Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The Collecting Place

"The Brontës," says the Parsonage's Deputy Director Andrew McCarthy in the foreword to the handsome Brontë Society publication which accompanies The Collecting Place, "were all intensely interested in the visual arts. As children, their imaginations were shaped not only by the written word but also by visual images."

He goes on to mention Edward and William Finden's engravings from Byron's works, the miniature woodcuts of Thomas Bewick and the apocalyptic landscapes of John Martin, all of which influenced the Brontës and helped shape the people and places that feature in their early writings.

Simon Warner, the lens-based artist (he doesn't really mind being called a photographer) whose pictures can be found in so many illustrated books and calendars with a Brontë or a Yorkshire connection, undermines all clichés..... and there are plenty when it comes to the Brontës and Yorkshire. Somehow, most of his images have a subtle freshness about them.

In The Collecting Place, described as 'Literary Landscape through a Camera Obscura', the results of a photographic collaboration between himself and sight-impaired young people from Bradford which is at the Parsonage until 11 June, he gets near to the old magic of photographic image-making, the sort of magic which some long-lost tribe might believe in when it sees images of its own people for the first time and believes their souls to have been captured.

The project lasted for a highly creative six days over Easter. "I think we all felt a sense not just of belonging but of contributing to this wild cultural landscape, adding another chapter to its rich visual and literary history," writes Simon Warner before presenting a full history of the camera obscura (Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti mentioned it in 500BC) and an explanation of the workings which would sound impressive issuing from the mouth of a Physics lecturer.

Simon Warner is represented in Alchemy (2006 - 7), an Arts Council England touring show in which twelve contemporary artists explore the essence of photography. His contribution Lavater - The Shadow of History takes the form of a performed magic lantern lecture with photo-chemical demonstrations.

Creative connections between past and present are at the heart of the Brontë Society's contemporary arts programme. "We aim to undermine familiarity with the Brontës and stimulate new thinking about this remarkable creative family," comments Andrew McCarthy.

This collaboration is undoubtedly remarkable and might be unique. I would like to hear of anything similar. If you can make it to Haworth in the next week or so, get to see it, because you will be impressed.

Soon - a supplementary post containing more images.

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