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Views of a Mountain

Declan Connolly

Featured today on of the land & us is fine art and documentary photographer Declan Connolly. Connolly. Originally from the North West of England, Connolly was living and working in Hong Kong until he recently returned home.

Connolly’s interest is in building narratives around small fictions, and how they can be used to demonstrate larger, more complex stories. His project Views of a Mountain is featured today, an abstract focus on the land that is unusual and thought-provoking.

It gives us pause and a moment to think about our own memories associated with certain landscapes; how they change and develop in our minds, whether we return many times or not at all — or perhaps it’s even somewhere we’ve never set foot, and can only dream about.

It’s an aspect of landscape photography that we’ve rarely looked at — a less direct, more intangible and introspective look at our interaction with the space around us.

How have your memories of your most treasured places changed over time?

Read the interview below:

What’s your story?

I have always been interested in literature, specifically the metaphor. Finding and recognising moments as photographs, which represent or condense a more abstract thought, and editing them into a sequence is, for myself, a similar concept as writing prose.

I write a lot around a subject before making my work, but I often leave it unpublished and very much separate. Although my work comes from writing, I am quite hesitant to caption individual images due to the fact that, up until very recently, my work has always been in a series.

My interest in literature came much earlier before I got into photography; I had some great English teachers at school and, very early on in my life, fell in love with the writer’s ability to manipulate the world.

Later, at around 13, I took up photography as a hobby and got introduced to the likes of Rinko Kawauchi and Uta Barth. This is when I realised for the first time that photography had this very same power. For the moment, at least, writing tends to be something much more attached to something internally.

Do you think you would ever consider, now or in the future, publishing your writing too?

With my writing, I don’t have to rely on physical objects to describe something so it appears a lot more chaotic and introspective. I can use photography to translate these more obscure concepts into a tangible thing; I suppose the imagery I make serves more as a distillation of the chaotic, the images taking on more of an evidential role.

However, I used sound installation for the first time last month for In Visible Lines at Scaffold Gallery, so perhaps there is room for me to work out where writing can fit in outside of captions and work titles.

You also mention that your work has always been a series until recently.

I am moving more towards finding and isolating forms. I am feeling a little restricted by the borders of an image and I am seeing what I can do with empty space. The work I showed at Scaffold Gallery is a singular piece — although it is made up of two images so I am getting closer.

Right now I am working on a large composite of five or more studies to be printed on a singular piece of paper. I used to really distance myself from the studio, feeling it was ‘unreal’ or fake. I needed some strange validation that this thought existed already and was in the landscape somewhere. Although I still mostly work outside, I am using a lot of white backgrounds to subtract information and focus more on what it means to erase environmental context.

Please tell us about your project ‘Views of a Mountain’.

The series explores the fallacy of memory. The series is broken up into two parts, the first of which is a group of eight mountainous images representing the fantasy element — or perhaps the corrupted memory of a place. The second part is a field journal marking the repeated journeys to the summit of Snowdon.

Snowdon was the first mountain I had ever climbed and also one of my first real experiences with altitude; the summit was a completely different climate compared to just a few mere steps away. The mountain felt like a very separate and different space to anywhere I had been before.

Each of the “mountains” in the eight images is actually a small sculpture I carved, from memory, out of quartz that I had collected from the top of the real mountain.

I was aware of my somewhat sentimental longing to revisit this place so important to my teenage years, but found that I could not find it once I arrived. It simply was not how I remembered the towering, white peak.

I felt that it was an impossible feat to photograph and experience it at the same time. Once climbing the mountain, one can only photograph the background — and to photograph the mountain, I had to be far away.

In order to revisit this now clearly fictitious landscape, I had to create it. In order for there to be evidence of my being there, I had to photograph the sculptures. The carved pieces of rock are only around 1 ½ inches in size, so I used an old dentist’s camera.

What is it about the landscape that draws you in? Why does memory intrigue you?

I like the idea of belonging to a physical space. There is something quite romantic about the notion of belonging that is uniquely associated with memory, be it an individual memory or collective/ancestral.

Particular aspects within a landscape — a specific species of tree or type of architecture, for example — can evoke completely different emotions and responses in people. It is this kind of appropriated sense of self that I am interested in and attempt to explore visually.

What are you up to next?

I am planning on producing a small-scale magazine called WIP, which will show around five artists focusing on the very beginnings of conceptual projects — it is as much about the writing as it is the images.

I am also working on a few sculpture/photographic works on the theme of borders and erosion and a project on trade routes between Hong Kong and Liverpool using seawater I collected on the 20th anniversary of Britain’s handover.

What are you recommending?

I would recommend any of Masafumi Maita’s photograph-based works, Xiaoyi Chen’s fantastically sequenced book Koan, James Nasmyth and James Carpenter’s The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite, Daido Moriyama’s Tales of Tono and Marianne Bjørnmyr’s Shadows/Echoes.

Amongst my last listened to songs are: The Gleam, Pt. 2 by The Microphones, The Sun Roars Into View by Colin Stetson, Queen by Perfume Genius, I Go To Sleep by Anika and In The Castle Of My Skin by Sons Of Kemet.

Tell us about an artist who inspires you.

I would have to say James Nasmyth again… the visual and written elements he uses to describe something otherwise unseen — there is a great deal of invention in making these scenes and concepts believable, a persuasive conviction, which is what I actively seek in terms of viewing and making visual artwork.

In one instance the book shows an aged hand and an apple, equally wrinkled with a caption relating to how hills and such are formed due to the internal shrinkage or contracting of a mass, whilst in another the image of the moon’s craters appear with amazing clarity but upon closer inspection appear to be cracked.

The “moon” is actually an intricate series of plaster models and side-lit via a lamp in a studio. There is something quite wonderful about the fantasy element of the work and I like to be tricked; I think that is what photography does more convincingly than other mediums.

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