LENSCULTURE April 2017
'Farmed' -Spotlight & Book Review by Alexander Strecker, Managing Editor LensCulture
"Masterfully shot and printed landscape photographs pose important questions about our relationship to the earth and silently ask of us - 'What's next?'".
The roots of photographer Paul Hart’s new book Farmed are firmly entrenched in rich, fertile soil. Intellectually, the first lines we read are part of a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden—a seminal text which, for 150+ years, has grounded the still-unfinished process of drawing us back into a more conscious relationship with our environment. The first photograph we see is not by Hart but Dorothea Lange, the great chronicler of 1930s Depression-Era land mismanagement that aggravated the migrations surrounding the Dust Bowl. These important words and images put us in the frame of mind to consider humanity’s relation to the land in contemporary times.
As Steven Brown so ably puts it in the introduction, “Hart’s photographs raise important questions about possession, ownership, mobility, stewardship, history, memory, perspective—the list goes on. But none of these would matter much if the photographs were not, in their attention to the poetry of the place, earnest and moving.”
Indeed, it almost goes without saying that Hart’s work displays admirable darkroom craftsmanship—but what makes this book stand out from other such analogue landscape series is how these pictures do not insist on remaining stuck in the past. Of course, any thoughtful gaze at deteriorating rural buildings and emptied agricultural tracts runs the risk of feeling nostalgic, romantic or even elegiac. But Hart manages to balance his lovingly attentive regard for the past with an ambiguous eye towards the present and future that confront us, if we care to look.
The most obvious example of this tension greets us in the middle of the book. We open to two facing photographs—Fontaine Le Dun I and II—which reveal a pair of wind turbines, whirring amidst great and overwhelming stillness. A ruinous encroachment of man on the environment, or new potentialities for the seemingly fallow land?
Just like that, a book of black-and-white photographs shifts from sentimental to prescient. The carefully composed farmhouses, solitary trees on the horizon, criss-crossing telephone lines and bounded canals are not simply one man’s reflections on the changing local landscape—instead, they are an important meditation on all of humanity’s relationship to the environment. After all, little is left on this earth that is untouched by our influence. Even where we choose to “preserve” nature, it is within tighter and tighter bounds (think of the highways, power lines and furrows that cover the surface of our planet—“wilderness” barely hanging on in the in-between spaces). We can either mourn an idealized past or confront the realities of our surroundings and decide which is the best way forward.
In this respect, the book’s final three images are memorable. Two of them, side-by-side, reveal perfectly parallel power lines vanishing into the misty horizons of the distance. Where will our control over the land lead? Impossible to say, but Hart’s magnificent images help us look and trace the question as far as our vision can carry. On the last page, a tiny stream draws us toward the center of the frame before petering out of sight. Above, a neutral, uncaring sky. What comes next is really up to us.
ADORE NOIR Issue 36 February 2017
'Farmed' - Interview by Chris Kovacs
"FARMED by Paul Hart is a series of pastoral views where the serene landscape transports the viewer to a quieter time. The few abandoned buildings lead one to believe that the story may be ending for this stretch of land, however, on second glance, the proud trees, greenhouses and the building that is under repair tell a different story, one of continuation, a cycle that may leave some things behind but is always regenerating." Sandra Djak Kovacs
LENSWORK #128 January - February 2017
'Farmed' - Feature by Brooks Jensen
"We first published Paul Hart's work in LensWork Extended 85 (Nov-Dec 2009) from his book and project titled TRUNCATED. This new book continues his exploration of the landscape, this time a completely different one. Turning his attention to landscapes under cultivation, he creates aesthetically pleasing and visually rewarding images in a quiet classic style. His images remind one of those great FSA photographers of the 1930s."
RPS JOURNAL January 2017
'Farmed' - Book Review by David Clark
"Hart’s book explores the Fens, focusing on the modern agribusiness that has shaped them. His black and white analogue prints show the flat landscapes where straight dykes and furrows of dark soil stretch to the horizon. He highlights features that tell the region’s story: abandoned houses, pylons and functional modern farm buildings. There are echoes of Fay Godwin’s work in these absorbing, beautifully crafted images."
PHOTOMONITOR November 2016
'Farmed' - Book Review by Simon Bowcock
"Paul Hart’s second monograph consists of fifty-six black-and-white photographs of the farmed flatlands of the Fens. Crafted by traditional analogue means over six years, these exquisite pictures are more complex than the simple studies of light and land they may first appear to be. Hart’s managed landscapes and reclaimed marshes quietly question our relationship with a human-altered topography. In this sense Hart is more a Robert Adams than an Ansel Adams, or – in British terms – more John Davies than Charlie Waite. Any comparison with Peter Henry Emerson, that much earlier chronicler of the English East, is fleeting. Hart offers no bucolic idylls, no pastoral symphonies. Instead he gives us grey, exposed, cold, uninviting, corporate farmlands. And if the many trees which disappear into the many mists lend a slightly romantic, even pictorialist quality, this is more than countered by the precisely photographed, starkly modernist geometric lines. At times, Hart’s pictures have an almost industrial depictions of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Of course the British canon typological rigour, faintly echoing the deadpan of countryside photography can be felt in the work, but only occasionally: Hart does not eulogise the land like, say, a Fay Godwin; nor does he have the overtly humanistic focus of a James Ravilious. No people at all appear in these silent, still landscapes weighed down by their intensive monoculture. These are among the most fertile lands in England, but you wouldn’t think it by looking at Hart’s photographs: for all the evident cultivation, they look bleak, even barren. But this doesn’t mean the pictures are unappealing or lack poetry. Hart can (and does) make a corrugated barn look like a thing of great beauty, in harmony with the land and sky in shape and shade. Almost natural, even. But as Hart constantly and quietly reminds us – with an arrow-straight ditch here and a dead level bank there – almost nothing is natural in these drained, manufactured farmlands. In these gently challenging pictures, it’s as if the land is in quiet conflict with the roads and the tracks, the power lines and the telegraph poles, the trenches cut into it and the invisible machines which have ploughed it. Buildings are slowly swallowed by trees, derelict caravans are abandoned to the land, and pylons disappear into the fog. A quiet tussle between humans and nature is being fought. How long will our mastery over these flatscapes last before nature takes them back? The pictures pose such questions without declaring a victor, or even taking sides. Classic, but neither modernist nor pictorial, Farmed evokes photographic history without over-relying on any of it. Sagely ambivalent, it looks simple and obvious, but is complicated and weighty. And it is – in its own quiet way – extraordinarily beautiful. Can we ask any more of art than that?"
PHOTOMONITOR November 2016
'Farmed' - Portfolio Feature by Christiane Monarchi
Read more : http://www.photomonitor.co.uk/21313/
L'OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE October 6th 2016
'Farmed' - Book Review
OD REVIEW July 2016
'Paul Hart's Second Nature' by Collier Brown
"The landscapes in Paul Hart's latest book, Farmed, are at once beautiful and beleaguered, full and empty, alive and dead. The disappearances between these conditions are the true subjects. One feels their presence in every photograph."
B+W PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE (UK) Issue 191 - July 2016
'How the Land Lies' Feature by Elizabeth Roberts
"These images stay with you, long after the book or the print have been left behind. They are images that speak of both nature and humankind, and their sometimes difficult relationship - and, at the same time, they celebrate this uncertain liaison."
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH - Saturday Review 14th May 2016
'Postcards from a Parallel Universe' Feature by Anna Pavord
PHOTOMONITOR - June 2016
Photo-London 16 Review by Simon Bowcock
"But peace is unequivocally restored by Paul Hart's Lundy's Farm (2013), where a single bare tree stands by a ploughed field and a track in the quiet of the early morning mist, witness to the vulnerability of that landscape, laid bare to modern agriculture.
THE i-NEWSPAPER 13th May 2016
'Farmed' Book Review by Sophie Batterbury
"Paul Hart has spent the past six years wandering the Fens. In ‘Farmed’ he explores the marshlands of eastern England in all of their extremely flat and windblown majesty. His black and white pictures of trees in the mist, broken-down houses in the middle of acres of farmland and abandoned rusting caravans aww as mysterious and hypnotically beautiful as the names of the places they record - Windy Corner, Caulton's Farm and Flood Cottage."
B+W PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE (UK) Issue 166
'Talking Pictures' Feature by Thomas Peck
B+W PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE (UK) Issue 93
'Celebrating the Tree' Feature by Ailsa McWhinnie
LENSWORK Extended 85
'Truncated' Audio Interview by Brooks Jensen
B&W MAGAZINE (USA) Issue 67
'Truncated' Feature by Richard Pitnick I