everything seemed to be listening is a project that uses photography, video and found objects to respond to the work of, and to places associated with the work of, the artist Paul Nash. It is funded by Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts scheme. A three-week exhibition, and some associated events, took place at Rye Creative Centre in June 2017.
Since 2011 I have used photography to explore the concept of place, often in the context of the work of other artists. This project continues to pursue these interests through an exploration of places in Southern England associated with the painter, photographer and writer Paul Nash.
Whilst being research-led, my approach to place is not so much documentative as intuitive, and my image-making comes out of the relationship between my own energies and those of a place, which in any case always become intertwined. The ways in which I reach and traverse the spaces and places in which I make images also forms an important element of my work, and both walking and cycling are integral to the ways that I engage with the land. The interface between nature and culture is a recurrent theme in my work, and consequently I’m often drawn to places such as edgelands, wastelands, and borderlands, and to ruined, derelict and abandoned places. My work often explores the transitory nature of human presence: the traces, both physical and intangible, of the departed, and the ways these human traces commingle with the more enduring presences of ‘nature’.
The images and videos created for this project constitute my response both to the places in which Nash lived and worked, and to the dynamics that Nash brought out of them in his own imagery. Today Nash seems like one of the progenitors of a certain approach to the exploration of place that has come to be called psychogeographic. His work also engages with forms of mysticism and animism that increasingly resonate with my own experience. Having already made images in and around a number of places that feature prominently in Nash’s oeuvre, I conceived this project as a way to respond to Nash more directly and extensively. Well-trodden locales were revisited – Avebury, Romney Marsh, Iver Heath, the Chilterns, Wittenham Clumps – and territory hitherto unwalked by me was explored at Studland, Chesil Beach, along the Jurassic Coast, and elsewhere.
In all of my work informed by other artists, I enter into a dialogue with the places in which particular artists worked, and with the imagery they created there. The artist and their work become something of a guiding spirit to my own journeys in and around those places. Recent photography projects have taken me to the American South to make images in places associated with the late musician Mark Linkous, and to Ireland to respond to places associated with the painter and writer Jack B. Yeats. Other artists that my practice has engaged with over the years have included John Clare, Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett.
In the relatively early stages of this project, I began working extensively with double exposure photographs, finding this to be an effective means of engaging with what Nash referred to as ‘the life of the inanimate object’, and of uncovering, or forging, correspondences in nature. The resulting images often experiment with fractal, almost kaleidoscopic imagery, variously evoking both a mystical and a playful engagement with place, with objects, and with the natural world. As with all of my photographic work, the images and videos are titled with a grid reference (in this case the Ordnance Survey grid reference code) giving the location where the work was made. All of the images were made in camera and not subject to any digital manipulation. That is to say, the double exposures are created ‘in the field’ using the camera itself, not in ‘post-production’.
ABOUT DAVID FOSTER
David Foster was born in Aldershot in November 1979 and grew up in Northumberland. He studied at the Universities of Plymouth, Newcastle, and Reading, and completed a PhD at the latter in 2011, in the Department of Film, Theatre and Television, where he currently teaches. His writing on film and photography, amongst other subjects, has appeared in various books and academic journals, and online.
Unless otherwise stated, all words and images in this article are © David Foster