PHO705 Critical Review of Practice: Appendix I

The following forms my part of my Critical Review of Practice. My supervisor suggested placing it here in order to avoid making my written submission overly long and complex.


Appendix I

The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596

The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596 was one of a large number of rural protests that took place throughout the sixteenth century all over England but which reached a particular peak in times of crisis. By 1596 there had been three poor harvests in a row. The price of grain had risen threefold in some areas and many rural poor now faced starvation. Lacking the support of a modern police and security apparatus, governments of the time were well aware that large and, especially, coordinated uprisings would be very difficult to contain.

What we know of the events in Oxfordshire is entirely due to the historian John Walter who documented the story after meticulously researching the surviving state papers a few years ago (Walter 1985, 2006). Here, he sets the scene:

England in the 1590s faced a series of challenges that has led historians to label the decade ‘the crisis of the 1590s’. Economically, renewed and rapid population growth had seen both rising inflation, especially in the price of food, and a significant growth in landlessness, land-poverty and unemployment. Socially, the consequences were divisive. While economic change brought a significant increase in the numbers of the landless poor, those with land and capital benefited from the same forces.  By the late sixteenth century, perhaps some 40% of the population depended to a greater or lesser extent on the market for food and work (Walter 2006: 48-9).

A bad harvest fell disproportionately on the poor, leading to high prices for basic foodstuffs and increased unemployment. As John Walter makes clear, in the days before any welfare safety net ‘tensions rose in a society where subsistence crises and regional famine threatened the lives of the poor and harvest-sensitive’ (Walter 2006: 48-9).

In northern Oxfordshire, however, another factor was fuelling social tensions: aggressive land enclosures by wealthy landlords, forcing villagers off what had hitherto been common or arable land in favour of sheep pasture and thus increasing the pool of landless poor unable to sustain themselves. The enclosers were often aristocrats but were often also ‘new money’ like the Freres of Water Eaton, successful aldermen from Oxford city.

While land enclosure was a piecemeal process at the time across England, a nexus of contentious and resented enclosures was in a small parcel of land around the villages of Bletchingdon, Hampton Gay, Kidlington, Water Eaton and Yarnton just to the north of Oxford city. Several enclosers were at work there, among them Francis Power in Bletchingdon, Vincent Barry in Hampton Gay, William Frere in Water Eaton and Sir William Spencer in Yarnton.

Enter a 28-year-old carpenter called Bartholomew Steer from the village of Hampton Gay. In the autumn of 1596 Steer and a few other young men began to solicit support for a general rising in the area against the landlords and to secure famine relief. In Steer’s words ‘there would be a rising of the people to pulle downe the enclosures, whereby waies were stopped up, and arrable landes inclosed, and to laie the same open againe’ (Walter 1985: 100).

Crucially, however, Steer went a step further than other rebels of the time. Whereas the call in rural areas was usually confined to violence against property – by throwing down the hedges of the enclosers and taking back arable land – Steer advocated a more drastic solution. He called for local landlords to be assassinated and their weapons seized house by house in a progress towards London – at which point, he hoped, the London prentices would join them in a general uprising. ‘Yt was but a monthes work to overrun England’, he reportedly claimed (Walter 1985: 108).

In Steer’s sights were property owners from one of the Queen’s favourites Sir Henry Lee at Ditchley to the county’s lord lieutenant Sir Henry Norris at Rycote . As Steer proposed,

after their rising they would goe to Mr Poers, and knock at the gate, and keepe him fast that opened the dore, and sodainly thrust in, And . . . he with his ffawchion would Cutt of their heads, and would not bestowe a halter on them, And then they would goe to Mr Berries and spoill him and Cutt of his heade, and his daughters’ heads. … And thens to Sir Henry Lea and spoile him likewise, and thens to Sir William Spencer & spoille him, And so to Mr ffrere, and so to my Lord Norreis, and so to London (Walter 1985: 90).

In the event, Steer’s plans never got off the ground. Records show that he was a thoughtful tactician and eloquent speaker, but the essential problem was that he and a handful of other not-so-young village men would never have the authority to persuade large numbers of people to risk everything for political change. Most of those approached expressed sympathy but declined involvement. Besides, many of Steer’s recorded comments are somewhat fantastical and it remains unclear how serious about a programme of assassination he actually was. ‘Work?’, he said to a starving villager, ‘Care not for worke, for we shall have a meryer world shortly; there be lusty fellowes abroade, and I will gett more, and I will work one daie and plaie an other, ffor I know ere yt be long wee shall have a meryer world’ (Walter 1985: 100). This was hardly practical talk in a famine. The enigma of the Oxfordshire Rising is whether, had it ever happened, anyone would have been harmed at all.

Steer aimed to ignite the uprising with a gathering on Enslow Hill (a mile from Hampton Gay) on 17 November 1596, chosen because it had been the site of an earlier rural rebellion in 1549, also bloodily suppressed. On that Sunday evening, however, only a handful of people turned up and by 11 p.m. Steer and his few companions made for home. Worse was to follow, much worse. Elizabethan society was rife with informers and Vincent Barry at Hampton Gay, Steer’s own Lord of the Manor, had already been alerted. Barry raised a general alarm and within days Steer and others had been detained. Before long, they were on their way to London tied to the backs of horses.

Waiting for them in London was Sir Edward Coke, the attorney general. Coke was convinced that he had uncovered a grave plot and authorized torture ‘for the better bowltinge forth of the truthe’. From now on, matters assumed a terrible inevitability. Statements extracted from the men confirmed to Coke that stern measures were required, if only pour encourager les autres. Four men were subsequently arraigned on charges of high treason, even though some of Coke’s fellow lawyers were uneasy at what may have seemed a disproportionate response to rural braggadocio with no actual action ever arising.

Of the four men charged, only two ever went to full trial. Steer and one companion had already died in prison, either from the torture or from the conditions of incarceration. Judicial proceedings were little more than a kangaroo court. At an assize hearing two of the jurors were local land-owners. A judge at the treason trial was compromised by a familial relationship with Vincent Barry of Hampton Gay: his heir was about to become Barry’s son-in-law.

In the summer of 1597 the Oxfordshire Rising came to a miserable end back on Enslow Hill where it had started. In a final act of barbarity Richard Bradshaw of Hampton Gay and Robert Burton of Beckley were hung, drawn and quartered with proceedings overseen by none other than landlord and encloser William Frere of Water Eaton.

This is a poignant and fascinating insight into another world that John Walter’s research into contemporary records and court proceedings has rescued from historical obscurity. The story also has a very surprising outcome. Within a few years, the authorities were discouraging land enclosure, promoting a return to tillage and prosecuting aggressive landlords. Among the first to be arraigned before the Star Chamber in London for precisely that were Francis Power of Bletchingdon and William Frere of Water Eaton.

Ironically, one of the leading voices in favour of enclosure reform was Sir Edward Coke. Perhaps Coke had a residue of guilt over his harsh treatment of Steer. More probably, he like others in government had realized that a new class of acquisitive and aggressive property-owners could not be allowed to prosper unchecked if the result was food scarcity, social breakdown and possibly catastrophic public disorder. A legacy of the Oxfordshire Rising is that government without consent invites no government at all: the poor always have to be kept on side.

Another and frightening legacy is the ease with which poor and marginal social groups can be demonized by vested interests. Within a few years of 1596, some writers were portraying the poor as verminous, the more easily to take what little they had through enclosure. ‘From the sixteenth century onwards the emerging middle class of private property-owners joined the aristocracy in treating the rural commons as subversive, a zone of idleness, sinfulness and debauchery’ (Standing 2019: 15). Patterns of this kind repeat through history, and they can repeat again. Both Standing 2019 and Hill 1991 offer numerous examples of what is, simply, hate speech.

We still live with other legacies of the Oxfordshire Rising. The landscapes, estates and parks we see in much of rural Britain began to take form in the Tudor era. As Guy Standing writes in Plunder of the Commons, on the consequences of Henry VIII’s confiscation of Church lands, ‘The arbitrary mass transfer of what had been a form of commons was to scar permanently Britain’s class structure. It led to an extraordinary degree of concentration of land ownership that persists to this day’ (Standing 2019: 11).

The result is a peculiar notion of property rights and notorious trespass laws which still mean that more than 90 per cent of the land in England is off-limits to the public. In fact, ‘just 36,000 people – mere 0.06 per cent of the population – own half of the rural land in England and Wales’ (Shrubsole 2019: 21). This inequitable system ties up a disproportionate amount of national wealth in property and blocks reform and sensible policy planning in many fields.

We may no longer have the land enclosures of the Tudor and subsequent eras, but one might argue that the current fashion for offshore financial vehicles, the corporate control of hitherto public spaces, widespread property development and unchecked agribusiness is our contemporary version of the same thing. It is essentially a cash grab upon society’s common resources by that same class of aggressive self-interested new money – today, the City of London – that caused all the trouble in the first place. The Tudor era was the beginning of an accelerating process of exploitation and dispossession of rights that remains a stain upon Britain to this day.


HAYES, Nick. 2020. The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines That Divide Us. London: Bloomsbury Circus.

HILL, Christopher. 1991. The World Turned Upside down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

KINGSNORTH, Paul. 2008. Real England: The Battle against the Bland. London: Portobello.

LINEBAUGH, Peter. 2014. Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance. Oakland, CA: PM Press.

SHRUBSOLE, Guy. 2019. Who Owns England? How We Lost Our Green & Pleasant Land & How to Take It Back. London: William Collins.

STANDING, Guy. 2019. Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth. London: Pelican.

WALTER, John. 1985. ‘A “Rising of the People”? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596’. Past & Present, 107(1), May 1985, 90–143. Available at: [accessed 03 April 2021].

WALTER, John. 2006. ‘A “Rising of the People”? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596’. In John WALTER, 2006. Crowds and Popular Politics in Early Modern England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 73-123.

WALTER, John. 2019. ‘Afterword’. In Ra PAGE (ed.). 2019. Resist: Stories of Uprising. Manchester: Comma Press, 48-57.


PHO705 Weeks 20-21: Starting Out: Ask Nadav Kander

I went to a thoroughly enjoyable and informative interview and talk with Nadav Kander this week, hosted by the AOP (Association of Photographers 2021). It is part of their online series Starting Out, for recent graduates and those new to the industry.

Kander is a photographer I have long admired, not least for his quiet approach and intuitive way of working. His emphasis on self-awareness and self-interrogation also strike a chord with me. As he said during the interview, ‘I might approach things in many different ways but the things I am attracted to are always the same.’ He might have said, but didn’t, things such as undercurrents of sadness, beauty, loneliness and the sheer insignificance of man. The last can be seen in the carefully chosen scale, in which humans are dwarfed by new construction, of many of his images in Yangtze, The Long River (Kander 2010).

The interview covered a lot of ground. Kander talked of the importance of printing and framing: ‘the materiality of the print is key’ and carefully chosen frames are ‘massively important’. I did not know, for example, that his recent project Dark Line, on the Thames Estuary, is greatly influenced by Chinese landscape painting, nor that the dimensions of many of the prints have been chosen to match those of Chinese Sanctuary Scrolls. In fact Kander emphasized throughout the importance for any photographer of studying art, the more widely the better, but particularly painting. Doing so builds up a store of mental images and offers inspiration, quite apart from being interesting and enjoyable anyway, so it is a vital part of photographic practice.

Kander covered many nuts and bolts that don’t particularly apply to me though they would to someone in their twenties. Magazine work barely pays, he felt, though it puts one’s name around. Netflix and some film/TV commissions have been good. Much of the advertising industry is steadily becoming so prescriptive and controlling that it is hard to work with. Starting out as an assistant can still be a good move, but only if the photographer or studio is ‘really decent’. He thought getting an agent was perhaps the most useful and important move of all. Rushing into a personal website is a mistake. Chances are you will only get one shot at the goal, he said, so don’t go big until you have something to go big about.

What has consistently returned me to Kander and to other artists like him, however, is their stress on the interior life as the key to good photography. In Kander’s words, ‘If you have the building blocks of the thing that makes you tick, if you have that strength in you, you always go to it.’ This is all a process – of self-questioning, of determining why one likes or dislikes particular things, even colours, of research, art study, reading or simply using Google. Kander said that we must always ask ourselves what our ‘core’, our intuition, is saying to us. ‘Bringing your nature to consciousness is your core strength.’ In some ways, this is an argument for slow photography. Rushing around won’t make time for any of these things to emerge.

There are some photographers I have come across on this course that I would take no little care to avoid, but Kander strikes me as a remarkable man and I would love to meet him.


ASSOCIATION OF PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2021. ‘Starting Out: Ask Nadav Kander’. Association of Photographers [online]. Available at: [accessed 06 Jul 2021].

KANDER, Nadav. 2010. Yangtze, The Long River. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.

PHO705 Week 19: Landscape Imaginary

This week I have been occupied with the following:

I have made a first draft of the text for my Critical Review of Practice

I have hired a designer to give my draft of a book of my project a makeover.

I have started to re-develop my best images. Preparing an image for four-colour printing requires different sharpening and colour process from regular prints or screen presentation.

The best part of the week was an online conference, ‘Landscape Imaginary’, presented by the artists Daniel & Clara with the film-maker and photographer Ben Rivers, the curator Susan Owens and others (Daniel & Clara 2021). The host was Art Exchange of the University of Essex.

This was a conference about landscape and art now, today, and its roots in the near past. As with GRAIN’s ‘Rural Gaze’ symposium on farming and rural life that I attended a few weeks ago (GRAIN 2021), it is really good to connect with contemporary artists in a similar field and see what is happening in current practice. Most of the work presented was video, but my impression is that stills and moving images are now intermingling so much that the old distinctions between the two are tenuous.

Fig. 1. Daniel & Clare 2020-21
Fig. 1. Daniel & Clare 2020-21. From their series ‘On the Island’, a contemporary interpretation of the photography of place and landscape.

The key point to emerge from the conference is that all the artists’ work was about engaging with place and trying to convey the experience of actually being there. As Ben Rivers pointed out, ‘Life is not this straightforward, clear linear thing we can just stand back and look at’ (Daniel & Clara 2021). But, of course, standing back and looking is the default position behind so much perspective-based Western Art. We look at landscapes, but the challenge is how to get into them.

What matters, then, is what we can bring to our practice in terms of ‘physical associations, thoughts and experiences, and cultural references’ in Clara’s words (Daniel & Clara 2021). She went on to say of the stones at Avebury, ‘When we encounter them, we also encounter what we bring to them’ (Daniel & Clara 2021). It strikes me that this meeting point between what the land brings to us and what we bring to the land is where so many successful artists base their practice. It could almost sum up the work of Willie Doherty, for example, and he has discussed very similar ideas at some length (sse McKinney 2016). It is also what has happened to me over the past few months with my project on the Oxfordshire Rising. I started out by looking but now I am more preoccupied with being there. One has to become informed enough for that to emerge, however, so research is vital. Otherwise, I suspect, one is just engaging in some woo woo.

Fig. 2: Paul Nash 1934
Fig. 2: Paul Nash 1934. ‘Landscape of the Megaliths’. Nash was fascinated by Avebury and made many works of it. Each one is an attempt not just to present it or to look at it but to get inside the place and be there so that past and present become one.

The curator Susan Owens’ presentation on the stones at Avebury in the work of Paul Nash and Derek Jarman was fascinating. She began with Nash’s interest in Surrealism and, later, the birth of aerial photography which allowed views of the land that had not before been possible. She then went on to show how creating something fresh and experimental from a melting-pot of ideas and influences was what helped Nash and later Jarman to produce art that was all about ‘responding to the past as present’, and thus barriers are dissolved, past and present are no longer distinct entities and the inner and outer experiences of place become one. I found this part of the conference enthralling.

Ownes quoted some lines from Nash’s autobiography: ‘There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed’ (Nash 1949). This is all so similar to the journey I am embarking on with the current project.


DANIEL & CLARA. 2021. ‘Landscape Imaginary: Daniel & Clara’s Expanded Research Event’. Art Exchange [online]. Available at: [accessed 28 Jun 2021].

GRAIN. 2021. ‘The Rural Gaze’. GRAIN [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

MCKINNEY, Jessica. 2016. ‘Willie Doherty | Memory as a Vehicle to Survey Liminal Spaces’. HeadStuff [online]. Available at: [accessed 15 May 2021].

NASH, Paul. 1949. Outline, an Autobiography, and Other Writings. London: Faber and Faber.


Figure 1. DANIEL & CLARE. 2020-21. ‘On the Island’ [Instagram video series]. Available at: [accessed 28 June 2021].

Figure 2. Paul NASH. 1934. ‘Landscape of the Megaliths’. Collection of the British Council.




PHO705 Week 18: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi

I have been looking at the work of the Mallorcan photographer J. M. Ramírez-Suassi (Ramírez-Suassi 2021). His most successful book to date is Fordlândia 9 (Ramírez-Suassi 2020), a photographic essay on Henry Ford’s Utopian and disastrous rubber venture in Amazonia in the 1920s.

Against all advice from aghast colleagues Ford created a settlement and factory in, effectively, the middle of nowhere and tried to run it on strict Puritan lines under the direction of security patrols. There were to be no women, no alcohol and no loose behaviour, like gambling. Needless to say the workers Ford managed to recruit did not take kindly to these dictates, and when it emerged that the chosen site was inhospitable to growing rubber trees anyway, the workforce began to drift away and the venture soon collapsed. The story could be straight out of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (Herzog 1982).

Fordlândia is still there, somewhere in the forests of Amazonia, though it is in ruins now and while the population is slowly increasing again the inhabitants are mostly poor people driven to the place by necessity.

Fig. 1: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi 2020.
Fig. 1: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi 2020. Untitled. From Fordlândia 9.
Fig. 2: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi
Fig. 2: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi 2020. Untitled. From Fordlândia 9.

I like Fordlândia 9 because of its dreamlike and poetic atmosphere (see Figs 1-4). The sequencing has clearly been made with great care. In Ramírez-Suassi’s words

‘It is a nod to literature; in literature the 9 is important. There are 9 sections with 9 photographs each. And 9 black and white photographs. Most of the photographs of F9 are limited to a specific geographical context, but my intention is that they generate a discourse that helps us to weigh all the territories we step on with our feet. In F9 we do not find any symbolic image that summarizes the book, in this sense it is an open book. There are endless paths in the book and in the middle of the jungle, and also images that suggest being taken in populous cities. I think that the human being needs these two spaces, because he is both a citizen and a pilgrim’ (Titchener 2020 B).

The result is that the images both individually and collectively express a duality, foreboding and entrancing, dark and light, romantic and forbidding at the same time. This is very much Ramírez-Suassi’s particular style, and the same duality, the same interplay between fiction and documentary, can be seen in his ongoing series One Eyed Ulysses (Ramírez-Suassi 2018). I love engaged but quirky urban photography of this kind and when the pandemic is over I look forward to makes some new work in this vein.

Fig. 3: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi 2020
Fig. 3: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi 2020. Untitled. From Fordlândia 9.
Fig. 4: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi 2020
Fig. 4: J. M. Ramírez-Suassi 2020. Untitled. From Fordlândia 9.

Fordlândia 9 reminds me of some of the work of Gregory Halpern such as Let the Sun Beheaded Be (Halpern and Chéroux 2020). Both Halpern and Ramírez-Suassi are looking at ways of bringing complex historical traces into their work, and both are clearly trying to express what Halpern has said about photography in general:

‘For me, what makes photography such an exciting and troubling artform in general is the deception and tension hard-wired into it, the difficulty of defining its slippery relationship to truth. A photograph has potential to be much more objectively truthful or factual than, say, a painting, but painting is more honest about its intentions and possibilities’ (Bourgeois-Vignon 2018).

Fordlândia 9’s story of the power of nature confronting greed and desperation reminds me of my own project. In Oxfordshire in 1596 there was starvation across the countryside caused by nature (failed harvests) and homelessness and poverty brought on by man (land enclosures). Among the wealthy merchants and landlords who were directing the enclosures in Oxfordshire there was plenty of what one reviewer has detected in Ramírez-Suassi’s portrayal of Henry Ford’s failed venture: ‘blind ego marching forward … armed with arrogance and the belief that money and power are enough’ (Titchener 2020 A). And I too am looking at how best to bring complex historical traces into my work.

As both Ramírez-Suassi and Halpern have successfully demonstrated, however, the key is to manage this subtly, indirectly, using allusion, perhaps simply setting an image in the half-light of a misty dawn rather than in the glare of the day. One has to keep the magic alive. If a viewer looks at an image and merely declares ‘Well, that’s only a photograph’ then one has failed. As Ramírez-Suassi has said in an interview (Feuerhelm 2020), ‘Fordlândia is a manifestation of a time loop: myth and present do not annul each other, as a matter of fact, they feedback each other.’ So, too, there is a strange time loop between the events in Oxfordshire of 1596 and today. The magic lies there, in past manifesting as present.


BOURGEOIS-VIGNON, Anne. 2018. ‘Power and the Camera: Gregory Halpern Talks Intuition, Reflection and Representation’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: [accessed 18 Oct 2020].

FEUERHELM, Brad. 2020. ‘JM Ramírez-Suassi: Fordlândia Interview’. AMERICAN SUBURB X [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2021].

HALPERN, Gregory and Clément CHÉROUX. 2020. Let the Sun Beheaded Be. New York: Aperture Foundation.

HERZOG, Werner. 1982 Fitzcarraldo. [Film].

RAMÍREZ-SUASSI, J. M. 2018. One Eyed Ulysses. Madrid: Self Published. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2021].

RAMÍREZ-SUASSI, J. M. 2020. Fordlândia 9. Madrid: Self Published. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2021].

RAMÍREZ-SUASSI, J. M. 2021. ‘J. M. Ramírez-Suassi’. J. M. Ramírez-Suassi [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2021].

TITCHENER, Robin. 2020 A. ‘Fordlândia 9 by JM Ramirez-Suassi’. Robin Titchener [online]. Available at:ândia-by-jm-ramirez-suassi [accessed 17 Jun 2021].

TITCHENER, Robin. 2020 B. ‘Utopia, Rubber and Dreams of Madness, Fordlândia 9 by JM Ramirez-Suassi’. Photobook Store Magazine [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2021].


Figures 1-4. J. M. RAMÍREZ-SUASSI. 2020. Untitled. From: J. M. Ramirez-Suassi. 2020. Fordlândia 9. Madrid: Self Published. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2021].

PHO705 Week 17: Chloe Dewe Mathews

I have been looking at the work of Chloe Dewe Mathews, particularly Shot at Dawn (Mathews et al 2014) but also Thames Log (Mathews 2021), although I do not feel that Thames Log, good though it is, is particularly relevant to my current project.

Shot at Dawn is a sombre, poignant body of work that I greatly admire. What makes it stand out to me is the amount of preparation and care that has gone into each image. The camera position has been chosen to match the likely location of each firing squad. The time each image was taken matches as closely as possible the time of each execution. Even the weather, or at least the season, seems to have been chosen to match. There is care over the colour palette employed, the half-light of a misty dawn or a recessive and muddy dusk. The result is a unified aesthetic that, allied to good sequencing, carries the whole book.

Fig: 2. Chloe Dewe Mathews 2014.
Fig. 2: Chloe Dewe Mathews 2014. Untitled. An image from Shot at Dawn. The work has a sombre, unified aesthetic which adds to the impact of each image.
Fig: 1. Chloe Dewe Mathews 2014.
Fig. 1: Chloe Dewe Mathews 2014. Untitled. An image from Shot at Dawn. The whole work benefits from careful choice of camera position, frame, time of day, light and season.

By contrast, Joel Sternfeld’s On This Site (Sternfeld 2012) also shows images of places where bad things happened. But they are not always of a killing and there is no unified aesthetic. Although these too are images that disturb us and change the moment we read the captions, there is a mixture of times of day (thus affecting the light), seasons and camera angles. The places themselves can be markedly different one from another. To my eye the result is not so effective because it lacks a unified aesthetic and a really focused intent.

Fig: 3. Joel Sternfeld 2021
Fig. 3: Joel Sternfeld 2021. Untitled. An image from On This Site. In my reading, the variety of Sternfeld’s images and their different framing, light, season and time of day detracts from the overall effectiveness of the whole work.

A second body of work that has been compared to Shot at Dawn is Paul Seawright’s Sectarian Murder (Seawright 1988), a short sequence originally made in 1972-3. This suffers from similar problems to Sternfeld’s work though perhaps for different reasons. In some images, Seawright seems to have chosen to show a place where something dreadful happened, a murder, much as the rest of the world might see it – a still jaunty playground, perhaps, or the lush grass of a dog-walking site. To the viewer, those innocent scenes suddenly acquire a sinister meaning because unlike the image and perhaps the people in the image, we know from the caption what happened there, knowledge that changes our perception forever. So while Seawright’s work lacks Mathews’s unified aesthetic, it is making slightly different and still powerful points. And in his later work Hidden (Seawright 2003), Seawright went on to produce a nuanced body of work that does have a unified aesthetic and which shows the traces and suggestions of unpleasant things in a highly effective way.

Fig: 4. Paul Seawright 1988
Fig. 4: Paul Seawright 1988. ‘Saturday 9th June 1973’. From Sectarian Murders. Seawright’s work here lacks the unified aesthetic of Shot at Dawn. Instead, Seawright plays on the colourful innocence of the scene contrasted with the grim news in the caption, information that will immediately change our perception of the image.

The elements that emerge from Shot at Dawn in relation to my own current project are these:

First, a unified aesthetic is clearly powerful and important. It is not easy to manage this in a short time because one is often relying on weather and season but the idea is there. In my case, the comparison might be that Bartholomew Steer tried but failed to incite the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596. He was expecting a new dawn to arrive and instead he found himself confronted by sunset and the end of his young life. Given that many of the events of 1596 are shrouded in mystery, this makes the half-light of dawn and dusk the natural times to choose for my own images. The result adds some atmosphere but also makes the point that what actually happened in 1596 is in part obscure and after four hundred years we will never know the full truth. All one can do is show the traces of something.

The second element is a point well made by Mathews in an interview about Shot at Dawn (Cloughton 2014): ‘By photographing the empty landscapes, I am reinserting the individual into that space, stamping their presence back onto the land, so that their histories are not forgotten.’

This is uncannily similar to what I am trying to do, but with a difference. Whereas Mathews was photographing the traces of a ‘lost’ individual, I am photographing the traces of lost communities, lost landscapes like open field strips and vanished (or at least vanishing) ways of life at a moment of sometimes violent social change. This returns me to one of the core intents of my project: in photographing a landscape, I am not photography a pretty pastoral scene at all but cultural, economic and physical landscapes laid one over the other and in which specific things happened to specific people known to history. I too am trying to bring something back from faint traces ‘so that their histories are not forgotten’.

The third element is suggested by Geoff Dyer in his Introduction to Shot at Dawn (reprinted in See/Saw, Dyer 2021: 251-57): ‘Rather than serving simply as memorials, in other words, the photographs may be documentary depictions of remembering. The things we are seeing – flowers, grass, trees, walls – may have a consciousness of which they are oblivious. Strongest in cultivated landscapes, this feeling of mute or dormant sentience is particularly acute at dawn or dusk.’

Dyer’s point takes us to Roland Barthes contemplating Alexander Gardner’s portrait of Lewis Payne: ‘He is dead and he is going to die’ (Barthes 2000: 57): an act of remembering, a memento mori and a strange reversal of time all together. I had not before thought of my project as a documentary of remembering but this strikes me as absolutely right and adds another dimension to my work. And Dyer’s suggestion that a mute or dormant sentience is more acute at dawn and dusk is a powerful argument for following the kind of unified aesthetic employed by Mathews. It adds a dimension to my body of work that otherwise might not be there, because I had not realized it.


BARTHES, Roland. 2000. Camera Lucida : Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage, 57.

CLOUGHTON. RACHAEL. 2014. ‘Interview: Chloe Dewe Mathews’. The List [online]. Available at: [accessed 25 May 2021].

DYER, Geoff. 2014. ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews: Shot at Dawn’. In Geoff DYER. 2021. See/Saw: Looking at Photographs. Edinburgh: Canongate, 251-57.

MATHEWS, Chloe Dewe, Geoff DYER, Hew STRACHAN and Helen B. MCCARTNEY. 2014. Shot at Dawn. Madrid: Ivorypress.

MATHEWS, Chloe Dewe. 2021.Thames Log. London: Marseilles: Loose Joints.

SEAWRIGHT, Paul. 1988. ‘Sectarian Murder’. Paul Seawright [online]. Available at: [accessed 25 May 2021].

SEAWRIGHT, Paul, Mark DURDEN and John STATHATOS. 2003. Hidden. London: Imperial War Museum.

STERNFELD, Joel. 2012. On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam. Göttingen: Steidl.


Figure 1. Chloe Dewe MATHEWS. 2014. Untitled. From: Chloe Dewe Mathews, Geoff Dyer, Hew Strachan and Helen B McCartney. 2014. Shot at Dawn. Madrid: Ivorypress.

Figure 2. Chloe Dewe MATHEWS. 2014. Untitled. From: Chloe Dewe Mathews, Geoff Dyer, Hew Strachan and Helen B. McCartney. 2014. Shot at Dawn. Madrid: Ivorypress.

Figure 3. Joel STERNFELD. 2012. Untitled. From: Joel Sternfeld. 2012. On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam. Göttingen: Steidl.

Figure 4. Paul SEAWRIGHT. 1988. ‘Saturday 9th June 1973’. From: Paul Seawright. 1988. ‘Sectarian Murder’. Paul Seawright [online]. Available at: [accessed 25 May 2021].



PHO705 Week 16: Wylie and Seawright

I have been looking at the practices of Donovan Wylie and Paul Seawright. Like Willie Doherty, here are two photographers from and strongly influenced by Northern Ireland and its recent history.

I think I can see the connection with my Final Major Project. All three photographers are much concerned with the presence of the past, sometimes so strongly in our lives that it can drag on us like a sea anchor. The past – a history of conflict – informs both Seawright’s Afghanistan journey Hidden (Seawright 2003) and Wylie’s watchtower series in both Northern Ireland and the Middle East (Wylie 2021). Indeed Wylie has pointed out the similarities and the repetitive nature of conflicts generally (Huxtable 2021), often as in Afghanistan a long series of new clashes along the same ideological fault lines using the same tactics in the same landscapes.

A second and very important similarity is that both photographers are much concerned with how to show what is not apparently there, hence Seawright’s title Hidden for his work in Afghanistan. Unless one is showing actual combat and explosions, much of modern warfare is hidden from view. It can happen in remote locations, involve hit-and-run guerrilla tactics and IEDs, or it can arrive from above, the unseen and unheard missile strike from a drone.

This is similar to my current project in that I too am looking at landscapes shape by history and conflict. There are hedges here because common land was enclosed, sometimes with violence. There are large mansions and modest cottages because of the inequalities and corruptions of power, not because of any natural order of things. There are battlefields, even if they date back to the Civil War, and there are scars left by greedy corporations and property developers. But we quickly become habituated to them and soon we look straight past what is actually there.

Fig. 1: Donovan Wylie 2007
Fig. 1: Donovan Wylie 2007. ‘Watchtower 6’. Representing the often hidden nature of modern conflict using the architecture of power and surveillance.
Fig. 2: Donovan Wylie
Fig. 2: Donovan Wylie 2015. ‘Watchtower’. The architecture of power and surveillance, but this time with a note of isolation and mystery. We are left uncertain of what is really going on.

The challenge is how to suggest this (in my case a landscape of conflict and struggle ‘hidden’ in an apparently peaceful agricultural landscape). Wylie has favoured an approach based on the architecture of power and conflict and on the modern surveillance state, hence his long-running watchtower series (see Figs 1 and 2). He has also said that ‘repetition is control’ (Kupfer 2016), repeating patterns and shapes being behind his 2004 work on the Maze prison. His work is generally presented as a typology, the repetition being a metaphor for that control, or so it seems to me.

Seawright has taken a very different approach, at least in Hidden (Seawright 2003). Seawright presents subtle hints and traces, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps (see Figs 3 and 4). This to me is the more appealing approach, because it allows the viewer to construct the story and brings their emotions into play. One is often left with solitary, sometimes sinister buildings and invited to imagine the rest. Wylie moves closer to this approach in a more recent watchtower series Northern Warning System made in 2015 in the far north of Canada (Wylie 2021). The landscapes are misty and mysterious and hint at the sublime, but in each there is a small tower that introduces a note of the sinister (see Fig. 2). In Wylie’s words: ‘What was interesting was the idea of an automated machine looking at something that’s not there, or maybe, will be there’ (Kupfer 2016).

Fig. 3: Paul Seawright 2003.
Fig. 3: Paul Seawright 2003. ‘Column’. Another approach to showing the hidden nature of modern conflict: eerie traces with the viewer left to fill in the story.
Fig. 4: Paul Seawright 2003.
Fig. 4: Paul Seawright 2003. ‘Valley’. Partly a homage to Roger Fenton, partly a superb example of how to show that which is hidden by its traces and create a sinister atmosphere.

In the end, and as with my project, I think it comes down to traces, but traces that involve the viewer emotionally. “How do you represent something without showing the thing itself?’ in Seawright’s words (Bogre and Seawright 2016). That is indeed the question.


BOGRE, Michelle and Paul SEAWRIGHT. 2016. ‘Paul Seawright – Documentary Photography Reconsidered’. Bloomsbury [online]. Available at: [accessed 31 May 2021].

HUXTABLE, Isaac. 2021. ‘Donovan Wylie on the Architecture of Conflict’. 1854 [online]. Available at: [accessed 31 May 2021].

KUPFER, Paula. 2016. ‘Donovan Wylie – Studio Visit’. Surface [online]. Available at: [accessed 31 May 2021].

SEAWRIGHT, Paul. 2021. ‘Paul Seawright’. Paul Seawright [online]. Available at: [accessed 28 May 2021].

SEAWRIGHT, Paul, Mark DURDEN and John STATHATOS. 2003. Hidden. London: Imperial War Museum.

STATHATOS, John. 2003. ‘Hiding in the Open: Paul Seawright’s Afghanistan’. John Stathatos [online]. Available at: [accessed 28 May 2021].

WYLIE, Donovan. 2021. ‘Donovan Wylie’. Donovan Wylie [online]. Available at: [accessed 27 May 2021].


Figure 1. Donovan WYLIE. 2007. ‘Watchtower 6’. From: Donovan Wylie. 2007. British Watchtowers. Available at: [accessed 28 May 2021].

Figure 2. Donovan WYLIE. 2015. ‘Watchtower’. From: Donovan Wylie. 2015. Northern Warning System. Available at: [accessed 28 May 2021].

Figure 3. Paul SEAWRIGHT. 2003. ‘Valley’. From: Paul Seawright, Mark Durden and John Stathatos. 2003. Hidden. London: Imperial War Museum.

Figure 4. Paul SEAWRIGHT. ‘Column’. From: Paul Seawright, Mark Durden and John Stathatos. 2003. Hidden. London: Imperial War Museum.

PHO705 Week 16: Spring Cleaning

Now that we are starting my final module, it is time to dial down my research and concentrate instead on output, marketing and commercial questions. I still have research to do, because the subject of my FMP is open-ended, but what I find is not going to change the story even though it may add some depth to it.

With this in mind, I attended an online seminar at the Association of Photographers on marketing: ‘Give Your Brand a Spring Clean’ (Giles et al 2021).

Since the seminar was entirely aimed at solo working photographers, I found it both very helpful and relevant. The key points to emerge are these:

Core Purpose

Identify your USP: your ‘recipe’, style, that which makes you stand out. Research what you do against other photographers in similar fields.


  • Marketing is all about conversations, not one-way adverts. Choose words that are conversation starters, play to people’s curiosity, put across your character, energy and enthusiasms.
  • Consider what would really interest your audience and talk about things around your work such as your experiences while on a shoot, places you have visited and so on. This will help you to present yourself as open, honest and not too busy to talk (which no one likes).


  • Map out what your business needs and break that down into achievable goals. When you have established some goals, your mind will start to work out how to achieve them.
  • Your time is an investment. View your marketing as strategic. Be selective and do not try to do everything. Concentrate on what you are best at. Some things can be outsourced.

Know Your Audience

  • Marketing is about building relationships, so knowing your audience needs to inform all your activities.
  • Find out what your audience is interested in and prepare some material or stories for that.
  • It is very important to communicate that you intend to be helpful. How you can help a brand or a client is saying what you can give to them rather than take from them.
  • Put your prices out there. This saves a potential client the trouble of having to guess or ask.
  • Personalize what you do. If you send a postcard, for example, make sure there is a handwritten note on the reverse.

Social Media

  • Do not chase numbers. It is better to have 500 engaged followers on Instagram than 5000 fans who sometimes click ‘Like’. Engaged followers can produce new commissions but fans are very unlikely to.
  • Take care to communicate your personality in your captions.
  • Research what avenues on social media are producing work for you. For some this may be Instagram but for others it may be FaceBook or another platform entirely.
  • A minimum of 5 and a maximum of 10 hashtags is good, with a mix of less popular and more popular ones.
  • Add your details to the AOP’s ‘Find a Photographer’ database.
  • Follow your target clients on social media and engage with them. Find out what interests them and what they are currently majoring on.
  • Use social media to identify and research potential new clients.

Your Website

  • A good website still matters and more so for as long as the pandemic lasts. Look on it as your business card. A good photographer’s website should be impeccably designed, concise, up to date and not boring. Clients are simply too busy to wade through fluff.
  • An ‘About’ section on your website is vital. This is in effect your brand. It is where you communicate your brand values and brand story. For this reason, you need to make your story interesting and engaging. Do not view your ‘About’ section simply as space for a conventional resumé.


Only consider newsletters when you have really big news to communicate. Make them short, click-worthy and interesting. Clients are too busy to bother with ‘small news’ and dull.

Printed Material

Printed marketing material sent to clients or potential clients needs to be very specific and beautifully designed. It should be tailored to a particular person, commissioning editor and so on and should include something personal from you – a handwritten note, for example. Since this material will completely represent your brand, you cannot afford the second-rate. Printed material needs to be relevant, compelling and a conversation starter.

Direct emails, calls, etc.

It is important to be specific. Everything you do is about communicating your brand experience, so you need to make it warm, interesting and personal. Avoid mail merges and anything ‘database’ or you will thought a junk-mailer. Research who you are sending anything to, personalize it, get the details correct and say something about what their brand or organization is doing to demonstrate your engagement. The basis of your pitch is how you can help them.


Ask for feedback from your peers and do not be afraid to ask for it from your audience. Do not rely on feedback from friends and family. They are unlikely to tell you what you need to hear.

Some of these topics have been covered in earlier modules of this course, but it is still good to be reminded of their importance. A few things are new, and in any event there is plenty I have not yet done such as make a first-class personal website, define my brand and write a brand statement, identify potential clients and generally work out how to position and present myself in the marketplace.


GILES, Charlie, Louisa TAN and Kate ABBEY. 2021. ‘Give Your Brand a Spring Clean’. AOP [online]. Available at: [accessed 27 May 2021].


PHO705 Week 15: Who Owns England?

Guy Shrubsole’s Who Owns England? (Shrubsole 2019) is one of many books about England’s lopsided and inequitable distribution of wealth and property. In terms of its relevance to my Final Major Project, Shrubsole’s book offers something of a coda to Standing’s Plunder of the Commons (Standing 2019). Whereas Standing is interested in the history of how we came to be where we are, and what to do about it going forward, Shrubsole offers more of a journalistic investigation of the present day.

Even so, Shrubsole’s book is full of facts and figures that are enough to make the blood boil.

  • Nearly half of Berkshire is owned by just thirty individuals or organisations (Shrubsole 2019: 7).
  • Intensive agriculture has led to a 56 per cent decline in farm birds since 1970 (Shrubsole 2019: 12).
  • 90 per cent of the land in England remains off-limits to the public (Shrubsole 2019: 17).
  • The biggest beneficiaries of UK farm subsidies have been the Queen, the Duke of Westminster, a Saudi prince, a billionaire, some 17 dukes and 14 marquesses (Shrubsole 2019: 106-7).
  • Grouse moors cover some 550,000 acres of England, an area larger than Greater London, but their management encourages flash flooding whose cost on homes and infrastructure is borne by the taxpayer (Shrubsole 2019: 95-8).
  • Many land-owners have registered their assets in offshore trusts and corporations. As such these entities have no interest in quality of life or ecological stewardship and their opaque nature raises questions of tax evasion and democratic accountability (Shrubsole 2019: 129-32).
  • The Crown Estates and the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall exist as a ‘quasi-feudal political economy’ covering some 450,000 acres of England. They enjoy numerous parliamentary exemptions putting them, in effect, beyond democratic control and oversight (Shrubsole 2019: 45-73).
  • A new interest in mineral rights has led to a rush by Church Commissioners, Dukes, Earls and corporations to lay claim to the ground under people’s homes, regardless of the damage and pollution that may result (from, e.g., fracking) (Shrubsole 2019: 71-2, 91).

Shrubsole makes clear that England has never been a property-owning democracy. Less than 10 per of the land in England is now owned by the public in terms of domestic homes, gardens, allotments, commons and so on (Shrubsole 2019: 233). Much of the remainder is owned by a handful of institutions: the Crown, the State (8.5 per cent), a hereditary aristocracy and landed gentry, the Church, and modern corporations (18 per cent). Fewer than thirty individuals – the Dukes – own more than 10 per cent of the land in England (Shrubsole 2019: 306-7). Only 2 per cent is owned by conservation charities such as the RSPB. Overall, just 36,000 people, or 0.06 per cent of the population, own more than half of all the rural land in England and Wales (Shrubsole 2019: 21, 296-307).

Like Standing, Shrubsole is documenting the outcome of processes that have been going on for many centuries. From the perspective of my Final Major Project, what his book makes clear is that remarkably little has changed in the years since 1596. So, as with Standing’s book, this is a powerful incentive to see the landscape as a theatre of economic, social and political relations, much of it hidden by those who do not want their wealth exposed to view. The English landscape is not about pastoral idylls no matter how strongly our culture may promote them. It is good to remember this statement, from the seventeenth century: ‘The power of enclosing land and owning property was brought into the creation by your ancestors by the sword’ (Gerrard Winstanley, in Shrubsole 2019: 78-9).

However, these is a caveat here. For all its value as investigative reporting, Shrubsole’s book is in the end more of a list of facts and figures. Facts and figures do not make for interesting photography books. Missing are emotion, poetry, involvement, lived experience and the sense of being there. For that I am looking at books on rural life such as Meadowland (Lewis-Stempel 2015), English Pastoral (Rebanks 2020) and Field Work (Bathurst 2021).


BATHURST, Bella. 2021. Field Work: What Land Does to People and What People Do to Land. London: Profile Books.

LEWIS-STEMPEL, John. 2015. Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field. London: Black Swan.

REBANKS, James. 2020. English Pastoral: An Inheritance. London: Allen Lane.

SHRUBSOLE, Guy. 2019. Who Owns England? How We Lost Our Land and How to Take It Back. London: William Collins.

STANDING, Guy. 2019. Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth. London: Pelican.

PHO705 Week 15: Plunder of the Commons

Guy Standing’s Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth (Standing 2019) is probably required reading for anyone involved in documenting the British landscape, its history and agriculture. However, this is not the place to offer a dispassionate review of Standing’s carefully researched story of centuries of greed and larceny. The question is whether and how this book affects my photographic practice and the lessons I can take from it with regard to my Final Major Project, the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596.

The most important impact of this book is that it obliges almost anyone who reads it to rethink and reset a host of their assumptions about land and the entire concept of property. It is too easy to forget that we live in an era of aggressive Neo-Liberalism that takes a very narrow view of such things. First, what does Standing mean by ‘commons’ and ‘commoners’?

‘The commons refers to all our shared natural resources – including the land, the forests, the moors and parks, the water, the minerals, the air – and all the social, civic and cultural institutions that our ancestors have bequeathed to us, and that we may have helped to maintain or improve. It also includes the knowledge that we possess as society, built on an edifice of ideas and information constructed over the centuries’ (Standing 2019: ix).

Second, what is Standing trying to document? Essentially, the history of this:

‘Commons now make up a tiny 5 per cent of land in Britain, against roughly half in the Middle Ages, while only 2 per cent of what was wooded forest in medieval times is forest now. A fifth wave of the plunder of the commons is underway … Everything we hold or use in common or intended for public benefit – from parks to police, from schools to sewers, even the air we breathe – is under attack’ (Standing 2019: 14-15).

The result of this long collapse of the commons is that land ownership in Britain is completely one-sided. Standing points out that by 1873 ‘just 710 aristocrats … owned a quarter of the whole country and 4,000 families owned half of it, much of that land obtained from the commons and from gifts from successive monarchs’ (Standing 2019: 22). Today, Standing continues, ‘a third or more remains in the hands of a few thousand aristocrats and gentry, mostly descendants of the land-owning families in 1873’ (Standing 2019: 14-15). A surprising amount of the rest is in the hands of the State, the Crown and corporations, not of individuals at all.

In looking at any landscape in England, therefore, I am also looking at a social landscape, an economic landscape, a landscape of power relations over history, as well as at a physical landscape shaped by man over thousands of years. I cannot afford to allow assumptions to remain unchallenged in my gaze and Standing’s book is a timely reminder that my gaze requires constant evaluation.

As Standing points out, much of the English landscape today has been determined by a few momentous events. Since the sixteenth century 5,000 enclosure Acts have enclosed more than 6.8 million acres of what had been common, public land (Standing 2019: 13), but of much more relevance to my Final Major Project is Henry VIII’s confiscation of church lands in Tudor times. That released some 10 million acres of land onto the market, spurring the rise of a property-owning middle class (the lords of the manor on my patch) and depriving countless rural poor of a means of subsistence.

It is precisely this that fuelled the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596 and countless other risings and incidents of rural unrest throughout the sixteenth century. Even so, it was only a continuation of a process of enclosure and agricultural change that was already well underway. We can see this in More’s Utopia of 1516:

‘… your shepe that were wont to be so meke and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I heare saye, be become so great devowerers and so wylde, that they eate up, and swallow downe the very men them selfes. They consume, destroye, and devoure whole fields, howses, and cities … Noble man and gentleman, yea and certeyn Abbottes … leave no ground for tillage, thei include all into pastures; the throw down houses; they pluck downe townes, and leave nothing standyinge but only the churche to be made into a sheephowse’ (Sir Thomas More, Utopia, 1516).

Standing shows that social attitudes changed during this period too. ‘The arbitrary mass transfer of what had been a form of commons was to scar permanently Britain’s class structure. It led to an extraordinary degree of concentration of land ownership that persists to this day’ (Standing 2019:11). The terms ‘common’ and ‘commoner’ acquired their more modern pejorative meaning. Social attitudes hardened. The rural poor and those displaced by enclosures began to be not merely looked down on but seen as a menace. Harsh laws against vagrancy were introduced. ‘From the sixteenth century onwards the emerging middle class of private property-owners joined the aristocracy in treating the rural commons as subversive, a zone of idleness, sinfulness and debauchery’ (Standing 2019: 15). This is confirmed in the tone Sir Henry Norris adopted after Steer had been arrested, calling Steer and his party ‘evill disposed wretches’ (Walter 1985: 126)

I don’t think I can actually photograph a change of social attitudes 450 years ago, but the knowledge of this will colour the photographs that I do make. Standing’s analysis goes a long way to explaining the anger of Bartholomew Steer and his peers, something that comes through clearly in the judicial depositions. These were people who felt not only that they had been deprived of the means of supporting themselves but also that the new elite was treating them with great disrespect too. By the same token, Standing’s analysis also explains why the local lords of the manor were as harsh and intolerant of criticism as apparently they were. Like others of the Tudor elite, they were ‘new money’. They had acquired their lands in dubious circumstances and were extracting profits from them even more dubiously, by replacing people with livestock and repudiating any duty to those displaced. It suited them to look down on ‘commoners’ and promote a social order in which commoners should know their place. Those who refused to acquiesce would be made an example of, which is exactly what happened. Steer and his companions were in effect subjected to judicial murder.

Even 450 years later it is easy to be quite angry about this. Anger is not always a useful emotion but in this case I think it can be put to good effect. It means I can look for drama. It means I can point out lies and find compassion where it is needed. It means I do not have to see a ruin as ‘picturesque’ or grand country houses of the time as impressive or sublime. Instead I can see them for what I think they are: sinister, evidence of oppression and injustice, places where bad and unhappy things have happened. And since, as Standing shows, England’s concentration of wealth and manifest social injustices have been turbocharged by Neo-Liberalism in recent decades, I can see these problems continuing today.

So this history is living history, still alive with meaning and emotion 450 years later. For sure, Standing’s book will affect my photographic practice even if indirectly. I doubt that anyone who reads it will be able to look on England and its history in the same way again.


STANDING, Guy. 2019. Plunder of the Commons : A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth. London: Pelican.

WALTER, John. 1985. ‘A “Rising of the People”? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596’. Past & Present 107(1), [online], 90–143. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].


PHO705 Week 15: The Rural Gaze

The Rural Gaze was a day-long symposium organized by GRAIN, a Midlands arts organization ‘dedicated to commissioning, facilitating and delivering ambitious, engaging and high quality photography projects, commissions, events and exhibitions’ (GRAIN 2021). Twelve photographers were each given 15-30 minutes to present current projects and talk about their practice more generally. All were involved in rural affairs, whether farming practices, social conditions outside major cities, labour and seasonal work, climate change, ‘agribusiness’ or ecology.

This was one of the most interesting and informative events that I have attended. Not many of my peers are engaged in a project like mine, so it is easy to think I may have put myself out on a limb and made a poor choice of subject. In fact, I now realize this is a burgeoning field that plenty of photographers are involved in.

What I took from the day are these:

First, the day has really helped to place my project within current contemporary practice. I now know who some of my peers are in the wider world. I particularly warmed to the presentations by Murrary Ballard, Leah Gordon, Marco Kesseler, Matthew Broadhead, Guy Martin and Polly Braden. All are a few years into professional careers in photography, and they have websites and Instagram feeds I can follow. This is really helpful. In fact, simply watching how they made their presentations was informative.

Second, it became clear that land enclosure, exploitation and inequality are still hot topics, just as much as they were at the time of the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596. To this has now been added the matter of migrant labour – the seasonal workers from countries such as Bulgaria and Romania who pick and prepare many of the foodstuffs on which we depend in our supermarkets. And over all of it there hangs Brexit, described during the day as ‘a line in the sand’ that marks a decisive change in the way we treat our land and the farming labour force.

I liked Murray Ballard’s work in progress, a study of highly mechanized farming and seasonal workers in Lincolnshire (Ballard 2021, see Fig. 1). Leah Gordon has studied the enclosure acts and the commons for many years (Gordon 2021). Her list of sources will prove invaluable. Marco Kesseler had studied some of the waste and poor treatment of natural resources involved in agribusiness but set this in its social context, showing how it is driven by corporations and supermarkets which in turn are driven by our addiction to cheap food at, seemingly, almost any cost (Kesseler 2021, see Fig. 2). Guy Martin was very interesting on the darker sides of rural life: depression and ennui, particularly among the young, the anger and divisions around Brexit, and a surprising amount of crime mostly connected to the distribution of Class A drugs across what the trade apparently refers to as ‘County Lines’ (Martin 2021).

Murray Ballard
Fig. 1: Murray Ballard 2021. ‘Ioana, holding a tray of calabrese (broccoli), Freiston, Lincolnshire, 18 March 2021’.

Third, most of the photographers pointed out the basic disconnect that fuels much misunderstanding of rural affairs. As a society, the English are raised on tales of pastoral calm and rural idylls that have never, in fact, existed. Rural life has almost always been hard and messy. Even so, we grow up with a romanticized view of the countryside from books, films and television, whether The Wind in the Willows, Countryfile on the BBC or the works of James Herriot. Corporations exploit this by creating brands with entirely fictitious back stories under which they sell factory-produced items with traditional rural scenes on the packaging. In the supermarket, you buy a chicken or a bottle of cider from a ‘farm’ that has never existed.

Fig. 2: Marco Kesseler n.d.
Fig. 2: Marco Kesseler n.d. ‘Asparagus’, part of a series and exhibition Our Nature looking at changes in the agricultural landscape.

Fourth, much of what goes on in the countryside is hidden. In part this is because most of us now live in cities even though some 80 per cent of the land in England is rural. Remoteness and strict property laws conceal much from view. In part, however, more traditional social attitudes and perhaps shame drive many problems underground, particularly poverty, mental health, single-parenting and poor housing conditions. These are just as much of an issue in rural areas as they are in any city even though officials often deny it (see Cresswell 2014, 177-79).

However, there are two other factors here, I think. The first is that big business has every incentive to promote a pastoral fantasy rather than reveal the sometimes disturbing reality. Sales depend on it. The biggest farmer in England, who owns some 30,000 acres in Lincolnshire alone, kindly provides a lushly photographed example: (Dyson Farming 2021). There are no migrant workers picking cold cabbages in this operation. Governments too have tapped into our nostalgia about the countryside, as in the wartime (1942) poster ‘Your Britain – Fight for it Now’ (Imperial War Museum 2021, see Fig. 3). It is clear where power and wealth’s priorities lie.

Your Britain - Fight for it Now
Fig. 3: Imperial War Museum 2021. ‘Your Britain – Fight for it Now’, a wartime poster of 1942 promoting the idea of Britain as a rural idyll.

The second reason is straightforward: almost all of us are hypocrites about this. We want the rural idyll and we don’t want the often impoverished reality even though, deep down, we suspect it is there. We want to think the countryside is place of wild, undisturbed natural things even though we also want cheap food and first-class roads, and we tolerate planning decisions that favour rural England as a middle-class playground for wealthy retirees and executive commuters. There is nothing new in this. It is a deep disconnect in our society that has existed for many decades, perhaps centuries. It is certainly not hard to trace it back at least to the trauma of the Industrial Revolution, the process that emptied the countryside of its people and then sold it back to them as a place of repose from the toil and smoke of cities and factories (see Taylor 1994 for a history).

‘The Rural Gaze’ has inspired me and also helped me to realize that my own project is multi-faceted. Farming and rural questions are much more nuanced that rich against poor, us against them, good husbandry versus ‘agribusiness’. One is considering a way of life with deep cultural roots. It has also made me realize that at the heart of my project there lies an enigma. The point was well made by Leah Gordon in her presentation who pointed out that Dürer’s ‘Monument to the Vanquished Peasants’, a sketch of 1525 for a proposed monument (Dürer 1525), can be read in two ways: does it invite us to mourn the loss of a proud tradition or celebrate the downfall of backward-looking troublemakers? Those are questions I have to ask about the life and times of Bartholomew Steer of Hampton Gay.


BALLARD, Murray. 2021. ‘Murray Ballard’. Murray Ballard [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

CRESSWELL, Tim. 2014. Place : An Introduction. Second. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Son, 177-79.

DURER, Albrecht. 1525. ‘Monument to the Vanquished Peasants’. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

DYSON FARMING. 2021. ‘Innovative Farming for the Future’. Dyson Farming [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

GORDON, Leah. 2021. ‘Enclosure’. Leah Gordon [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

GRAIN. 2021. ‘GRAIN’. GRAIN [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM. 2021. ‘Your Britain – Fight for It Now [South Downs]’. Imperial War Museum [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

KESSELER, Marco. 2021. ‘Marco Kesseler’. Marco Kesseler [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

MARTIN, Guy. 2021. ‘Pleasant Land (In Progress)’. Guy Martin [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

TAYLOR, John. 1994. A Dream of England: Landscape, Photography and the Tourist’s Imagination. Manchester: Manchester University Press.


Figure 1. Murray BALLARD. 2021. ‘Ioana, holding a tray of calabrese (broccoli), Freiston, Lincolnshire, 18 March 2021’. From: Murray Ballard. 2021. ‘News’. Murray Ballard [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

Figure 2. Marco KESSELER. n.d. ‘Asparagus’. From: Marco Kesseler. 2021. Our Nature [exhibition]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].

Figure 3. IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM. 2021. ‘Your Britain – Fight for It Now [South Downs]’. From: Imperial War Museum [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 May 2021].