History Lessens is a visually beautiful project by photographer Tom Wilkinson. It jumped out at us not just because it’s shot on black and white film, but because we enjoyed reading and learning about the intriguing concept behind the project, of how we visually perceive the history of the land. Read below to find out more about Tom’s project:
I graduated from Nottingham Trent University November 2014 with an MA (dist) in photography and I currently live in Nottingham.
This is the first project I have embarked upon since graduating and it is concerned with both ‘landscape’ and ‘history’ as cultural concepts, and the way photographic representation contributes to my understanding of these concepts.
The ‘history’ that is the subject of my pictures both refers to specific sites of historical significance and to random places in the landscape that have a certain quality that compels me to photograph it and to ask ‘what was here?’.
My intention with the series is to suggest that history is all around us in the landscape, whether it be in the remains of a castle wall, a subtle mound of earth, or even a flat field. Because of this, I want the viewer to understand my way of seeing. I do not include location details or place names simply because the value they add will influence the way we look at the scene, in a similar way to reading a pocket-guide or text book.
The photographs I have taken are purposefully ambiguous in an attempt to persuade the viewer that a sense of history can be felt in the moment of experience that they hold. Whatever the feelings and assumptions the viewer makes about the photographs is their experience of history, given to them through my photographs. Furthermore, black and white film accentuates tones, textures and surfaces – all of which are important elements of the subject matter.
So much of history is concealed within the landscape that, these days, it is very difficult to interpret its topographical features and to reveal traces of the past. As I attempt to excavate the semblance of the past, using the photograph as my trowel, I find that whilst much is described, so much more is concealed but with time this process of concealment gives way to an ‘unconcealment’ (Heidegger*), where understanding rather than fact is brought to light.
As a result I find myself reflecting on my own sensibilities, ultimately asking what ‘landscape’ and ‘history’ mean to me and what it can teach us.
The spelling of the word ‘Lessens’ in my series title is firstly an ironic play on words – the series does not teach us about history as we would have been taught in lessons at school. Secondly, the more I explore the landscape, the more my understanding of history becomes convoluted and literally ‘becomes less’.
Since graduating, I have had time to reflect on the previous 2 years of study and what it has taught me, and I certainly miss being in education – the sharing of ideas, the influence of fellow students and the way your work is nurtured is unique to this environment I think.
This series is my first new body of work since graduating and I am also continuing with other ongoing projects. I am currently working towards getting a PhD proposal together to get me back into education – I clearly haven’t had my fill and I believe I have a lot more to explore and learn and share.
*Heidegger was a highly influential German philosopher who I reference a great deal in my work. I have let my background in philosophy become a strong influence on my theoretical and critical thinking. The term ‘unconcealment’ refers to his theory of truth.