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Walking the Pennine Way

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The true Fulton experience

During spring of 2002 many people would have visited the Hamish Fulton exhibition at the Tate Britain galley. My first encounter with his work was at the “Through the Looking Glass” exhibition at the Barbican in 1989. An exhibition that motivated and raised my interest in photography, as well as being inspired by his work. The shear size of the Tate exhibition was incredible in its self, but so was the variety of the work, from some of his earliest publications, notebooks and the more familiar photo/text works. Fulton aims to share his experience of the walk with us. I walked around the exhibition, bought the catalogue and video. All I would need now is the tee shirt, to prove I have the shared his experienced? Or would I need to complete the experience of a walk to truly understand his work. His work has authenticity and therefore would my day-long strolls through the countryside inform me about his experience, or would they just document the landscape around me?

The way a picture is used or presented will change its message as well as its authenticity. Simple techniques of cropping and title will change the viewers reading of an image. Examples of this can be seen in the media every day but is also used by artists, such as in John Hilliard’s Causes of Death . A photographer will use a camera to visually edit a scene. Political parties, such as the communist party in the USSR have used more extreme examples, where figures that had fallen from favour where removed from pictures, to extinguish their existence. Many felt that with the advent of digital imaging, we would see a growth in the overt manipulation of images and lead to misrepresentation in the media. The media aims to provide the viewer with a narrative and close the image down to provide an easy reading. This is particularly true in advertising, where a company has a clear message it wishes to communicate. Most adverts will use a combination of image and text, which will anchor the meaning, restricting the possible readings. They will present a scene from the world that has been selected for the viewer. Guy Gauthier uses the example of film posters, in which any images conventionally reinforce and support the title of the film, enriching the linguistic text. The disadvantage of combining image and text is that the work will be split into two parts, one that is only to be viewed and another that can only be read. The advantage is that more complex information, in an aesthetic sense, becomes possible. Text and image can complement one another, the text precisely specifying an event depicted in the image by naming it. Paul Seawright used this approach in his work about sectarian murder sites in Northern Ireland.

Realism is a central concept in non-advertising photographs and can provide a more open narrative. The image has an existence other than shown in the photograph. The viewer will be able to ask questions about the components that make up the picture. This assumes the picture was spontaneous rather than arranged. However the reading of a documentary image will still be influenced by accompanying text and viewer’s knowledge of the context the image is seen in. Any added caption can provide either an anchor or as an opening for other readings. By removing any text the image can be misunderstood, showing that photographs contain a wide range of social, political and economic issues that have to be analysed. Fulton has used photo/text images to widen our understanding of his experience.

For many years I have spent the summer cycling across various parts of Europe, including eight visits in Iceland. However one year I left the bicycle at home and walked, although none of the journeys I undertook extended past a few days, I began to consider how this experience was different from that of the speed of the bicycle. With three spare weeks one summer, I decided to complete a longer distant journey on foot. The Pennine Way is the most well known planned route in this country and I had encountered it on day walks as routes would cross and intersect. Journeys over a longer period of time always seem more satisfying, time to relax and take whole experience in. While the shorter journey seems over before it has started and you are racing to be finished before your return date is reached. There is no flexibility in the experience, it is driven at you by the constraints and demands of modern society. Carrying a tent and therefore avoiding any need to plan, I completed the 260 miles by lunch on the 16th day. No great record but quicker than I thought. The time had gone very quickly and I asked if I had missed out? However as I began to revisit my note book and contact sheets I began to look at how by combining these two sources of information I could revisit some of the experience. The final work was produced in book form using a combination of text and photographs. The text and other anchoring points may be found within the image or added as another layer of information. During its production I began to understand Fulton’s work and how the extended journey will effect you, while the short experience will be shallow and without substance. As discussed earlier the text will add another layer of meaning, which Fulton uses to inform us in greater depth about his experience, to allow us to gain an understanding of his time during the journey.

Badger & Benton – Harris (1989) Through the Looking Glass, Barbican Art Gallery, p.77
Gauthier, G. Initiation of the Semiology of the Image, Education Service of the British Film Institute
Hapkemeyer & Weiermair (1996) Photo Text Text Photo, Edition Stemmle, p. 10
Seawright, P. (1995) Inside Information, Cornerhouse