v1.11 / Mike Jackson & The Child’s Landscape

“I was creating my own world . . . with the awe of a child”

In addition to her indispensable book, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson also wrote a beautiful homage to the child’s imagination called The Sense of Wonder. Among the most crucial concerns in this book is Carson’s wish for all children “a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”

Mike Jackson‘s series, The Child’s Landscape, evokes that exact sense of wonder. I had no idea, when I first came across these photographs, that Jackson’s cliffs and mountains and icebergs were not exactly what they seemed: monstrous outcrops of real stone and ice out there in the real ocean. But even when you learn about Jackson’s process, the images become no less real. In fact, they become “more real.” The child in me, as Jackson says, “can almost smell the sea, feel the rain lashing your face, hear the screaming gulls in the wind.”

Jackson explains the ideas at work behind The Child’s Landscape below. Be sure to check out his short film at the end of this post. And stay tuned for the second part of our Jackson feature, coming soon.

Mike Jackson


“Outcrop near Mann Point” © Mike Jackson

A Child’s Landscape is about how we, as adults, lose what we had as a child, and how something that is not real can give us access to that world again. An image can act as a gateway back to childhood.

After seeing my own children play on the rocky beaches at Ceibwr Bay in Pembrokeshire I noticed how they see the world in a much more expressive and exciting way. I also noticed how the real world, as adults see it, lacks this excitement. We see the beauty; they see the adventure. Our world is based on facts – their world is based on what could be.

“The Two Towers of St John, Evening Light” © Mike Jackson

With this in mind I tried to keep my eyes open to possible ways of showing a child’s way of thinking on paper. I spent a long time sketching the dramatic cliffs at Ceibwr Bay and everything came together when, while I was walking my dogs, I noticed some small frost damaged rocks. These to me looked like witches’ teeth and storm damaged cliffs. I collected them up and took them back to the studio to work with.

“Vaughan Mount” © Mike Jackson

After some creative play and using my sketches as a reference I managed to find a way of photographing these rocks to display their inherent quality – their amazing ability to defy scale. A small rock that you can hold in your hand still has the same structure as an enormous cliff face. This excited me and pushed me forward. Soon I was able to tap into the imagination of a child and show towering cliffs, storm battered bays and swooping gulls.

I decided to take on the mantle of an explorer and imagine that each image made was like an explorer’s log book – and I took it upon myself to name the landscapes – eventually creating a whole coastline of formations and inlets. I was free to do whatever I wanted – there was no limit. I was creating my own world.

“Iceberg Just One Mile South of Keep’s Bay” © Mike Jackson

Interestingly, I found that the fact that the landscape was not real didn’t matter at all. Because I wasn’t creating a landscape based on facts and reality – I was creating a Child’s Landscape. This leap from spending years recording reality, to making my own reality, interested me immensely – and it helped pave the way for my future work and my ability to disregard reality almost altogether.

“Cook’s Drum with Sailboat” © Mike Jackson

The strange thing is, these images, if you allow yourself to make that small switch from looking at them as a series of facts, to looking at them with the awe of a child, you find that you can almost smell the sea, feel the rain lashing your face, hear the screaming gulls in the wind. The fact that it isn’t real somehow makes it more real.

This concept – that the unreal can describe reality in a more emotive and satisfying way than reality itself is the driving force of everything that I now work on in the studio.

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