Flags: A Kickstarter Campaign by Joshua Turner
“Whether we observe, nurture, cultivate, adapt, monetise or destroy it; the list is endless. It unifies us through experience. Whilst seeming vast, the universal nature of the landscape serves to highlight the importance of our individuality” - Joshua Turner on his upcoming photo book, which you can support on Kickstarter here.
Throughout Flags you have used your own personal experiences to “translate a potentially vast subject into a deeply personal documentation” – and it’s true, I believe in the land’s unique and personal subjectivity. What kind of experiences influenced your approach? Did you choose this subject as means of catharsis or outward expression?
Growing up in Buxton (Peak District) I was always surrounded by landscape, it was a synonymous aspect of my life that I embraced. As a child I played in the woods, as a teen I went camping with friends. Generally I just explored anywhere that wasn’t urbanised.
Yet this is somewhat of a nature/nurture situation. Since long before I was born my family has been involved in Motorcycle Trials, a sport in which you develop a knowledge of the landscape; not riding on manufactured tracks but exploring the natural to find places to ride. I didn’t get my own motorcycle until I was 8 years old, but I was attending the events from a very early age. I have a photograph somewhere of my Mum holding me as a baby amid a competition - a location which I would spend countless days riding once I had my own bike. Also a place where my Dad, Uncle and Grandad did the same many years before me.
The specific location of the work is significant because it is the field where I would learn to ride my first motorcycle, a Yamaha TY80 on Boxing Day in 2007. The field lies just above where the family business is situated, meaning I could visit whenever I liked; it was almost like a routine that never became dull, I would always search for time or reason to go there.
This was a place where I spent most of my childhood, and in 2015 it stopped. The classic case of moving from home for University. This separation felt so personal, I genuinely had to consider whether further education was worth the cost of losing this part of my life. I told myself that I could visit home and continue to ride, but this now seems just one of the five stages of grief; bargaining.
Maybe this sounds a little dramatic, but as I write this I feel quite upset. Possibly more catharsis?
Tell us something about your project we might not get from a first impression.
There are a lot of details in the book that will almost be impossible to read because there simply isn’t the context, but they all had influence. The location of the book is a field and small section of woodland. This field is situated above a small community of park homes (roughly 100 residents). This community, know as Punch Bowl Caravan Park, was built from nothing by my grandparents.
Before the site was established, the land was a disused quarry and the towering rock faces still cocoon the homes today. I have an unrelenting respect for my grandparents for what they have achieved. If I was a few years younger this project might be about the thriving community they nurtured, they even had a pub that was a popular place to go in Buxton. Yet as I grew up I noticed this community becoming slightly more introverted, just as society has in some way with new forms of socialising. The pub has gone in place of more homes and now I hear sentimental stories of the past.
You previously explored the relation between the individual and the land in a previous project, Scorched Subways, and likewise here you probe notions of representation, focusing on a ubiquitous visual syntax that fails to be singularly defined. How did the rationale you approached each project with differ? And how did this affect the outcome?
Both projects are emotional responses to the location. Scorched Subway was an immediate response to a place in which I lived for two months, I had never experienced life on the boundaries of the city, I felt a tension between where I had grown up (the country) and where I intended to live (the city). It was a case of becoming aware of social norms from a different culture. After seeing how people could and would terrorise a location, I saw the aftermath of a subway (underpass) being smashed and burnt, I had a really negative view of the place. SS was cathartic in that I was learning to understand a minority wasn’t representative of a community. But to begin with I felt a little unsure about heading out to photograph the locations.
Yet Flags developed through my interest in family history, I began wanting to document the community of trials in a Soth style, but I soon came to realise that this wasn’t my way of working. This wasn’t enough of a meditation on the subject; I tend to work in the enigmatic so the imagery doesn’t become bound by initial intentions; as we all know, long projects can change a lot over time. I had significant influence from Barthes’ Camera Lucida, I was aware of the indexicality of Trials which made me begin to think about the physical interaction between rider and landscape. From this I experimented with ways of conveying a narrative through various locations I used to ride or compete.
SS began as I wanted to create a fictional narrative within a body of work, yet at the time I was influenced by what I was experiencing to create a topographic and psychogeographic documentation. For Flags I had a subject that I knew a lot about, but I was so uncertain about what I wanted to say about it. It turns out that I was saying less about the sport itself and more about a larger anthropological consideration, showing how we can interact and emote with the landscape.
Did you approach your subject from any particular social, cultural, personal or political standpoint?
It is never a particular goal of mine, but especially when I am working with the natural landscape and not urban topography, I tend to make statements about the misuse of the landscape. This process began early at uni when I made Grass & Concrete, portraying a clear, almost statistical representation of how quarries affect their surroundings, created with a literal approach.
As I became more aware of mental health and mindfulness I started to develop work with a psychological underpinning, in City by Night I photographed locations at times that provoked fear whilst I was photographing, being bound to the location for longer than I was comfortable with the setup of an RZ67 with 60s exposures. In the later stages Flags became a way to make people consider their own relationship with the landscape, whether that is positive or negative, this isn’t political/environmental activism, but I wanted to trigger a reflection. A way of saying, this is what I’m doing with the landscape, so what are you doing with it?
How might you like to see the project come to life on the gallery wall?
I have come to learn that photography is bound to a 2D medium of a photograph, photography is a way of studying a subject or philosophy that can be conveyed in a medium that is more affective than statistics or literature. This work has two keys parts, the photographs and the graphic annotations. The relationship between the two has poetic qualities in that the annotation adds contexts yet obscures the image (as it is printed onto tracing paper and not acetate), I never want to clearly overlay the patterns directly on to the photographs because this would result in too much focus on what the patterns mean rather than what they represent.
In a gallery context I would like to work with a combination of installation and photography, I would like to hang large sheets of tracing paper in front of the work with 3ft gap, the two elements would rely on perspective which varies in each person. In a larger space I could mark out a section of with blue and red flags for the audience to interact with, much like at a Trials competition.
Exhibition is not something that I have given a lot of consideration to, this project has almost always been intended for a book, this is my preferred method of presenting work, but I would like the opportunity to exhibit the work to experience a different thought process.
Tell me about at least one photo book that influenced your practice (preferably one that held some significance to you when carrying out Flags).
I was influenced by Jem Southam’s The Red River and how sequenced landscape imagery can imbue narratives, especially when curated through geographic significance; Flags has a chronological sequencing that represents my development as a Trials rider. There are many books of exploration I am influenced by, Struth’s Jerusalem, Dewe-Matthews’ In Search of Frankenstein. All story telling, though poetically driven through exploration of the subject.
However, I tend to have much more influence from literature. I took significant influence from Company’s Safety In Numbness, is documentary of the aftermath of an event still a documentary? Is aftermath imagery just a sensationalist take on an event that has occurred?
I am interested in the idea of historical authenticity and indexicality through the landscape. Historicity is an idea I came across in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, as a lot of the book revolves around ephemera from a stigmatised period of time. The land holds historical authenticity to all of us, but it is a case of photography’s limitation as a literal medium, how can we prove a connection when trace has faded away, for it is proof that we so often read from a photograph.
As realising the photo book comes to an end, where might the project continue to develop?
As I come to realise the project I will search for opportunity to exhibit the work, yet I am interested in different ways of presentation with which I can experiment, to play with ideas of perspective and what I can and cannot withhold. I would certainly consider various approaches to installation and taking the presentation further than 2D imagery, or at least some kind of physical interaction with the audience in how they experience the work.
I will also continue the work in a new body of work, I feel that I have much more of the project to explore; now I am out of university I can take more time to develop a larger body of work around a larger subject.
I will talk to the writer to see what she has decided to write about, in the spirit of individuality I’ve given her free reign to consider her own relationship with the landscape.