OLIVER RAYMOND BARKER

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PHOTO PRIMITIVE /
MANOR MAGAZINE


Two 21st century artists reworking early photographic practices in a response to contemporary land and place talk about their work.

William Arnold and Oliver Raymond-Barker have a lot of common ground: both work in the medium of camera-less photography, their subject matter is the landscape – mainly on their home ground of Cornwall. They also deliver workshops together, collaborate on projects and both are creating work that is getting noticed. It was after seeing an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum that the two artists (independently) determined directions their work would take.

INFLUENCES

ORB:  It’s work that pushes the boundaries of the photographic medium that draws me in. The ‘Shadow Catchers’ exhibition at the V&A in 2011 was one of the first large exhibitions of camera-less photography and I saw it at a time when my own practice was being rekindled. It made me realize I wanted to focus on developing a visual syntax beyond traditional forms of lens and print-based media.

WA: I was experimenting with different historical and photographic processes when I saw the exhibition and it was the work of Susan Derges and Garry Fabian Miller that sparked my interest in the potential ways camera-less processes could be used to represent landscapes and their histories in a direct visceral way. Susan Derges for instance took her photographic materials out to be submerged in the River Taw, creating a haptic record of the River’s flow. The immediate environment figures strongly in both artists’ work.

ORB: Most of my learning about alternative photographic processes has been through trial and error. When talking about my work or running workshops I explain that what I do is not complicated, even though there may be many layers in the process. I actually endeavor to strip away complexity.  The sculpture of Roger Ackling spent 35 years working with sunlight, focusing it through a hand held magnifying glass to draw onto discarded wood or card. Like Ackling I tend to seek out solitude when making new work.

WA: It is the sheer simplicity of the camera-less process that is exciting and it was the direct delineation of form on light sensitive paper through the action of light that captivated photographic pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot and resulted in the peerless folia of biological recordings undertaken by Anna Atkins in the mid 1800s.

PROCESS

ORB: As a student in Birmingham much of my photography took place in abandoned factories and derelict houses. I found I could truly attend to the quality of light, texture and form in these spaces as there were no distractions. I still work in remote locations but the emphasis is on exploring the natural surroundings as opposed to the built environment.

WA: I work most often in a series of photographs, taking a playful approach to the documentary form while applying some of its rigours to make works that have some grounding in the scientific method of knowledge building, yet are produced largely by an emotionally driven catalyst. I am also intrigued by the role played by the photographic surface (literally and metaphorically) in recording, interrogating and representing these histories.

ORB: The use of light is one of the purest forms of alchemy: It transforms everything that it comes into contact with, not only in material terms but cerebrally. The embodiment of action is integral to my practice. Whether building a camera, developing a print or binding a book, these manual processes become embedded in the artwork. That’s not to say I eschew new technologies. I like to use the right tool for the job and this can sometimes mean a marriage of analogue and digital.


LANDSCAPE PROJECTS

ORB: The Forest Obscura project involved the making of an actual camera, albeit a very primitive one. It was three metres high and placed in the forest above the Geumgang River in South Korea. This allowed visitors to interact with the forest in a new way, at the same time giving then an insight into the origins of photography. Being inside the camera gave a focused, occasionally abstracted view of the trees, canopy and sky above, an image that was constantly in flux. Then I worked inside the camera to make large black and white negatives of the projected view. Back in the UK I made these into positive prints.

I am now building a portable ‘Backpack Obscura’. Its lightweight design will allow me to work in challenging environments such as canoeing into tidal creeks, walking in remote mountain regions or towing the camera while swimming to coastal coves. As well as being my means of image making, the camera will also be my shelter. I’m searching for a direct process that merges my physical perceptions with the materiality of the landscape.

WA: Living and working in west Cornwall, it is the layers of history that comprise the making of ‘the land’ that concern me as well as the role played by the photographic surface (literally and metaphorically) in recording, interrogating and representing these histories.

In ‘Suburban Hebarium’ – an ‘edgelands’ homage to Victorian botany –camera-less photography became a significant avenue of exploration. Bounded not by an ecologist’s quadrant, but by the length of a regular lunch-break walk around the western outskirts of Truro, this body of work features more than 100 species of flora and revels in the astonishing biodiversity of the Cornish hedgerow, building site and cul-de-sac garden.

The hand-printed images forsake the megapixel for the direct exposure of light through the plant itself onto a traditional gelatin-silver paper and reveals an exquisite level of detail including the delicate conformations of the roots, leaves and fruits. The plant is effectively a living lantern slide.

Through taking walks, collecting and photographing botanical specimens, I have sought to understand a disregarded landscape as a form of contemporary wilderness. It’s a project about discovering the sublime and the overlooked.



Article taken from a feature in Manor Magazine, Autumn 2017