In conversation with Hazel Simcox
I originally grew up in rural Cheshire, UK. Throughout my adult life I’ve moved around a lot, and was living in Scotland before moving to my current home in the Midlands. My main job is teaching photography at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College – although I have recently also started teaching at Nottingham Trent University. Photography, for me, is a personal act, and this career enables me to maintain this.
Tell us about your journey to photography.
I came to photography as a teenager – I was using it as an outlet to harness my creativity and to give myself a break from academic pressures. I feel grateful to have been able to use this passion to shape my journey into developing a broad knowledge. It’s a multifaceted subject and has enabled me to develop methodologies to enhance a continued and holistic education. Through photography, I have learnt about history, philosophy, culture, politics, environment… the list is endless.
What kind of photography are you interested in? Why?
For me photography is a method of communication; a language of its own. It can communicate through channels that words can’t. Photography has a connection with the real world that elevates it.
So I am interested in all types of photography, although my visual preference leans towards the more minimal and emotive content, such as the practices of Thomas Joshua Cooper and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Let’s talk about your project Space — My —
Growing up, I had so much opportunity to travel abroad that by my early twenties I began to feel that I was becoming disconnected from my own soil. I took it upon myself to start focusing on connecting with places around the UK, and quickly learnt that adventure, and endurance, was necessary to fully comprehend this landscape.
Over years I have built confidence and a level of fitness that allows me to enjoy exploring the more rural locations. This project is a product of my own adventures into the wilderness, through the guidance of the first British female mountaineer, Gwen Moffat, whose books have provided the inspiration and support.
What was your motivation behind making the work? Tell us about your decision to combine text and image.
The mountains are an enticing environment for me both visually and mentally. Edmund Burke’s theory on the “sublime” scaffolds the origins of this project; the notion of romantic grandeur, intertwined with horror and terror, is never far away.
These environments have been inspiration for many writers, and it is their words that become my mountain guide. Personally, I have related to Gwen Moffat’s attitude to the outdoors in her book Space Below My Feet and I have loosely followed her tracks to lead myself into unknown locations.
The words that I have used alongside my images are directly from her book, scanned and redacted to leave behind the words that relate to both of our experiences. Alone these detached words reveal a joint experience, yet when coupled with an image they become a translation of my personal encounter.
Were there any moments that stand out to you now?
Very early on in her book, Gwen speaks of ‘Ordinary Route’, one of her first climbs in the Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia. She didn’t seem particularly taken by it, describing it more like walking than climbing. This would usually put me and my husband Dan off – but as my first wet, winter climb it became a whole new challenge. The route descended to the same area as the approach. Looking back up at the route we had just climbed, and seeing the clouds rolling in. The image I created (see title image) in this moment captures all my fear, elation and cold fingers.
This image alone does not tell the story but is combined with the redacted text from the pages of Gwen’s book, creating traces of my own experience. I did laugh as I redacted the text and found the phrase “hearing half the conversation”. This was such a true statement from the day – Dan had led the way that day, and the wind and valley echo had prevented us from hearing or speaking to each other.
Looking at some of your recent work, including this one, I’d like to ask – what is your relationship to the wilderness? What is its importance?
My relationship with the wilderness is an on-going investigation of intrigue and mystery. Although rural locations are familiar, they still evoke a sense of fear. I believe this feeling is caused through a lack of understanding and comprehension.
Maybe the wilderness can’t possibly be understood, but my desire for the unknown brings excitement and drives me to investigate.
What are you working on next?
I am continuing to create more imagery for Space
Below My Feet and see this project as a long-term ongoing project. Alongside I have a few other projects coming into fruition. In March I was introduced to Coed Ysgubor Wen, a woodland developed as part of the 2008 Welsh Government scheme, ‘Plant!’. This scheme plants a tree for every child born or adopted in Wales, creating new woodlands for future generations.
At eleven years old, the trees are just becoming independent. With increased discussion around the need to plant trees, I have focused on exploring the lifecycle of the tree, and raise awareness to the urgency to plant as often we forget the time and nurturing they need to “come of age”.
Tell us about a piece of art that has strongly influenced you.
When I started teaching, my practice soon became forgotten. My passion was ignited by the British photographer Jem Southam who spoke at the Responding to a Landscape symposium in November 2017.
The symposium elevated the status of landscape photography providing the reassurance I needed to chase my own project. Jem shared his project The Painter’s Pool and, although I was familiar with this work before, hearing him express how much he gets from revisiting a place struck a certain chord.
Jem’s practice has strongly influenced the style of image I desire to create and – more importantly – the relationship I have with the outdoors. I had the honour to be guided by him this summer as a part of a residency at the Dartmoor School of Photography.
Finally, recommend us something…
I have recently finished reading Robert MacFarlane’s Underland. This is such a magical book that takes you wandering through underground passages across the globe, questioning why the human race is present in these formidable environments. MacFarlane writes in a manner that completely immerses you in the environment, using his personal experiences to help you embody these spaces.
‘Space — My –‘ is now on show at the Oriel Colwyn gallery in Wales as part of the North Wales Project. More info here: orielcolwyn.org/north-wales-project