Hereford College of Arts graduate Bob Langridge embarks on a personal journey of reconnection with the natural world in his photographic series, Hell Lane. Exhibited at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery as part of New Art West Midlands 2018, the project comprises hours of analogue exposure time within Dorset’s enigmatic hollow-ways.
Instinctively, Langridge turns to large format film in order to produce imagery that envelops a contemplative relationship with his subject. He slows down the often automated 21st Century processes of image-making, and reverts to a painterly aesthetic – one which captures the nuances of light and the motion of foliage over time. Langridge’s Hell Lane is on display until 6 May.
Selina Oakes: Landscape is a major part of your practice. What does the notion of landscape mean to you?
Bob Langridge: Landscape means something different depending on its context. A painter or walker sees it in a different way to a person working in farming. I began making work in landscape as way of experimenting. I wanted to use large format film and for me the best environment to do that was to work in a landscape as a photographer. What I discovered was that by using large format film I was forced to slow down and consider what I was doing. The slower I worked, the more I became aware of my surroundings. I began to notice the subtle changes of light and colour and those things photography cannot capture – like birdsong and the rustle of vegetation when the wind blows. This helped me to become more considered about composition. I also realised that I was looking for something else; a way to express more than just the geographical features. I was looking for a connection or a story and that is what landscape is to me.
Experimentation continued with Hell Lane. I decided to use a pinhole camera to see what I could produce. It would be flippant to say it is down to chance but one cannot look through the viewfinder of the camera I had, so I used a medium format film camera to check that the composition was okay. Exposure for the images was either eight and a half or 17 minutes. During that time the light can change significantly. It also allowed me time to sit and reflect on my surroundings. At some point it clicked that hundreds of years ago someone else would have trod the same path as I was now.
SO: The series Hell Lane was inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s book Holloway. How does this publication inform your work?
BL: I came across Holloway in a roundabout fashion. While photographing on The Long Mynd in the Shropshire Hills, I became interested in the little paths created by the livestock. I started to research the old trade routes beginning with The Drovers’ Roads of Wales by Fay Godwin and Shirley Toulson. This led me on to searching for local “green lanes” to photograph. My tutor, Clare Smith, suggested Macfarlane’s book. I found it wonderfully written and it has some fabulous illustrations. I became interested in searching for the sunken routes. Holloway was that intangible something extra I had been looking for. Macfarlane’s work, and that of Hamish Fulton, led me to question how I could represent a place in a way that went beyond documentary.
SO: Time is a significant part of your imagery. Can you discuss how time – particularly slow time – is folded into your artistic process and images?
BL: By its very nature photography is a two-dimensional art. Robert Adams writes that landscape pictures provide “three verities – geography, autobiography, and metaphor.” When these attributes combine, they “strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life.” When working on Hell Lane I knew that I wanted to find a way of representing what these routes had come to mean to me. For me the use of long exposure times provides the images with more than simple reportage can. There seems to be a sense of something happening. I hope that I have managed to capture a sense of the place.
I wonder if in part my approach to my work developed as a reaction to the instantaneousness of current photography. We wander around and all we see is our screens – even our friends see our images minutes after they have been taken. As photographers, we learn that photography is a choice: a choice of what to include in, and what to exclude from, the frame. We choose where to shoot from and when to shoot. If we are lucky, we also realise that there are times when we need to put down the camera and be in the moment.
SO: As an artist, you have built a deep understanding of Dorset’s hollow-ways. What sentiments do you wish to communicate to the viewer?
BL: I don’t think at any point in the making of Hell Lane I considered what I wanted a viewer to get. I hope they are intrigued and drawn into the images. The feedback I have had so far has ranged from being mysterious to being sinister.
SO: How has New Art West Midlands and the show at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery supported the transition from Hereford College of Arts to life post-graduation?
BL: Being part of New Art West Midlands has been a real bonus. In revisiting my work and its predecessors as I prepared for the exhibition, I had moments of revelations and picked up bits that I had not noticed before. I have started to develop ideas for work that I had put to one side as I focused in on Hell Lane, so in that respect it has given me a real boost.