Sally Mann’s work has been consistent in capturing the memory of her affection for the life that surrounds her. Deep South is no different in that respect and in it we see a collection of hauntingly beautiful images of a place she calls the “Mother Land” which Mann herself explains as:
“a peculiar phenomenon that I find both nourishes an wounds…because of this history of defeat and loss, we southerners embrace the Proustian concept that the only true paradise is a lost paradise.”
I didn’t have that connection with my town, its always been a means to an end and frankly somewhere I’d escape from given half the chance, but there was a place, a place that I wrote about in October 2015 called “Memories I Hold Dear” a place that stole my heart and never spat it back out.
Rhayader and Elan Valley in Wales is the place I’m talking about, other than the fact that my family have been coming here for decades, the people and its obvious beauty, I don’t know what it is about Rhayader but it has a hold over me. It feels like home, miles of rugged terrain that’s far from flat, steep, narrow mountain roads surrounded by sheep and no mobile phone coverage rendering most humans useless.
I am drawn to wilderness like a bee to a flower yet I wasn’t born in the countryside. I was born in a town and lived a tiny part of my life in a small end terraced house, but even as a child I remember craving adventure and adventure always lead me to the places with lots of space and lots of trees. Could it be my Scottish roots that draws me to the vast heath of Elan Valley or maybe there is a Welsh connection on my mother’s side of the family or could it be the simple fact that the water stored here has been quenching my thirst and bathing my skin for decades, as it travels the three long days from Wales to supply the city of Birmingham with water!
What ever it is that continues calling me back, Rhayader is a welcomed retreat, a place to exercise calm and reflect on its history. With history comes memories and that is something that Mann is very drawn towards. She has spent decades photographing the deep south, allowing her wet plate chemicals to wrap themselves around the myth and reality of the landscape, taking on all of the imperfections indicative of the process and echoing the battle scarred lands that they encapsulate.
I found myself drawn to this notion and I wanted to explore my memory of a place and the way in which it has distorted over the years. When I look upon the landscape I don’t just identify with the beauty that is undeniably evident before me, there are centuries of history consumed within it, evoking this feeling of hardship, integrity, mystery and transformation that unravels itself each time I visit.
For a visual interpretation of this account I need the final images to ooze atmosphere and dramatic contrasts. I was looking for a certain style of image, one with a soft-focus such as those presented by Sally Mann. I didn’t have the option of using wet plate collodion so I began to explore different types of analogue film and planned a visit to my place – Rhayader.
To be continued…