As a ten or eleven year old in the mid 1960s, I had far more freedom than parents these days would allow their kids. With a couple of school pals, I’d regularly splash most of my pocket money out on a London Transport “Red Rover” ticket, and take a couple of buses from south east London up to the centre of “Town”. For me, the best free show to be had was the National Gallery.
I don’t remember having a favourite painting back then, or even a favourite artist, but there was stuff, like Titian and other Masters, I stood before trying to work out what the heck was going on. Something like the work of John Constable was rather more accessible. I could readily grasp scenes of woodland and rivers, and in my daydreams I used to think myself into them. I was well-satisfied with a book on Constable for my eleventh Christmas. It had literally fallen apart a few years later.
Influences like that, when you’re that age, have a habit of lingering . Maybe they didn’t surface in art at school, because of the guy mentioned early on in this blog , but they were always there or thereabouts when I was out photographing landscapes for my own pleasure. They seem to have resurfaced quite strongly in more recent years. Maybe it’s a “second childhood” thing?
I’ve also concluded that stuff like that is seldom a piece of conscious thought at the moment it strikes. It’s far more subliminal than that – or at least it is with me. It also happens too often to be dismissed as “mere coincidence”. However, I do have moments when, like an itch I can’t seem to scratch, I point the camera at something that reminds me of something else that I can’t quite put my finger on. And just occasionally there is the sheer delight of coming across a scene that immediately hits me like a flashback.
This is a visual thing, so an example might help make these ramblings clearer.
I had a phase a few years back of quite liking mid 20th century American art, including some fairly esoteric artists like the “magic realist” John Rogers Cox. Recently, I saw on social media his 1942 piece “Gray & Gold”. This:
When I’d first seen that, in a book, I was taken by the huge detail in it, perhaps unusual for a painter of that genre. Seeing it posted on Twitter, not that long after I’d been out on the North Downs in Kent this summer, was a strange experience, because while there, I’d shot this:
Now, when I took that photo, nothing, absolutely nothing, in my head said “Hey, this looks just like a John Rogers Cox”. It was the appearance of the Cox work on Twitter that provided the trigger. Coincidence? Subliminal brain activity? Who knows which, or whether those two are actually even different experiences?
I’ve blogged before about my “inner John Constable” occasionally coming to the surface. Being in the right place at the right time might indeed just be coincidence, except that it seems to be a bit more common than might be dismissed in that way. I had been pleased to discover that, in 1803, Constable had sketched battleships on the River Medway at Chatham . During my few years of wanderings that eventually led to my new exhibition “Watching the River Flow” , I’d often wondered if Constable had ventured any further upstream? There’s no evidence at all that he did, but I’d begun wondering what he’d have made of some of the scenes I’d been photographing?
Psychologists and others recognise part of the human subconscious known as the reticular activating system . It’s believed to be responsible for heightened awareness and those “deja vu” moments. It’s my best guess for the influence that occasionally shows me views along the Medway that I’d like to think Constable might have painted. Had he ever visited, of course.
That’s where the image at the head of this blog comes in, of course. I shot it on a completely unprepossessing, damp September day a few weeks ago, when I came across the Environment Agency guys tidying up fallen trees on the Medway riverbank near Barming Bridge. As an image, it presented itself pretty much fully formed. I don’t use Photoshop, and a tweak to the saturation of the colour is the most this has had. It was, of course, immediately added to the collection for the exhibition, and you can see it there from 1 to 29 November.
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