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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Jonathan Fisher's Sculptural Landscapes

Jonathan Fisher Next ( graduating this year from the Documentary Photography Course at the University of South Wales (formerly known as Newport) ) works with landscape, data and his self. His work is a struggle to connect the physical, the environmental and the psychological. It involves data (so you can see Lidar representations, you can see Orthogenesis-type 3-D manifestations of Jonathan's heartbeat, and you can see line mappings of the walks he has undertaken along with fairly straightforward (and very beautiful landscapes).

So it's about walking? Well, walking's involved but I get the feeling that's not the journey that's being depicted here. The photographic representation is the journey - the way in which earth, body and mind are connected - and the difficulties in doing this are at the heart of Jonathan's practice. It's like a photographic sculpture, a work in progress that is intended to get the totality of how we experience the landscapes. I expect words, music and sound to be incorporated eventually. It will never be complete.

There are no simple answers in other words. The beat of the heart, the tread of the boot, the flake of snow burning on the cheek of a face are all part of the conundrum of physical representation that Jonathan is trying to resolve. There is cold hard data, there are words, pain, fears and uncertainties - all are part of a package.

The journey, the visual journey, the psychological journey is depicted here. Nothing is certain, and nothing is clear - because nothing ever is.

For Jonathan's thoughts on his process, read below.

My Practice

The Landscape

At the heart of my work is the constant struggle to find new ways to visualise and the present the landscape.  I have explored new technologies throughout my exploration of the landscape and through this thinking my motivations have developed and evolved.
The earliest work I created on this path could be seen as the genesis object for my whole practice, the 3D model of a footprint, created from a series of photographs that I took when out exploring the landscape.  The model represents a shift in my thinking about photography and photography in the landscape.  I wanted to question how the landscape was viewed in contemporary society, viewed in the personal sense but also how it is continually surveyed, mapped and recorded through new technologies.  The aesthetic of the work is very important when compared against the rest of my body of work.  I have favoured this rather detached, technical aesthetic throughout the whole project and I am only now beginning to realise it has come to represent the conflict between the personal and the technological viewpoint of the landscape.

At this point I feel as though I was still trying to work against photography in my practice, purposefully trying to avoid any photographic representations of the landscape.  In hindsight the work could be seen as quite critical of the mass consumption of imagery, the constant uploading of the same tourist snapshots that we take.  The work of Penelope Umbrico was a massive inspiration but I believe the work was more focused on the idea of the survey. 

 Through sites like Flickr and Instagram, we are constantly surveying the landscape, consciously or not.  We are creating a record of the landscape in much the same way that the early King Survey photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan did.  It felt natural then to choose Yosemite as my subject, the model above is Half Dome, a mountain in Yosemite that is one of the most recognisable landmarks of the American landscape.  The mountain has been immortalised by photographers such as Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins and by scores of people each day who photograph it. 

The model above was created using the same software that I used to create my footprint, but by inputting images downloaded from Flickr, and the famous Ansel Adams photograph.  The distance between myself and Yosemite played an important as I sought to question the way the world is mapped and recorded from afar.  The second part of this project consisted of me appropriating imagery and data from various sources such as the US Geological Survey and trying to place them into an art context. 

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For me, the work has come to represent me questioning my own personal relationship with both photography and the landscape.  The next piece of work I created could be seen as a departure from this area but they are very connected.
I began to focus on the experience of being in the landscape itself but I was still searching for a way to quantify this.  In a way I was still working against using photography itself, but I began to use the walk to explore how we use the camera as a recording device in the land. 
The work consisted of a series of walks over an unnamed mountain in Wales, I recorded these walks using a GPS watch and heart rate monitor.  The GPS data harks back to the idea of the survey and the map, by carrying out a series of walks I was able to create a view of the mountain purely from where I walked. 


The data was then compared against my heart rate data that was recorded on the walk.  The data from my heart was used to create a map, a map that is both personal and universal.  If I was to walk up the mountain, my heart rate would increase, creating an actual map of the land similar to the GPS tracks, however if I stopped half way up the mountain my heart rate would decrease.  This cycle of walking and pausing created new landscapes in the data.  If I paused to take in the view, or breathe a new hill would be created in the data.
By using my body as the recording device I became the surveyor of the landscape, a personal landscape and the actual landscape.  At this point I began to embrace this idea of the subjective landscape and the landscape as an experience. 

“We invent or create the world as we look at it, it has no being beyond our own awareness of it”
It seemed natural to me when thinking about the landscape as experience to explore ideas surrounding the Sublime.  The effect of the Sublime on my body would be both physical and psychological.  I planned to carry out a series of walks to find what triggers this sense of the sublime in myself, and combine photographs taken of this moment with the heart rate data that I was also collecting. 
Since the British Romantics in the 19th Century, the landscape of Scotland has long been associated with the theory of the Sublime.  By walking I was able to confront these personal ideas, using the camera not as a means to record the landscape, but as a way to express an emotion. 
The photographs that I created along these walks have a symbiotic relationship with the landscape and its effect upon me.  The photographs I took are my view of the landscape but there is a symbiotic relationship between the effect of the landscape on me and the way I force my feelings upon the photograph.

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