v1.7 / Paul Hart’s Second Nature

“Earth, sky, and a tin shed!” This is how Paul Hart describes nature in the photograph, “Caulton’s Farm.” But it’s a pretty good summation of the modern pastoral experience as well. A sick tree here, a sagging power line there. The landscapes in Paul Hart’s latest book, Farmed, are at once beautiful and beleaguered, full and empty, alive and dead. The disappearances between these conditions are the true subjects. One feels their presence in every photograph.

Paul Hart: On Photographing the Farm (in the Past Tense)

When photographing this image the air was totally still, with very dense fog. It was a completely isolated spot, so all I could hear was the incessant and rather sinister humming noise coming from the cables above my head. Also, with the camera on a tripod directly below the cables, I noticed droplets of water were falling on me and the camera. I realised these drops were coming from the cables. Water from the mist was condensing on the cables and then falling down like rain. It certainly didn’t feel quite like planet earth! So, although this photograph depicts the surreal nature of this landscape, the experience of actually taking the picture was quite surreal in different ways – elements that the picture just can’t convey. With images like this I’m trying to show something of the ‘nature of the place’, but unfortunately with still pictures it’s impossible to convey everything!

All the natural elements of farmland condensed into one : earth, sky and a tin shed! The mist helped to simplify the picture, and isolate and highlight the shed. For me, the mist also helps to give the impression that the land and shed both extend in opposite directions indefinitely. Plus, I like the way the shed doesn’t even look like it has a back to it – it could just be a facade – like those old Western film sets, where only the fronts of the buildings were built for the Frontier town – all that was needed for the camera-man to shoot the Main Street!

Someone once pointed out to me that I should have got the building straight in this picture – that the verticals are tapering inwards. In actual fact, I think I did get the building ‘straight’. The ‘tapering’ illusion comes from the fact that some of the scaffolding uprights were, in reality, leaning into the building. Anyway, who cares? I like the ‘leaning in’ of the scaffolding, as it seems to accentuate the feeling of encasement, like the chapel is in a rudimentary cage. I also think that it has an almost ‘Medieval’ look to it. Also, what interests me about this picture is that I think it can be interpreted in so many different ways. I like that quality in a picture – I think it’s interesting when different people can find different meanings from the same picture.

This went on the front cover of the book FARMED, mainly because it describes the fundamental elements of the book, in such a concise way. I think it has a simplicity and a stillness to it, and for me the dyke is like a pointer, leading you to a small stand of remaining trees, looking so vulnerable. On a more practical note, it was so wet and muddy when I shot this, that I couldn’t safely drive my car far enough off the road. So, I remember worrying about the car being shunted by one of the numerous lorries frequently passing on the narrow lane. Of course, the reality of the heavy traffic as opposed to the apparent ‘calm’ of the image is ironic. But also, it seems incredible just how much activity there was in this area, when, not too many years ago, arable farming ground to a near halt in the dead of winter – not the case any more.

For me, this is a kind of ‘oasis’ in the Fens, where one tree has managed to survive, sandwiched between a main road and a bank of glass houses. Surviving, because there is a little water, but dwarfed in stature, clinging to the ground, not reaching for the sky. Its growth habit, as always, a reflection of the conditions in which it lives, which in this case is polluted and hostile.

Check out Farmed and Hart’s previous collection, Truncated, at Dewi Lewis Publishing. And connect with Paul Hart on Twitter and Facebook!