Every summer, I head to Les Rencontres d’Arles. Arguably the world’s most prestigious photography festival, Arles is a great chance for me to see a great range of new, contemporary photography and catch up with friends and clients. Many travel much further than I, from the French Riviera, to come to this event in the South of France – photographers and photo editors alike. This year was special: not only was it the event’s 50th birthday, but I was among the photographers with work on show in town.
I had been selected as a finalist in the first edition of OpenWalls Arles – an international award run by the British Journal of Photography (the world’s longest running photography magazine). My self portrait, taken as part of ‘Motherland‘ – an ongoing personal project about the landscapes of my childhood in Cornwall – had been shortlisted for a month-long group exhibition at Galerie Huit Arles. Although it’s not one of the main festival programme venues, this contemporary photography and art gallery is a prominent institution in the centre of Arles, and I was delighted to have been invited to participate.
Home & Away was the exhibition’s theme, and my Motherland project had taken me far away, to the wild landscapes of Bodmin Moor in southwest England. I’d lived there until I was 18, and had never gone back to stay again. Yet I’d never forgotten the sounds, sights and scents of this remote place. It had become part of me, and I’d felt drawn to return there, over 20 years later, to explore my relationship with this land of my childhood. The self portrait (above) was shot on a digital camera, but the rest of my work there uses film, both large and medium format, and is mostly in black and white – quite a change from my work today as an assignment photographer in the South of France.
“…I scratched my arms on boulders, twisted my ankle on tussocks, wrestled twigs out of my hair and cut my fingers, time and time again, on bracken stems. I thrust my hands into the turf and soft moss growing in dark, gravelly soil, and I was home. I learned how to find my way back blind to the farmhouse, following the soft contours of the land, the twists and turns of sheep paths and the shape of gorse bushes looming out of the mist, each one a different letter in the secret language spelling out the way. I learned that underfoot, even amid the bleakest, colour-drained, eye-level emptiness, water droplets might glisten on a perfect miniature spider’s web, or a tiny plant might throw its golden, pin-prick flowers of light into the forest of tough, brown grass stems. I left Bodmin Moor when I left home, and I did not return. But those driving winds blew its lingering mists into my skin, and its dark soil seeped into my blood. Many miles and many landscapes later, Bodmin Moor abides as a space deep within me: a rush of life, an uncompromisable wildness and a peace. It is no longer a landscape, yet neither is it my past…”
[extract from project text]
By the time I arrived at the exhibition’s private view with my festival buddies (photographers Dominick Tyler and James Reeve), the 17th century mansion was bustling with people. On crossing the threshold, I was delighted to see that my work, set directly opposite the door, had been beautifully printed and framed. The ensemble of the 50 works shown was first-rate, made by an eclectic mix of contemporary photographers, and it was a privilege to be among them.
Thank you to the British Journal of Photography and to Julia of Galerie Huit for the opportunity to show in this lovely space, and to Sunghee Lee of Atelier SHL for the impeccable printing and framing. Watch this space for more, as my Motherland project develops….