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Vanessa Winship: photographing incertitude

For T.S. Eliot, winter is amnesic and deficient, “covering / Earth in forgetful snow, feeding / A little life with dried tubers”, but in Winship’s “Snow” it is a pregnant time, a waiting period, a meditative season; not the reawakening, the surfeit or the melancholy of a year’s other divisions.


Sean Sheehan


Some of her photographs are in black-and-white, others in muted colour, some use a lighter, more permeable paper stock.

Her subject matter is restricted to countryside and when people do appear they are the Amish, a people on the periphery.

Winship’s customary affinity for human communities and their places deserts her when drawn into and disquieted by nature’s introspectiveness.

Winship took these photos in Ohio, first visited on a separate assignment, and the place got under her skin for no obvious reason at the time. Return visits led to the sending of photos to an old friend, poet and novelist Jem Poster, in the search for words that might accompany her images.

His response, a short fictional piece that is interwoven with the pictures in “Snow”, tells of a photographer on a commission whose visit to a sculptor in an isolated locale becomes an increasingly discombobulating experience.

Its title, “Ice”, might be a metaphor for the thin membrane that separates an apparently secure surface from precariousness and uncertainty, making the text an echo chamber for a state of being that makes its presence felt in  the pictures of frost thinly coating dormant vegetation under hushed skies. Poster gives voice to the wordless, liminal landscapes of Winship’s photographs

Her camera stares at reality without offering an explanation for the indirection before it and her images cannot be reduced to mimetic representations of reality.

Such a stance is unlike that of the camera-wielding character in “Ice”: she hails from the domain of art-world photography with its self-assurance and sense of entitlement and she comes up against a spikiness in the sculptor and his artwork that leaves her bereft, denuded of her certainties.

The images possess an Amish-like distance from modernity: sparse clapboard homes and abandoned billboards are pictured without the endurance of the bare trees, rocks and water that exist in their vicinity.

Meaning is derelict, agency is missing in the unresolvable face of nature’s recalcitrance; there is no sublime. The photos visually evoke the enigmatic nature that the novelist John M Harrison so deftly conjured up in “The sunken land begins to rise again.  In an earlier work of her own, Winship photographed a small port city in southern France, Sète, and the quiet, undemonstrative tonalities that she responded to in that place find an echo in wintry Ohio landscapes.

Vanessa Winship’s “Snow” is published by Deadbeat Club.

(Photos supplied by the publisher and authorised for publication.)




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