A little bit of whimsy?

July 6, 2012

 

 

Candour

This work was inspired by G.W. Manby’s 1802 work, ‘An Historic and Picturesque Guide from Clifton, Through the Counties of Monmouth, Glamorgan and Brecknock, With Representations of Ruins, Interesting Antiquities, & c. & c.’  Printed by Fenley and Baylis, Bristol.

What follows are the two mini essays which can be found at the back of my own book, the quotes I used to introduce each section and the images themselves.  The photographs in the book were handprinted in the colour darkroom and were presented as 5 x 4 prints, ‘tipped’ onto the pages.  The design on the cover and the end pages were taken from maps of the time and transformed by my colleague and graphic designer, Christie Powers.  Christie was also responsible for screen-printing the design onto the fabric that was used to create the cover.  The books were printed and constructed by Mr R. Prosser, working out of a Newport church.

For those unsure of the meaning of ‘candour’, it is a noun and ‘the quality of being open and honest; frankness’

The ‘essays’ (the first gives a little background to Manby’s own journey and the second gives the reader a little inclination of my own intentions):

Manby and his own grand tour

There is something charming in G.W. Manby’s ambition to write a ‘small tract’ to guide visitors through early 19th century South Wales; for his small ambition to ‘divert the mind’ and ‘restore the invalid’.  In an age when touring was for the sons and daughters of the aristocracy and focused on the grand scale, the mountains and waterfalls and incredible art held in private collections, Manby’s book takes us to the smaller, quieter places and a new industrial landscape.  We are led to the remains of a chapel in the middle of an unfriendly farmer’s field, to ancient artefacts built into walls and to castles that do not open their doors.  He takes us to marvel at the roar and stench of the Industrial Revolution and at each step of the way offers a commentary on the history of the land and a description of the people he meets along the way.

When Manby visited Merthyr Tydfil it was the largest and most powerful iron manufacturing area in the world; its furnaces lit the night sky and the town was alive with the sights and sounds of industry.  Tintern Abbey and Raglan Castle could be accessed and enjoyed without paying an entry fee.  Roman coins were being dug up by individuals and displayed in private collections.  According to Manby, the Welsh people were either charming or ignorant, depending on whether or not they spoke English.  His guide describes a South Wales in a period of growth and transition, from the ‘backward’ agricultural to the ‘modern’ mechanical; it was a time of discovery, innovation and adventure.  It was a place worth exploring.

Interestingly, his intended readership was not the sons of gentry who would once have embarked upon the ‘Grand Tour’ to Italy, but well-off residents of and visitors to Clifton and Hotwells in Bristol who fancied a change.  The author, a former army officer, was not a member of the upper class and this is reflected in the places he visits and the people he speaks to during his journey.  He has aspirations to ‘belong’ and attempts to build his own collection of Roman artefacts at Caerleon, but also, as an inventor and engineer, is excited by the new Glamorganshire canal and iron works.  He is a man of his time, but also, fascinated by progress, a man of the future.

Candour 

A piece of obscure travel writing from 1802 might not be the most obvious inspiration for a work of contemporary documentary photography, yet Candour has been made in response to Manby’s text.  Intrigued by his choice of route, and his intention to take an ‘honest’ look at the land, I decided to explore 21st century South Wales using Manby as my guide.  He has taken me to castles and country houses, small villages and culs-de-sac, to pub playgrounds and golf courses.  Unlike Manby, I do not seek to tell the reader exactly what they will find on their journey.  In fact, I have deliberately chosen not to name the places I photographed.  This is not a page by page survey and re-presentation of his work, but an homage to the country an independent pragmatic traveller could find, when making a journey, slowly.

Candour speaks of quiet places where in the making of the photograph I was able to remove myself from the bustle of the everyday and connect with the landscape and its past.  At times, I had a strong sense of Manby striding across the countryside in search of details which would delight, and in the focusing of my camera on objects and views which I found of interest, I felt a kinship with this man, this observer of the land.

Allusions to the historical and industrial heritage of South Wales exist within the photographs, but the work I hope is more subtle than this.  Both Manby’s text and the images that make up Candour,  speak of the trace of things, but also of man’s ability to move forward.  Candour is a ‘small tract’, a guide, a diversion and a sense of a land once more in transition.

 And finally, the photographs.  Reader, I present to you (out of context and not nearly as lovely on the screen):
Candour

One can rarely travel in any distance in this quarter, without perceiving indubitable proofs of the splendor that has reigned.

… here I had manifest proof of the inventive faculty of man, and persevering assiduity to surmount the obstacles lying in the way of his pursuits…
Never did I see a country more designed for happiness, or formed to smile misfortunes away…
I felt lost by the elegance of the ruins in their peaceful, sequestered spot, ornamented by the wonderful and bounteous hand of nature…
 
… fancy appears extravagant in her sublimities of wood, water, hill and dale…
 There is one final photograph, which interestingly is a favourite of many people who have seen the work so far.  Unfortunately, I am not able to show it to you at this time…  You will need to wait (or buy the book.  Tee hee.)
The title of this blog post refers to the feedback received from my tutor, in which it was pointed out that my photographic influences are still too obvious and that my work is too whimsical for his taste…  Actually, whimsy fits in rather nicely I think.  The definition in one on-line dictionary for whimsical is as follows,  ‘… playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way.’
I like to imagine that G.W. Manby would find some pleasure in the project inspired by his own, and find within it images and words that would ‘reward the tourist with pleasure, health and delight…’
p.s. I am sorry that some of the images are ‘stuck together’.  In the WordPress preview, this was not the case and I have no idea how to fix the problem!
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One Response to “A little bit of whimsy?”

  1. Lyn Caswell Says:

    Lovely words and images here are even better in the book, but neither can represent the time, effort and hard work that has gone into the final product. Well done.


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