JOSEPH WRIGHT (Purton, UK)
I am a photographer, photobook designer and publisher based in a small village named Purton, near the town of Swindon, in a semi-rural area of southern England.
Best known for my evocative and multi-layered landscape images that reveal stories of the land, how we inhabit it and how it affects us, developed through my lifelong relationship and deep affinity with the countryside and edgelands. My work is instinctive in response to place and event. It is frequently rooted in history, toponymy and topography. I endeavour to unwind time and peel back the layers of culture and memory creating work to move beyond the simple aesthetic to reveal a deeper understanding of my subjects.
At the end of 2017 I exhibited a large solo show of my Cubby’s Tarn series, featured here, hosted by Forest Art Works in the English Lake District, North West England. The accompanying photobook was recently awarded a top placing in the Unveil’d 2017 international photobook awards. Also, in 2017, I exhibited work from an ongoing series, The Lost Forest, as part of a group show at the MMX Gallery of contemporary photography in London, with work from that series also qualified as a finalist in Fotofilmic ‘16 which toured Los Angeles, Vancouver and Melbourne. My work is collected worldwide and held in both private and public collections.
I am also a founding member of the Inside the Outside (ITO) collective – a diverse group of photographers that commonly explore, in highly individual and personal representations of the land around them, the reality of what is before them, and with the often-unspoken ability to express something of their inner selves whilst experiencing being there in the land. I am also the founder of JW Editions; an independent publisher of photobooks.
In my series Cubby’s Tarn, I explore the long held ancient belief that land and place can have an abiding protective spirit or the modern belief of atmosphere, connection to place; termed ‘genius loci’. The word tarn is an English regional name for a small mountain pool or lake, in this case dedicated to the memory of a highly influential forest wildlife ranger who in his lifetime inspired many hundreds of people in different walks off life to engage with nature. I was one of those people and explains why I chose this place for my study, and ultimately my lifelong association with the land.
‘Genius loci’ has been explored through many art forms over the years. It has been suggested the concept in some form originated 5000 years ago to the Pre-dynastic period of Ancient Egypt. However, whilst the current use of the name has Latin origins, which can be traced back to its use in classical Roman religion these views are still practiced in many parts of the world today, particularly in Asia. In the western world, a more contemporary use of the term ‘genius loci’ could be best described as expressing atmosphere intrinsically connected to a place. Something that is experienced rather than necessarily exists. Others, like myself though, believe what we sense in circumstances like these is a personal externalisation of deeply seated emotions, experiences, memories, that have over time shaped and influenced our conscious being – the person we are – triggered through some recognition of an aspect of a place or person.
It was through almost obsessively visiting the tarn over many years making images in response to what I sensed there, that I came to understand ‘genius loci’ could be best summed up as the manifest collective of history, culture, the past and present. As such, it grows within us as we age and experience the world around us, and roots us back to the earth and our ancestry. What began as a journey of my own search for and exploration of the ‘genius loci’ ended with the creation of my own metaphoric visual eulogy to a future legend and myth. In Memory of John James Cubby MBE, b. 1938 – d. 2007, the ‘spirit of this place’.
Practice Statement: How does photographing on film (or using your material photographic process of predilection) inform your artistic practice?
I use film primarily for its physical attributes. Firstly, for me, it’s tonality is unmatched in rendering the subject I photograph – the land. Whilst man-made the aesthetic qualities of film are almost as organic as the characteristics of the nature of land. Also, I believe photographs are best viewed in printed form – as physical objects – either as prints or in book form. This comes from a want to expand on just the visual engagement of myself and the viewer to also include further sensory stimulation. The logical extension of this is to use a tangible media in the image making process – analogue film. Thereby passing the physicality of the landscape through myself and the film – to the viewing of the photograph and, handling of the print and book by you the viewer. It will be as if you and we will have physically connected. It is a personal ethos that is as rooted in my creative process as is the connection to the land itself…