Sense of Place
The inaugural exhibition hosted by Wobneb Magazine — with essay by Rob Hudson
Wobneb Magazine wants to provide opportunities for photographers to exhibit in group online exhibitions with no entry fee. This series of exhibitions is open to any amateur or professional photographer around the globe — with the goal of providing the chance for many different people to contribute to the theme. The inaugural theme for 2018 is Sense of Place.
On some level, each photographer tries to convey an observable sense of a place within a slice of a second; hopefully transcending mere documentation of physical appearance to impart a feeling of their experience or emotions. This exhibition is fortunate to have a range of styles and methods used to address the theme. Photojournalist Louise Wateridge’s image of a Syrian refugee child playing with a pigeon is reflective of her sense of place as an observer; capturing a moment of joy within a life of hardship, and creating a strong image without being overly invasive. The work of photographer J.M. Golding is connected to specific locations and presents a spiritual and philosophical connection to the world around her. She observes and transforms the views into what exists internally as well. The landscape by Ellen Jantzen takes a step further into how an artist can capture an image or images of a place, and create new realities in her process of looking beyond surface and trying to reveal something emotional through her manipulations.
Rob Hudson is a special contributor to this exhibition. In his essay, Hudson addresses the idea of place and how photographers try ultimately to show the uniqueness and insight each person brings to the table. In addition, Hudson and photographer Al Brydon contribute images from their respective regions of Wales and England to share their sense of place with respect to their own relationship with the land.
For this exhibition, we asked photographers to consider the following: What is the social or physical landscape where you live? How do you define your sense of place in the world? A sympathetic understanding is the goal of any photographer. Each one asks the viewer to look at what they’ve captured with their camera, recall their own personal experiences, and draw meaning from the connections. We asked contributors to show how they document or interpret the world around them, and convey a sense of place using their unique visual voice. This exhibition is an exploration of that idea, our surroundings, as well as ourselves.
A Sense of Place by Rob Hudson
I’ve just returned from spending a few days in somewhere that, to me at least, has a strong sense of place — the St. David’s peninsula in the far southwest of Wales. It was one of the places in Britain where the first Christians arrived from Ireland, now memorialized in both the place’s name, and the cathedral tucked into a little valley to hide it from Viking marauders. There’s a sense of human history here that is so close to the surface and obvious in such a sparsely populated area. It seems to shine forth in a way I don’t recognize or feel about in the city I live within.
The tilted rock strata here produces a long line of low hills that seem to rise up from the surrounding plane with the character of mountains. They look like leaning triangles, and that feature is carried all the way to the sea cliffs and the outlying islands. If you imagine that line of hills to be the dorsal fins of a giant subterranean whale, several miles long, then the cliffs and jutting rocks are its teeth having taken giant bites out of the coastline.
I could tell you these things, and create the idea of a sense of place in your mind to illustrate how the uniqueness of a place makes it stand out. Is it uniqueness, or because I’ve been visiting here since I was a boy, and have a strong emotional connection to this place? Perhaps it is because there’s a commonality of features which we recognize as having a sense of place. I can also tell you that six different people from varying ages, genders or cultures have independently described this place as having something ‘magical’ about it (and it’s a term I’d happily subscribe to myself); but this brings us no closer to explaining or identifying any features that give a sense of place.
The poet Edward Thomas wrote the phrase, ‘Within the spaces between’, which simply sums up the connection we make to the often unappreciated places we visit — especially when we engage with making an artistic response to them. A sense of place isn’t a simple concept to understand. We all recognize it when we feel that connection, but like many emotional responses it is more difficult to explain in words. Perhaps this is because a sense of place isn’t an inherent aspect of a place’s identity at all, but something we project onto it. In short, it is a social and cultural construct. This isn’t to suggest that a sense of place is lesser because of its human roots; landscape itself is an idea, and it doesn’t exist outside the human realm. Both terms express the power place can hold over us, the depth of our emotional connection.
Equally important is to consider what the opposite of a sense of place might entail — what is ‘placenessness’? Placeless spaces are just as valuable in artistic expression as those that have a sense of place. A few years ago my good friend and fellow founder member of the Inside the Outside collective made a series of photographs he termed ‘None Places’. Like others engaged with a radical interpretation of landscape, Al Brydon’s ‘None Places’ are sites of freedom, which allowing for a more anarchic expression. It is arguable that after we put a frame around a photograph of a place, it ceases to be placeless because we’ve begun the process of myth making and story telling, which contribute to the creation of a sense of place. This doesn’t mean they are invalidated, they are worthy of our exploration and expression, but we should also be aware of our own contradictions. As Gertrude Stein said, “There is no there there”.
The truth is, we make or find a sense of place if we look long and hard enough. After all, that is the job of the artist or photographer — to show others our insights. In essence we’re trying to understand and express ourselves through the medium of our relationship to place. But, and this is an important ‘but’, we don’t all share the same experiences of place. Our world is so full of imagery; only an individual’s unique response to place will stand out. That’s easier than it sounds. We have to do the legwork. It’s taken me approximately 40 years to visually consummate my love for St. David’s peninsula; I hope you’ll achieve success somewhat faster.
Sense of Place, October 2018 Wobneb Magazine
Rob Hudson is one of the co-founders of Inside the Outside, a collective of landscape photographers based in the UK. He has contributed to a number of books and projects on landscape photography, and his photographs have been shown in a number of prominent exhibitions throughout the UK.
Al Brydon’s ‘None Places’ by kind permission www.al-brydon.com.
Inside the Outside collective:
This exhibition is also published at wobnebmagazine.com. All images are used with permission. I want to sincerely thank all the contributors and artists for sharing their work. — Cary Benbow, Publisher, Wobneb Magazine