of a ‘green and pleasant land’ are resolutely absent and draw attention to the artificiality of such terms. In fact, the conspicuous omission of the predominant colour of nature is one of the over-riding impressions here. Where green does feature, it becomes as man-made as a paved driveway – a gangrenous graft of grass or a slimy slither of sea-weed that, like a contaminated limb, seems to hinder rather than help us on our way. Or, verging on the darkly comical, it becomes something to be burnt.

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© Robin Friend 2018 courtesy Loose Joints

Like the Victor Hugo novel Les Miserable from which the title of this book is derived, this publication is a blend of drama on the micro and macro scale. Large format images repleat with the significance of unfolding narratives interlink with more prosaic digressions that nevertheless take on a sense of the epic, treated as they are with the same meticulous attention to detail. For example, a rusted tin can hidden in a hedge leads seemlessly on to a hulking shipwreck ravaged by tide and time. One gets a sense of the editing here, and the significance of pace, flow and cohesion. The result is a paired-back approach that expertly choreographs form and content into an articulate whole.

The remains of an array of human endevour are exposed to the lens, notably traces from the industrial revolution and the second world war. Many of these spaces and objects are tantalisingly familiar and have contemporary concerns. The recycling facility sorting material into its debased state; the wind farm blighting the bucolic view; ‘an abandoned greenhouse gradually re-mossed,’ as identified by Macfarlane. In less skilful hands these images could have easily tipped into cliché, but not here.

A sequence of penultimate pictures delve into the subterranean world of the tunnel, sewer and cave, reinforcing not only a sense of journey and adventure, but also of apotheosis – the idea of consumerist culture reaching a kind of zenith. Peak stuff, in the literal and metaphorical sense has never been so plainly or keenly observed as here in the blocked bowels of the earth.

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© Robin Friend 2018 courtesy Loose Joints

Friend seems to be echoing, in these underground caverns, the words of the photographer Robert Adams who says, ‘the area’s ruin would be a testament to a bargain we had tried to strike. The pictures record what we purchased, what we paid, and what we could not buy. They document a separation from ourselves and, in turn, from the natural world that we professed to love.’ The bargain in ‘Bastard Countryside’ seems to be at the expense, not only of the surface of the land, but the very internal workings of the earth itself.

Yet truisms crudely articulated render the poetics of art redundant. Here there is beauty (this ugly word) in the most maligned of places – a gift the photographer has captured and translated into form. The possibility of hope that, in time, we might seek to alter our ways and find an alternative to this malaise. What is pictured here is the aftermath of violence, the chaotic clash between global capitalism and nature, played out in a poet’s back yard.

Bastard Countryside by Robin Friend, published by Loose Joints through to www.loosejoints.biz

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Behind the scenes, Environment, Landscape

Tend

Tend /tend/ v. 1. tr. care for, take care of, look after, look out for, watch over, mind, attend to, see to, keep an eye on, cater for, minister to, nurse, nurture, cherish, protect.

‘Free from market obsessions of scarcity, hunters’ economic propensities may be more consistently predicated on abundance than our own.’

Marshall Sahlin, in his essay ‘The Original Affluent Society, from his book ‘Stone Age Economics’.

 

An allotment after its allotted time. Eyed at by prospectors intent on converting to cash. Onions, potatoes, radishes, carrots and leeks vie with burdock and bramble for a stake (literally) in the remains of the fertile ground.

These are the forgotten remains of careful conservation and cared for cabbages. Beneath the foliage of strange and unfamiliar plants, whose fronds sway elegantly in the dusk’s last breath, rutted earth dug in right angled rows turns the ankle of unsuspecting trespassers. Stumbling, legs follow eyes reluctantly to the next abandoned, skeletal shed.

 

 

 

 

I wandered down one summer evening when the upward heat from the earth met the low sun’s last residual rays. I heard the percussive notes of shattering greenhouse glass: a whisper of boys huddled around an air- rifle, taking aim at anything that caught their eye. I wondered whether I should go down and try to negotiate a picture, but thought better of it. I didn’t doubt my own safety but knew those moments with mates – when some random stranger crashes a summer evening – were times that shouldn’t be interrupted. The suffocating heat was a warning that this was a place where I had no legitimate walk on part.

I waited at a distance. After seeing them burn up and out of the estate, I eased into the tall grass – a similar sensory experience to wild swimming such was the feeling of immersion. I lost a few skin cells to the tips of brambles wading between islands of 2by4 and fetid felt. A few surprising things were left behind: a tool kit never used, still in its box (with receipt); a variety of manual tools in states of distortion – gappy forks with missing tangs; bundles of brittle bamboo gathering dust; garden sieves that reminded me of a recurring childhood dream of panning for gold in the Klondike (aka the seasonal stream at the bottom of the garden).

The sense of industry in this place is palpable. Animal, insect and plant vie with the human to create layers of elaborate existential references. Small pathways or ‘smouts’ in the tall grasses elude to the nocturnal commute of rodents and small mammals. A beautifully formed abandoned wasps nest suggests ours is not the only reality – that there are other worlds living with us, in parallel but not linear time. A micro cosmos, yes, but no less beautiful and arguably more relevant than its celestial cousin.

So, when the bulldozers move into this vacant lot, another ‘unproductive’ space will be won over by the money men. The direction of travel here is unsurprising. A frictionless future perhaps, but one which marginalises the already under-appreciated moments and significance of and in this abandoned place.

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Behind the scenes, Environment, Inspiration, Landscape, Stories

Pits (dis)

Pits. Everywhere, pits.

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©Crown Copyright 2015

The dimpled remains of an agricultural past litter the landscape. Farm labourers gathered its chalky alkaline nutrients, then applied it back to the topsoil as fertilizer around a hundred years ago. Then, fields were smaller and could be re-energized more easily with modest machines and brute strength. Pastures were dotted with people, talking, shouting, singing even.

Go to a ‘less advanced’ nation, Morocco say, and listen to the sounds the land encourages people to make. Whooping in the cold morning light. Toiling ‘till the sweat appears. I’ve been there and heard it. I’ve camped out under the stars on a rocky hill by the side of the road: pitched up by bicycle the day before, thinking I was the only one for miles. As dawn broke, a work party lying low nearby filled the air with the clatter of their pick-axes, which reverberated round the valley walls. These were the sounds that once resonated in the spaces carved out between these woods, in these pits. Now this clamour of voices is consigned to the past.

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Al Haouz, Morocco ©djnorwood 2015

Of course, this is not the whole story. There is quiet – in between the gunfire from pheasant and partridge shooting, when their less appetising cousins can be heard. Coppices are festooned with plastic feeders and barrels that could grace a gallery space, as Duchamp-esque ready-mades, such is their utilitarian sculpted form. The only way to negotiate these places, without straying across the sight lines of twin barrels, is with the help of a map. Maps help keep us safe.

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Untitled #1 ©djnorwood 2016

Maps also spur our curiosity, if we let them. At the risk of stating the obvious, the ordnance survey map aims to graphically represent three dimensional reality on a two dimensional plane, with all the necessary information needed for safe passage in the outdoors – the location of the nearest pub, for example, being of particular significance. But it also harbours information about physical features deemed necessary for safe passage through space. Pits are a fine example. Each one is marked as if it were a key feature to notice or negotiate – the map yielding these features – pit (dis) – as if they were waypoints on a quest. Yet in reality they are hard to find and usually disguised by mature trees, making full use of the fertile soil beneath.

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An open chalk pit ©djnorwood 2016

We are aware of the significance of local actions on the global whole, and this is the starting point for my curiosity. This was reinforced recently by reading the fascinating and far reaching biography of Alexander von Humboldt, ‘The Invention of Nature’ by Andrea Wulf. Humboldt recognised the connectedness of the natural world back in the early part of the 19th century, and although much has changed in the way that we interconnect with each other, our interdependence with the land remains the same. Humboldt recognised both the significance of humans impact on ecosystems and the details of flora and fauna that gave flesh to his ideas. In the absence of so little of each, were he alive today, I’m convinced he would have searched out clues such as these.

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Humboldt in South America: Versuch über die gereizte Muskel-und Nervenfaser (1797)

These particular ones aren’t heroic monuments like the usual totems of our recent industrial past – in Cornwall for example – where the chimneystacks of abandoned tin mines break the horizon like spires. These are intimate , hidden depressions, surrounded by trees, and this is the M3 corridor of rural Hampshire – a heavily industrialized zone of mono-cultural farms and fields.

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A disused chalk pit, ©djnorwood 2016

Perhaps lingering significance lies with the map makers themselves, who have carefully documented their pock marked presence, laying cartographical bread-crumbs on the surface of paper, and leaving it up to the curious minded to discover and create their own narrative. Perhaps it lies in the simple notion that something insignificant marked on a map can arouse interest and curiosity, and this in itself should be a cause for hope and optimism.

Anyone with a (healthy) map obsession can scratch the itch at the British Library. The fascinating  Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is open until 1st March 2017.

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Exhibitions, Inspiration, Landscape, Theory

Thomas Struth and the (un)Mediated Image

Shinju-ku (Skyscrapers), Tokyo 1986 1986 by Thomas Struth born 1954

mediate vb 1. –ating, -ated to intervene between people or in a dispute in order to bring about an agreement 2. to resolve differences by mediation 3. to be changed slightly by (an experience or event)

“My whole idea of working has a lot to do with how humans live. How we live, how I live, how humans live together – human connectivity. That is my core value: what it is to be human. That is everything I believe in. I do not believe in current ideas of post humanity.”– Thomas Struth, Art Monthly 5.94

To a greater or lesser extent, all photographs have some kind of psychology or psychological origin and effect, whether it’s the ubiquitous ‘selfie’ or the jewel-like fine art print. Submerged beneath each image lies an interwoven raft of reason and rational – in journalistic terms the ‘who, what, where, when,’ of the image, but more importantly for this discussion, also the ‘why’. By looking at the architectural work of the photographer Thomas Struth, currently on show at the Barbican’s excellent ‘Constructing Worlds’ exhibition, we can see some of these psychological elements reveal themselves and become more accessible.

A first reading of the quote and image above may seem to be stretching these worldly ideas somewhat. Here we have a rigorously constructed large format photograph of modernist architecture and street scene – almost completely devoid of people or ‘street-life’, and conversely we have the artist’s intention to articulate through the photographic process his particular concern for the state of society – or the ‘human connectivity’, as he puts it.

In between these two seemingly dialectic ideas, the camera acts as a mechanical intermediary, but also offers the notion of a metaphorical ‘walkway’ between the psychological state of the artist and the concrete world he seeks to interpret. A kind of ‘alchemy’ is achieved between what is actually in front of the camera, and the translation of that three dimensional ‘fact’ into something more analogous to the photographers’ reason for being there. However, what is most interesting about Struth’s work is the great lengths to which the he goes to distance himself from an imposed reading of the image.

To paraphrase Struth from the same article, ‘Everything is being filled up with mediated information, mediated fantasies, mediated role models, mediated models of society, mediated violence and mediated suggestions for solutions, which are in turn no solutions.’ To which the obvious reply is why take the picture in the first place, if not to ‘mediate’ some kind of message to the viewer? The photograph is surely the ultimate mediation between the real world and its two dimensional representation.

Struth cleverly tackles this critique by deploying a field of view which is habitually referred to as ‘cool’, yet harbours a meticulous vision in harmony with that of the architects’ and supersedes those of the buildings’ invisible inhabitants. By being restrained, he challenges the viewer to wonder about the psychological effects of living on such streets and in such cities, without the need to actively mediate this information himself.

Free from any consciously directed reading of the image, the psychological intensity of the work comes from the obsessive qualities of Struth’s vision itself, and for me at least, a reason to keep going back to study and attempt to understand the complexities of our relationship with the constructed world.

Thomas Struth will be speaking at Tate Modern in London on Wednesday at The Landscape in Contemporary Photography: from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The Constructing Worlds exhibition is on at the Barbican until 11th January.

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Book reviews, Environment, Inspiration, Landscape, Stories, Theory

Stories from the English Countryside

Something like a Nest, by Andy Sewell

“Visible out picture windows, however, are fragments of open sky and long views which obscurely make radiant even what frightens us.”

– Finis Dunaway, Beyond Wilderness

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©Andy Sewell

In his enigmatically titled new book, Something Like a Nest, photographer Andy Sewell engages in a poetic re-framing – both literal and metaphorical – of the English countryside. Employing a subtle and contemplative pictorial style, the book addresses aspects of rural life and living beyond that which is superficially dramatic or stereotypical.

Sewell’s is not a search for his own sanctuary amongst the common detritus of agricultural production and country life, but rather as a collector of small stories, and motifs, which allude in an oblique way, to their own unique narrative vignettes. The overall effect is not to define what the English Countryside is and what happens there necessarily, but to open up possibilities and connections between disparate aspects contained therein.

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©Andy Sewell

The simple act of noticing (as mundane as that sounds), or put another way, of understanding the reason for noticing, plays an important thematic role in the book. The third image, for example, depicts a still life of a jar containing what can only be described as a glutinous mass of frogspawn. Hermetically sealed in their iridescent enclave, the spawn seem safe and secure, like a new type of Kiwi jam from Waitrose, perhaps, with the label carefully peeled to reveal the tempting fruits behind. Yet, on a second look – second thought more appropriately – this is a precarious position for the entrapped embryos. The day could quickly turn from overcast and cool, to harsh and hot, boiling the life out of this primordial preserve.

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©Andy Sewell

Another still life also alludes, more subtly, to containment. This time a carton (cartoon?) of eggs is placed on a cloth-covered table illustrated with kitsch depictions of cockerels and hens. This stylized ‘wipe-clean’ version of nature – resplendent with repetitious, almost robotic looking roosters – cleverly negotiates a dialogue between the natural world and consumerism; between the rural environment and our manipulation of it. In this context, the letter lurking in the background from Tesco.com takes on somewhat Orwellian connotations. The cutlery clamouring in the corner – normally benign utensils clad as they are in sunny yellow – are now made lurid, adding a further tinge of artificiality.

This rubberized ‘cartooncloth’ adds to a sense of a reality somewhat skewed. Or is it perhaps a sense of the awareness of the photographer, somehow heightened? Either way, Sewell seems to celebrate rather than chastise these eccentricities, taking aesthetic pleasure in agricultural geometry and a keen eye for the significance in the minute and the mundane.

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©Andy Sewell

Two years ago I spent some time walking the route of the proposed HS2 rail line between London and Birmingham. Although that area of the Buckinghamshire countryside is designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, the land is visually and ecologically better described as a kind of green desert. Modern farming techniques turn nature into a monoculture fit for little, save for the very specific task of growing crops. In Sewell’s green desert, the washing line draped across the middle of the frame includes a Thomas the Tank Engine towel, playfully illustrating the precariousness of this symbolic rural retreat. In the foreground, a shrunken toy tractor seems the victim of some kind of agro-chemical blunder.

Elsewhere in the book, the colour red and the people who do appear, play an equally emblematic, unifying role, as do the five kitchen windows, resplendently back-lit with jewel-like ornaments and emerald green (radioactive?) washing up liquid. Religion appears as a metaphorical backdrop, and rituals are represented throughout, adding to the sense that repetition and renewal are key features of this unsentimental and complex vision of rural life.

The image on the front of the book reflects this too, showing the desiccated remains of a cornfield, and it is encased, like frequent objects in much of Sewell’s English landscape, in a thin and beautiful veneer of plastic.

Something like a Nest is available to buy via http://www.andysewell.com/

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