The roll of hillsides and the humming of bees: Outrider

My four-part text ‘The roll of hillsides and the humming of bees’ installed at the Woolhope Room, Hereford Museum and Library for the Outrider Project.

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Read part 3 of my text below:

The Victim
Part 1681

Like a frame from a silent film, an unknown gentleman is apparently stung by one of his bees. Not a breath of wind disturbs the scene. It is completely still and completely staged. Are we really supposed to believe that Watkins’ camera would have happened to have caught this same incident from two different angles? The Victim is very similar but not identical to the following photograph I will write about.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this image is the formal resonance between specific elements. In particular the relationship between the apparently hastily abandoned skep, the empty bowl of the man’s upturned hat, the open window and the archway behind the man. These round forms set up a series of visual connections that move the viewer’s eye across the surface of the photograph in short, skittering movements almost like those of a bee. There is such a story within this photograph. It portrays a semi-comical idyll, like a Victorian moral or sentimental scene. Watch out for stings, ha ha ha, it seems to say. The amusing title of the photograph emphasises the narrative with an ironic sense of drama.

I am fascinated by tiny details within this image. The clarity of the texture of the wicker skep, the visual sharpness of the bushes and hives behind the man, the tiny dark pinpricks along the sky, the object that just nudges out of the open window – a curtain? A person?

I am fascinated too by the dry, dry ground in front of what is presumably Watkins’ home. I want to touch the soil and feel it crumbling beneath my fingers. I slip my finger under the photographic sleeve. Shh. Plastic sleeves are prohibitive and protective. Shh. Don’t tell.

As I travelled to Hereford in July, sun-bleached fields and abundant greens whooshed past the panes of my train window, and seem to echo experiences of Herefordshire weather very similar to Watkins’ own. I return the colour of his photographic scenes with my mind, filling the gaps with my own experiences of looking. The glass plate negatives are looked at and touched. The reverse of the plates is rainbow clouded. A faint outline of the subject can be seen. It is almost like an etching, liquid emulsion painting the photograph with imagined colour.

On the train the land falls suddenly away, and my eye swoops down and catches itself at the bottom of a valley. The roll of the hillsides and the humming of bees. Look closely, Watkins tells us:
‘Watch the swift dart of the outgoing workers as they soar out for the fields, the pouring in of bees ladened with pellets of yellow, orange, crimson or brown, packed away on their thighs … and you will catch a whiff of that peculiar scent of a prosperous hive which once known is never forgotten.’ (1)

As I write on the train, the ink from my pen becomes honey, flowing and stopping and flowing again as I form words from viscous liquid thoughts. ‘Here are my bees, brazen blurs on paper.’ (2) Watkins’ photographic emulsion is like honey too. It coats every image, and makes each inviting and sticky. The pages of the books I have been reading and each separate photographic image reassembles into the cells of a honey bee hive. A hive of writing, reading and image making. Keep busy. Keep going. Keep working little bee.

(1) Alfred Watkins, Optical Lantern Readings, p. 14
(2) Carol Ann Duffy, The Bees. London: Picador, 2012, p. 2

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Visitors at the private view. Images taken by Sally Payen & Jaime Jackson, Salt Road

The exhibition will tour to:
The Commandery Worcester     6 November – 2 December 2014
Leominster Library    5 December – 3 January 2015
Ross Library     3 February – 16 February 2015
Next spring and summer – Winterbourne House and Gardens, Birmingham  and Haden Hill House, Sandwell.

More information and images of the other artist’s works at http://outriderblog.wordpress.com/

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