We’re taking a Close Up look at some of the projects we’re exhibiting in Everything I Ever Learnt at Cambridge University with Art at the ARB, sharing more of a behind the scenes insight, and the bigger picture.
Shutter Hub member Daniel Norwood spent 12 years working as a forensic photographer with the Metropolitan Police Service investigating serious crime. Notably he worked on the Paddington Rail Crash and the 7/7 London bombings where he collaborated with forensic pathologists identifying victims of the attack. He has since been engaged teaching forensic photography and more recently, creative photography at the British Academy of Photography to HND level.
Daniel is currently working towards combining his experiences in forensic photography within the broader context of an art based practice. He was recently part of a delegation that travelled to Bosnia to visit the site of the genocide in 1995 around the village of Srebrenica. Daniel is currently researching this subject and formulating plans for a re-visit later in the year.
The project started as a response to a quest or ‘search for a site’. What is it about a place that draws us in? What is unique about it and how does it resonate on those first and subsequent encounters? These are all questions I had in mind at the outset.
My background is relevant. I was recently made redundant after 17 years as a forensic photographer, had moved to an unfamiliar area, got married and become a father, all in the space of two years. These factors influenced my quest and drew me towards this empty bungalow on the edge of a village in rural Hampshire. In many conventional ways my world had shrunk, but in others it had expanded in unseen and unforeseeable ways.
My first concern was to attempt to contact the owners, of course, in order to gain permission to photograph. After some initial attempts to track them down, I tried the letterbox, hoping that mail would soon be collected. This strategy did eventually pay off and I received a note in kind. Analogue correspondence seemed to fit the project, somehow.
Research online was productive but not all of it was interesting, or easily digestible. Plans for demolition by new owners had hit the buffers for two reasons: opposition against the size of the new building ‘in-keeping’ with the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of the street, but also due to a colony of bats who knew a good thing when they echo located it, and had moved in. Amongst the material was an official report from an ecologist who assessed the site. I found his analysis interesting when combined with the images I was producing and started to combine them as a way of recording my research.
I decided to re-visit the house on a regular basis, not wanting to restrict myself by times or dates, it was more a question of when I could fit it in. The site is such a modest size and only 20 minutes drive, so I only really needed a couple of hours. On each visit, I would spend some time re-orientating myself then expose just one role of medium format film, deciding what had changed and what was new and interesting. It became a stabilising ritual during a period when my old routines and realities had all but disappeared.
As the seasons changed, I became aware of two things. The first is prosaic and obvious – the gradual disintegration of the linear pattern of the garden – the organisation of the human on the organic. This included large bramble tendrils the size of a baby’s arm encroaching on the domestic space. Art imitating life, you could say. The second is subtler, but came to me as a bit of a revelation. Left to its own devises, with no human interaction, the garden produced a kind of symbiosis between elements that was at times extraordinary.
A case in point was the apples that swelled but were never picked. What was going to happen to them? Were they all going to rot? Were they all going to drop? Would they all disappear? I became fascinated by these simple questions. Spoiler alert: some were cored out by an array of garden birds to form natural sculptures that I found astonishingly beautiful, given the translucence of their skins and flesh.
Traces of the bats were harder to find. Butterfly wings caught up in spiders webs were the only reliable evidence of these nocturnal visitors and their culinary habits. Their protected status prevented close-up photography. As things stand, they form a tantalizingly invisible but ever-present line of defence between the new owners and whatever plans they have for the future of the site.
Seismic shifts in the old order are now beginning to appear. The new owners have started clearing, creating a blank canvas on which to create their own interpretation of ‘home’. The apple trees on one side of the plot have been uprooted as if by an act-of-god and newly developing bulbs sensitive to minute atmospheric change lie like exhibits on the freshly excavated soil. Nature creates its own harmony when left to its own devices and the act of re-visiting and observing these changes throws the present turmoil into even sharper relief.
Nevertheless, I find myself re-sensitised and atuned to small, ongoing changes in my environment. My goal is to return for as long as I am permitted using the same methodology. My intention is to conduct research into the history of the building and gather more archive material that has a broader socio-economic context. In the meantime, the narrative of this small plot continues to unfold in constantly strange and surprising ways.
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