Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Vista, Furness Abbey

I was looking at ‘A Vista, Furness Abbey’ (1860) by Roger Fenton in Tate Britain’s How We Are exhibition today. The abbey itself looks rather as I imagine it looks today - what’s interesting are the three figures, backlit and semi-posed, creating a Romantic atmosphere that doesn’t really emerge from the stones themselves. They look, and were no doubt meant to look, like characters in a story, and now the passage of time has turned the ‘actors’ themselves into characters.

I made a note of some of the landscapes in the exhibition, listed here with links to earlier posts where I’ve talked before about some of the photographers. In the first room, apart from Fenton, there are early photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot, picturesque countryside scenes by Benjamin Brecknell Turner (1815-94), photographs to accompany the Ordnance Survey by Sir Henry James (1803-77), and commercial landscape photographs by Francis Frith (1822-98) – Frith established a family firm that lasted until 1971 and whose images are viewable online at the Francis Frith site.

Moving into the twentieth century there are two striking aerial photographs of London and Edinburgh by Alfred George Buckham (complete with superimposed images of an aeroplane). In a room on the ‘new Britain’ covering the post-war period, the curators include more aerial views, from geographer J.A. Steers’ book The Coast of England and Wales (1946), along with some Country Life Picture Books, colour guide book photographs by Walter Arthur Poucher and W.G. Hoskins’ The Making of the English Landscape (although I’m not sure why this last book was particularly relevant to a photography exhibition). Geoffrey Grigson always crops up in anything to do with mid-century British landscape, and he makes an appearance here as editor of An English Farmhouse and its Neighbourhood (1948), with photographs by Percy Hennell.

Among more recent photographers, the exhibition includes some post-industrial scenes by John Davies - he has a homepage with various landscape photographs and images of Rachel Whiteread’s House. There is a neat (too neat?) juxtaposition of ghastly modern suburban houses photographed by Fergus Heron and David Spero’s shots of hopeful but rather fragile looking eco-houses from his Settlements project (which were discussed in a Guardian article here). There are some of Jonathan Olley’s sea wall pictures and two of Jem Southam’s intriguing large format photographs of The Pond at Upton Pyne – a fuller set of these can be seen at the V&A site. Finally there is one of Dan Holdsworth’s ‘Machine for Living’ non-spaces and a rather stunning photograph of a ‘slight disturbance of the sea’ by Simon Norfolk (the first image reproduced in this BLDGBLOG post).


snarlerson said...

You might enjoy the James Gray Collection which is being digitised. So far 8 of 40 volumes are accessible and can be found on

The collection, which is owned by the Regency Society of Brighton and Hove, concentrates on Brighton and Hove and has a large number of sea side views, from the 1850s onwards, which are already on-line.

Plinius said...

Thanks for this link - the images are very evocative and the captions interesting. I'm not sure Professor Reddish would get away with his act these days (particularly in that outfit).