D A V I D  G E O R G E



"David George’s night landscapes blur the line between photography and painting; not only because they are conceived as a contemporary reworking of Arnold Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead”, but because of the plastic qualities that the long exposure grants them. Here, time makes light become movement, and the resulting imprint resembles more a brushstroke than a photochemical outcome".

Isaac Marrero-Guillamón discussing the "Backwater Series" October 2012



This series of photographs examines the possibility of the pastoral in the contemporary British landscape. The idea of the English pastoral (or arcadia) in the arts held sway from the late 18th century in poetry, literature, music, theatre and painting, partly opening the doors to it’s near cousin, Romanticism in the early 19th century (Romanticism being a return to nature, the belief in the goodness of humanity and the rediscovery of the artist as a supremely individual creator). Pastoral can be defined as something that describes the countryside with an implicit or explicit contrast to the urban or ”... as an opposition between two modes of living “ (Frank Kermode). Pastoral was, originally, a highly stylized romantic art form that imagined some past rural ideal despoiled by modernity, creating a sense of loss in society for a purely fictitious world or, as Raymond Williams defines it   ”...myth functioning as memory “. 

   On reflection, was the pastoral ideal beloved by all classes in that world of upheaval and industrial revolution or did it only exist for a certain strata of society, able, through wealth and inclination, to inhabit the rural ideal. That strata being the landed gentry who, through their patronage, also nurtured the idea of the English pastoral in the arts. With a incredible stroke of irony, the rise of the pastoral aesthetic in England coincided exactly with the passing of the Enclosures Acts (between1750 and1860), propelled into law by that same landed gentry, creating a dispossessed, landless rural population and a poverty even harsher than it’s urban counterparts. This encouraged mass economic migrations from the country to the city providing the labour that powered the industrial revolution which in turn created the notorious urban poverty and slums of the late Georgian and Victorian era’s  .The same urbanization of the population that the pastoral movement railed against. Perhaps if we view the English pastoral with some sense of irony, it may become more relevant to a contemporary society and seem slightly less unjust to a historical one.

   The Backwater series attempted to discover if it is possible to photographically represent the modern British countryside with both it’s romantic and contemporary elements and produce work with bucolic tendencies or are all these landscapes corrupted, even on a subconscious level, to the possibility of the pastoral ideal by conurbation, industry, farming and tourism? Are the rural and urban now so intertwined that the traditional distinctions between them are no longer perceptible, or does Frank Kermode’s” opposition” still exists.  Could this series of images,, distilling a fixed point in the timeline of British landscape, ultimately be seen as pastoral in some not too distant future as the relentless incursion of the urban into the rural continues to blur distinctions even more? Does the pastoral ideal, in effect, only exists in relation to it’s own historical  or retrospective contexts?

   These images were taken over the summer of 2012, the wettest on record and correspondingly all contain some element of water (hence the title), In addition the photographs have a nodding reference to Arnold Bocklin (the Swiss Symbolist painter) whose work has long interested me and influences the compositional elements of all the images in this series. William Empson refers to the pastoral as “...putting the complex into the simple “ and further argues that “.... good proletarian art is usually Covert Pastoral", I hope that this series of photographs, even in some small way, fulfill those criteria.