Informing contexts, Week 5 – Gazing at photographs

Having a granddaughter who was severely brain damaged at birth, the presentation on disability had a particular poignancy. For the record, in terms of the effectiveness of the publicity material shown, I would rate most highly, and consider most effective, the positive messages in the Scope video tackling the awkwardness which many people feel when interacting with disabled persons and in the advertisement for Maltesers showing the wheelchair-bound girl in an ordinary social situation where a “second take” was needed to appreciate the extent of her disability.

The environmental slant of Deborah Bright’s essay on landscape photography, Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men (1985), struck a particular chord. I have just returned from my second visit to the Seamus Heaney country in County Londonderry (which I am documenting in the context of my major project) and was taken aback by the level of destruction to that landscape as a result of the building of an extension to the Belfast to Derry motorway – this is shown in the image below captured  a few yards from Heaney’s birthplace at Mossbawn outside Castledawson:


Although much of the Heaney landscape fortunately remains intact, it was an apparent from the uncharacteristic level of littering, fly tipping etc that an insult of this magnitude to a landscape has no small effect on the respect in which it is held by the local population.

Clearly, the motorway construction will affect my own project – although it has its rural charms, the Heaney landscape does not lend itself to the celebratory, Arcadian style of the great American landscape photographers. Bright (1985), refers to the 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape, and the documentary approach employed by the photographers whose work was displayed there will be more appropriate to this limb of my project – the Yeats country will be another matter.


Reading list

Bright, D., 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men. (This essay originally appeared in exposure  23:1 (1985). It was revised and published in Richard Bolton, ed., The Contest of Meaning: Alternative Histories of Photography  (Cambridge: MIT Press), 1987).

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