David George has been exploring photographic representations of the contemporary British landscape for 40 years and has incorporated themes prevalent in 19th century painting practice and aesthetic to aid this exploration. David has appropriated the Sublime, the Melancholy, the Romantic, the Pastoral and the Uncanny in series of images, which he has made to create work that represents the contemporary landscape in a more pictorialist way, while still creating images that can be viewed as documenting the landscape. With this in mind, David’s over arching theme for his recent work is based on the idea of the Broken Pastoral.
The Broken Pastoral contains two interconnected strands of thought and practice. The first is tasked with transposing ideas and themes prevalent in western classical art, on to contemporary British landscape photography. The second strand has the intention to document man-altered landscapes with a more romantic representation, a representation that is at odds with the dominant school of thought presently surrounding contemporary landscape photography.
David is Associate Lecturer in Photography at The Cass School of Architecture, Art and Design specialising in archival / darkroom process, and Visiting Lecturer at Norwich University of the Arts where he gives masterclasses on low level, available light photography. In 2009 he co-founded the Uncertain States project which published a quarterly Broadsheet on contemporary British lens-based art, and organised lectures seminars and exhibitions around modern photographic ideas and practice.
David lives in East London.
FIELDWORK Q&A – September 2020
How is fieldwork part of your practice?
Fieldwork is in the very DNA of my practice. I spend many months researching for any project. I undertake much of it online and the use of reference books, and purchase any relevant maps I think I may need which I use in conjunction with Google earth to plan the logistics of a project before I set off.
The maps are an important part of my fieldwork, I use them to keep me on the route I have assigned. I make notes on them for future reference when I return to work at night. I also use them to mark out the images I have made so I know from the film roll reference number on the map exactly where each shot was taken. The maps are then displayed when the images are exhibited so people can see the route that was undertaken and all the notations and marks made in real time as I walked. They seem to bring the walk to life and give the images an extra context that is visual/geographical rather than textual. People are endlessly curious about them.
I enjoy the movement through the landscape for days at a time, the long periods of thought that come with the rhythm of step. I appreciate the solitude of the walk that allows you to stop and stare at the tiny details or broad sweeping vistas that a walking companion would hinder with their own internal timetable or need to find words for, when observing is really all that is required. I sometimes take my dogs as they are the perfect walking companions, endlessly patient and unable to verbalize their thoughts.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
My fieldwork activity has always involved walking and photographing the landscape, mainly at night. Over the last couple of years I have taken to doing longer walks over extended periods of time. I usually cover around 25km a day and will walk for 8 to 10 days straight for each project (or part of). I shoot black and white film during the day and digital colour at night.
My work hinges around the English landscape and how economic, rather than geological or biological pressure, constantly reform and reshape these topographies and have done so for millennia. When I step into a new landscape my first, and most important, question I ask is “Why does it look like this”? There is normally a human element involved in the answer. The English landscape is almost always a direct result of the way we use the land and that in turn reflects, for me, where we are as a society. It has become a sort of topological compass indicating society’s current direction of travel. The work is not intended to judge how we use, or have historically used, the land, but simply to photograph the landscape in a way that makes us ask questions and induce a sense of appreciation of the world we currently inhabit. There is an attempt within the work to indicate how the English landscape has been, and always will be, in a state of constant flux. Nothing is a fixed point, all is tenuous and many of the landscapes that are with us today will probably have morphed into something unrecognizable 100 years from now. The land is permanent, but the landscape is malleable, constantly being bent and reformed as it suffers collateral damage from our ever-changing usage of the land.
Another thread to my work is trying to pacify the Dionian/Apollonian conflict that exists when documenting these landscapes while simultaneously acknowledging their inert beauty. Can a handsome image still be seen as a document of fact or does the romantic disengage the classical subjectivity of the image? It’s an idea that permeates throughout all of my work of the last 10 years and is based on the premise of the Broken Pastoral. My work could be seen as a reaction to the New Topographic School of photography. Although an admirer of their work I do not think that the cold classical approach, that they maintain in the making of their photographs of man altered landscape, is the only valid intellectual aesthetic when rendering images of these topographies, and a gentler aesthetic is just as capable of creating the same intellectual response within the viewer.
Although these ideas are not part of the physicality of the fieldwork, they are considerations that inform the images I make on logistical, intellectual and aesthetic levels so are, in their own right, integral to the fieldwork.
How are you currently sharing your fieldwork?
I usually share my fieldwork through lectures and exhibitions, but due to the current Covid situation I have had two major shows cancelled this year and there is nothing now scheduled until 2022 so there is no means of sharing my work at present – although I do have a website, I am not certain it is a very good way to view work. Presently, I am working on 3-year project which I hope to finish next year – part of which involves making photogravures, so this hiatus will give me the space I need for this time-consuming process.
East of Eden