Liz Orton will be speaking at our June talk Photography & Landscape.
Her work explores landscape as part of a practice that deals with notions of technology, ecologies and human activity.
Leading up to the talk, we interviewed her about the work and her use of landscape…
Your views on landscape merge scientific approaches with questions about the photographic apparatus. How did you first become interested in geology and its forms of representation?
I’ve always been fascinated by non-photographic materials that seem to offer a comparable idea of the index, or a measure of time in relation to the world. My series Splitters and Lumpers started with specimens of extinct plants, and I have for a while collected stones and fossils as a particular kind of record of the past.
About five years ago, after I had done quite a bit of work in the forest, I read an essay called Circulating Reference by Bruno Latour, who is interesting on the nature of human/non-human relations. In this essay he writes about how knowledge is formed in movements between things, how an idea gathers across objects, people, spaces and images. He got me thinking a lot about the practices and gestures of science, and about the ways in which field research turns landscapes into scientific sites.
I also read a lot about the Anthropocene, the idea of a new geological epoch defined by irreversible human damage to the earth, evidenced in the rocks. So I turned my attention to geologic practices and to the question of geologic evidence. I didn’t know when I started out how important and potentially problematic photography is within geology.
Photography has often been used as an accurate record due to its indexical qualities. What do you think its role is nowadays, once we are questioning its value as a form of evidence?
Photography has multiple and unstable relations to evidence. Its value as a record still makes photography incredibly important in lots of fields. I still rely on this in my own work, both in documentary and staged senses. But I am also really interested in photography’s relationship to uncertainty, and in undermining its associations with objectivity. Much of my landscape work attempts to work against notions of photographic authenticity and naturalism in relation to space.
In projects like This Connection Should Make Us Suspect and Deltiologies, you mix found and archival imagery with photographs you have taken. What are your views on authorship?
I think it’s over-rated, in photography at least! I do take my own photographs but I also use other people’s, it depends on what the project is about. To me, the provenance of photographs, and the way they are used is nearly always more interesting than their formal qualities.
My first act of appropriation was to take images from A Field Guide to Palms of Papua New Guinea – a species guide full of extensive scientific information – then to strip away all the scientific information, crop them, and put them on a gallery wall. I had to negotiate access to the images from the author because they were absolutely tiny in the guide. Explaining my interest to him was harder than I had imagined.
I liked how this re-contextualisation transformed the image, shifting our attention away from its botanic value towards the role of various bodies in holding specimens for the camera. I see this movement of an image from one context to another as an artistic gesture or act of authorship in itself, when done questioningly. I like the idea of transgression, of an object being pulled from its origin into a new place.
The notion of connection is present throughout your work. Does your involvement in collaborative projects inform your personal work in any ways or do you conceive them as separate practices?
Ha, good question, and one that has been on my mind a lot recently. They have been relatively separate though I feel I am ready for that to change. I worked on participatory projects for ten intensive years with a range of different communities, at the same time as having three children. I never lost my passion for the work, which I still believe offers some of the most critical and interesting work currently going on in photography. But I was worried about becoming formulaic, about hopping from one project to another. So I went off on a tangent and spent time developing a practice around other things that had always interested me: ecology, natural history and visual technologies. That work has taken me to very different spaces from my participatory work. I am currently working with patients around medical imaging, which is highly collaborative and feels like the two lines of practice are beginning to converge.
What are you currently working on? Do you have any upcoming projects?
I have two projects that have been ongoing for a while and I am trying to finish, but it’s slow. They both involve aspects of appropriation as well as my own work. One is based on the book A Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert While and involves machine vision, and the other is a moving image piece based on drone pictures taken over the coast of Wales. In the longer term, I have an idea for a community dialogue project that will hopefully draw on all the different strands I have mentioned.
Tuesday 13th June, 2017. Doors at 6pm, kicks off at 7pm. The Old Market, Brighton.