Tag Archives: Keith Arnatt

Notes from Keith Arnatt



Arnatt was talking about his unsettled childhood – leading to difficult behaviour at school, (not thought of in a positive way). He developed an interest in art of the back of someone encouraging him to try for the local junior art school from age 13, he drew constantly then. He came across the work of Paul Nash as an art student (the image referenced above). Visited the Ashmolean in Oxford and became interested in landscape paintings. Moving to London he saw a wider range of paintings and explored more abstract work, he comments ‘became more visually aware’ and aware of idea of scale in images and that there are implications in what you are doing ‘a history and a future and a present’ – so where you are and where you are going becomes important. Notes how reading and exploring works of other artists (in all genres and places) becomes relevant to how you think leading to the thought that ‘Art is a tangible manifestation of ideas’ . It does matter what has been done – you may not be able to see it but could possibly see the ongoing effect (Earthplug and similar works). Eventually other people started making photographic documentation of his work so that people would know what he was doing – recording of ephemeral events. Then realised the importance of photographs – so what he did was with ‘the photograph in mind’ e.g. himself being buried (1969) ‘invisible art – art disappearing and the artist disappearing’ , also be aware that ‘your intentions and assumptions’ are not what occur to others. What narrative do other people impute to your work? Work on building boxes – all subtly different – made a collection of objects, you know they are different but may not perceive them differently. ‘Making works of art that depend on knowing runs against the kind of myth that works of art speak for themselves’. ‘Could the subject matter of art be about the difficulties of being an artist?’ – is that valid? He the developed an interest in photographing the people who visited Tintern Abbey – many people visiting there and taking the same images from the same spot – if you then photo them – how do people respond to the camera? Went on to series ‘Walking the Dog’ (associated with Sanders image of man with alsatian)- there was a behavioural element in taking the images – getting man and dog to comply at the same time – not knowing what would happen. ‘Things appear in image that you haven’t taken into account….editing process is the primary creative act’. – He became more uncomfortable with the idea of taking pictures of people and increasingly interested in landscape – so moved in that direction taking ‘documentary’ pictures of a place he lived, including the ‘tatty’ bits in an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’ – myth versus documentation of an area – related to changes in the world as it is now. What people get from images will differ depending on their experience i.e. photographic experts, or people knowledgeable in art history versus amateurs or people in the pub. Does that matter? Are you (am I) taking images for myself, for the ‘expert’ or for the (probably mythical) average person? Is a photographer an artist?  Can photographers be ‘collectible’? Role of preconception – what you get might be very different from what you have planned. ‘I do something, then reflect on it and that might tell me where I want to go’. Used black and white because of reference to tradition of photographers from Walker etc, but colour references my interest in painting and important in some images eg golden light and red plastic (Miss Graces Lane) – the camera can transform eg rubbish to a fascinating image. (Howler’s Hill) – may, when looking at image in editing process, may find it references a historical painting – it is the accident in this that is interesting, less interesting when planned. Rubbish not equal to main preoccupation in ecological issues – but rather to what the image is pictorially – making pictures that are not chaotic out of chaos – ‘bring some kind of sense to it’.  – reference to still life = reference to notion of vanitas and mortality. I look for things that are not traditionally photographed ‘the marginal slices of life’ ‘looking at the overlooked’. What is acceptable to photograph? And in what context – eg forensic, medical might be acceptable while not in ‘art’ world. Could you look at medical photography as metaphors? Where your work is shown will give a different context to it – it may be understood differently in different places – may not be under your control – other than by choosing the gallery, venue etc. Reasons for making photographs are the same (?) as in making any other pictures – is this true? Is there a distinction between art and life – ‘life is what we make of it’ through language and vision. = ‘when I recognise as stage photographs I tend to have lost interest’. ‘Photograph of something out there in the world that is not staged – its the product of a vision’  ‘various ways of photographing… bring a degree of attention and control…. I like perversity and playing with it’ ‘is now-ness important…. Different from what you can do in painting or sculpture; ‘I like things that we don’t value or need much – the last piece of paper on a bog roll’  Start with nothing with painting – different you don’t have to make references to the outside world (although you do) – so many choices. Photo is a fragment – a fraction of a second .

Assignment 5 – Response to Tutor


Comments on assignment:

I had a long and wide-ranging discussion with my tutor David for assignment 5. I will try to summarise what I took from it here.

  • My title ‘Forestry in Scotland‘ was too broad.
    • Agreed! Am trying to think of something more descriptive that isn’t too wordy – that is the difficult bit.
  • Lighting is inconsistent
    • This is about having most of the shots in a fairly flat light, if not downright stormy while 2 images were taken in bright sunlight with vivid blue skies. I hadn’t even thought about this as a problem – but on looking at the series as a whole they do rather stand out and produce a jarring note. I do have some replacements already available – I hadn’t even considered using them as my brain went ‘sunlight- that’s better’ without thinking it though.
  • Looking at the final edit in detail
    • This was very helpful, and I have done as suggested – my wall is now covered with prints. I am definitely going to go and re-shoot a couple of the ones that I had originally discarded but fit better into the theme. There should not be a problem getting cloudy days in Scotland in winter.
  • How do you show changes in time and season?
    • This I’d something to think about further for an extended project – maybe mark a spot and re-shoot at monthly dates – showing the changes in the trees, which might be fairly subtle.

Overall the discussion was very helpful – and hopefully I will get an improved final edit. At the very least it gave me a lot to consider and made me think more clearly about what I was aiming for.

Suggested Reading:

Paul Nash – an artist I had not come across before – related to the work produced by Arnatt. Destruction, here in the context of a response to WWI. Dead trees and land. Interestingly, the present push for re-forestation in Scotland was a direct response to the lack of wood available for military uses in WWI. So his horror in some way translates into the trees of today, and to their use as a resource for the community.

Nash, Paul, 1889-1946; We Are Making a New World

©Estate of Paul Nash/ Imperial War Museum

Images from Keith Arnatt – 2 of which are incredibly similar to some of the images I took for this assignment. If I had not taken them prior to seeing these I would have thought ~I would have been deliberately copying them. In reality it points up how the direct impact of forestry on the landscape leaves the same type of temporary destruction today as it did 30 years ago.

He also suggested a link to a fascinating and very long (2 and a half hours) audio interview with Keith Arnatt – this doesn’t finish – but cuts off mid sentence – so no concluding words of wisdom.


I took reams of notes  and was left with a lot of questions:



What narrative do other people impute to your work?

Could the subject matter of art be about the difficulties of being an artist?

Is the editing process actually the creative act?

Who are you taking the pictures for (and where are you displaying them)?

What is the role of preconception?

The photograph as an instant versus the painting/sculpture over time?

Does it matter what you photograph as long as you pay attention to it?

In reality all these questions are the ones that this degree is exporing, at one point or another. There are clearly no absolute right or wrong answers to any of them.  It is something to consider .

Michael Lange – another photographer I had not seen before. Some stunning images of deep in a forest, dark, minimal changes of tonality and colour. Lange started work as a photojournalist and has moved to fine art work. The images are redolent of the pine forest, not partially cut down, but what appears to be old wood. Again, these are the images I wished I could have taken to show the forest as it might be – although we have less major forests in Scotland than there are in Germany. His title – Landscapes of Memory – is relevant to the type of work I would like to move on to if I can extend this project.


© Michael Lange

Jem Southam – is a photographer who is exploring how memory and knowledge changes how we respond to the places we see. He looks at the same place over different times, different seasons and over several years – showing how a place will echo the season.  There are more changes where he is taking images in the South West of England’s than there are in the pine woods in Scotland – but links into the idea of extending the project – possibly for the landscape module.


© Jem Southam

Bloomberg and Chanarin – only managed a very quick glance at their work – but will be perusing this in more detail at a later date.


Assignment 5 – Photography is Simple – Initial Thoughts



I started with the premise from Robert Adams essay ‘Truth in Landscape’.  ‘Our discouragement in the presence of beauty results, surely, from the way we have damaged the country, from what appears to be our inability now to stop, and from the fact that few of us can any longer hope to own a piece of undisturbed land’(Adams,1996).

When you think about images of forests they are broadly divided into two camps, with photographers who have celebrated the beauty, solitude and wonder of woodlands and those who have shown the devastation that mankind has performed. Some photographers have taken both types of images.

Marc Wendelski:

An example of this school of photography that concentrates on the damage we have done is the work of Wendelski who has taken a series of images in Germany based on the destruction of ancient forest during the process of open cast mining for brown coal and the activist that set up camps in the forest to protest this.


From this idyllic picture of sunlight though the trees

wendelski 1

© Marc Wendelski

to the destroyed countryside and swathes of mud

Joseph Koudelka:

A similar piece of work has been carried out by the Magnum photographer Koudelka. He has done a vast photographic report on the coal mining industry in the Black Triangle in Czechoslovakia. I was lucky enough to see this when it was on show in Edinburgh. The images are graphic, black and white, very sombre. In the Edinburgh exhibition relatively small individual images, approximately 1m x 30cms were laid out in a line, so you followed the trail of disaster around the room. The destruction here has been going on for much longer than the damage in Wendelski’s pictures in Germany but is startlingly similar.


Fay Godwin:

Godwin is particularly interesting in that her viewpoint and type of images she took changed over time. Her earlier work as shown in the ‘Secret Forest of Dean’ (Godwin, 1986) exemplified the beauty of a natural environment and how people could live in harmony with it, while in later work such as ‘Our Forbidden Land’ (Godwin, 1990) talks about how landowners limit access for their own use, and specifically, in reference to Scotland, talks about the environmental challenges caused by the widespread forestry work in the 70’s and 80’s, again many of her earlier pictures are simply beautiful.

Fence, Parkend Woods, Forest of Dean, 1985, Fay Godwin

Fay Godwin – Forest of Dean, 1985, (copyright now British Library)

Keith Arnatt:

Arnatt was also involved in the work about Dean Forest that was commissioned by Forestry Commission at the same time as that of Godwin. His work is difficult to track down, but the images I have seen ( in ‘I’m a Real Photographer‘)seem to fall more into the camp of the land is for use by industry, in contrast to Godwin’s more bucolic images (Arnatt, Hurn and Grafik, 2007).

Keith Arnatt - Dean Forest

© Keith Arnatt – Dean Forest

 and so we reach right around the circle to the original quote

Robert Adams:

Adams is the quintessential American photographer showing the beauty and wonder of the forest. A good example of his work is shown in the book ‘An Old Forest Road’ (Adams, 2017) which concentrates on barely visible paths in woodland, lit by seemingly random gleams of light. These pictures make you want to wander endlessly, exploring for no purpose other than to see the trees.

Interestingly, with the exception of Wendelski, all these images are in black and white. Some of this is because this was the accepted use when there were taken (Godwin and Arnatt) but some, like those of Adams are very recent. Is this because of the general idea that ‘art’ images should be in monochrome, because the more recent photographers are paying homage to the older ones, or simply because the colour green does not always print well? Certainly, monochrome does give some stunning images and shows the detail well. It also becomes difficult to tell simply by looking at an image of a forest when it was taken, this century or earlier. Monochrome tells the mythos of a forest well.


I started by taking images of forestry works when travelling around Scotland. Most have been taken close to me in Fife, but some were taken as far north as Fort William. In spite of this it is difficult to identify the place from the images and they become a generic series of Scottish forest images. The majority of the images were taken in the summer and early autumn, some taken in winter, again this is difficult to tell from the images, as although the light is different the dark green of the pine trees does not vary much across the year. This would not have been the case if I had been concentrating on deciduous trees.

I spent a considerable time deciding on whether to go with monochrome images, as was prevalent on the examples above, and discussed this at length with both my tutor, and the Scottish OCA group at our December meeting. Eventually I decided to use colour images, as some of them, such as the cut logs, stood out in colour and gave more information, and, even though the work was influenced by Godwin and Adams, I felt that colour was best for telling my own story.


Adams, R. (1996). Beauty in Photography. New York, NY: Aperture, p.14.

Adams, R. (2017). An Old Forest Road. Koln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter Konig.

Arnatt, K., Hurn, D. and Grafik, C. (2007). I’m a real photographer. London: Chris Boot, pp.38 – 41.

Godwin, F. (1986). The Secret Forest of Dean. [Bristol]: Redcliffe [for] Arnolfini [and the] Forestry Commission.

Godwin, F. (1990). Our Forbidden Land. London: Cape, pp.138 – 142.

Koudelka, J. (1992). Josef Koudelka: The Black Triangle • Magnum Photos. [online] Magnum Photos. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/environment/josef-koudelka-black-triangle/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2017].

Wendelski, M. (2017). BEYOND THE FOREST | MARC WENDELSKI. [online] Wendelski.be. Available at: http://wendelski.be/?page_id=11 [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

Wendelski, M. (2017). Marc Wendelski | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/mwendelski [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

Initial Plan – April 2017

  1. Work my way though course handbook, looking at each exercise and expanding as required. Importance high as I want to complete the course in a timely fashion.
  2. Personal projects – present ideas
    1. People in the park: looking at people as they walk around, interacting with others, their dogs, phones etc.
      1. Initially looking at more distant shots, maybe using tele lens
      2. Close-ups!
    2. Tree ‘Art’: following up on my interest in nature looking at and contrasting the natural bark /growth patterns of trees with the, often childish or rude, graffiti carved into them.
    3. Intimacy: close-up work
      1. Contrast people, or rather small images of them with detail of possibly buildings, or? plants
      2. People interacting with each other
    4. Looking at photographers work in detail – present possibilities but this list could go on forever.
      1. Dayanita Singh
      2. John MacLean
      3. Keith Arnatt
      4. Walker Evans
      5. Diane Arbus
    5. Reading – again the list could go on forever
      1. Photography as contemporary art – Charlotte Cotton
      2. The Genius of Photography – Gary Badger
      3. Letting go of the Camera – Brooke Jensen
    6. Attend as many exhibitions, both of photography and general art as possible.

This list is much too ambitious, but it gives me a starting point.

To be reviewed monthly to keep a check on progress.

Square Mile – Reading and Research

On examining the photographers and images suggested for researching the Square Mile project I noted that although all of them show some linking in their thoughts to an area that is clearly important to them the actual thought processes and end results are very different. They can be broadly divided into a group that use photographs of people to show the identity of the place, and a group where the focus is on the place itself.

Barney, Dearden and Knorr focus on using people to give identity to the area of interest. Tina Barney (Artic.edu, 2006) took images of her family and friends in New York. These images show details of family life and the tension that can occur, thus exploring the place though the people that inhabit it and whom she knows well. Cotton says ‘there is a compelling blend of a photographically distant perspective with a subject that is intimately known’ (Cotton,2015).

Venetia Dearden’s series ‘Somerset Stories, Fivepenny Dreams’ is set in the area where she grew up. She says ‘My passion and curiosity for Somerset has been fuelled by my long-term connection with this area where I spent my childhood. I am compelled to return again and again to explore my relationship with the landscape and the people living here……… I witness a sense of belonging and identity within these rich bonds of family and community’ (Dearden, 2014). Dearden looks at the lives and activities of the families’ resident in Somerset at present to explore a place she knew well in the past.

Karen Knorr (Karenknorr.com, 2014) uses portraits to show the ideas that were prevalent in a very wealthy area of London during the 1970’s.

Horn, Hunter, Taylor and Barnard have focused on the place itself to explain their sense of connection with an area. Romi Horn (Tate.org.uk, 2009) has published a series called ‘To Place’ where she looks at the identity of a specific place, Iceland, in detail though photographs, drawings and text. Interestingly, this is far from where she grew up in New York, however, has become an area that she has studied intensively.

Tom Hunter’s ‘Living in Hell and Other Stories’ (Purdyhicks.com, 2017) investigates the history of his local area in East London, re-staging stories which paint an unsettling picture of the area.

Jodie Taylor (Taylor, 2013) for her OCA project focused on the area she lived in as a child, and the memories of that place which have been revived by returning there as an adult.

Gawain Barnard investigates the wildfire burning in Wales which occurs yearly in ‘Boredom for Burning’. He focuses on small details of the remains after the fires, bringing back memories of his youth. He says ‘The landscape of youth is laden with memories………our place of youth, our ‘home’ and the memories created during this period, for better or worse can create an embedded sense of place and can go some way in self-defining our later life attitude.’  (Barnard, 2013).

Keith Arnatt has utilised ideas from both these of groups with two series that are linked to his local area. The series ‘Walking a Dog’ (Tate, 2010b) is a collection of 40 out of 200 photos taken in his local area of people and their dogs in a standard pose taken in 1976 -1979.  The number of images form a work that makes a comment on society and people and points up the oft remarked similarities between dogs and their owners. He later showed a further series based in his local area ‘Pictures from a Rubbish Tip’ (Tate, 2010 a) 1988–9. This shows close-ups of rubbish from a local tip. Although these are factual images the way they are taken gives the series a feeling of an abstract composition.

John MacLean has taken a fascinating twist on this approach in photographing the hometowns of artists and photographers that he is inspired by, looking for what has, in turn, inspired their work. He says ‘It’s about escaping the hometown to spending all our time exploring, only to find ourselves back there once again’ (Pantell, 2017).


Artic.edu. (2006). so the story goes. [online] Available at: http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/story/barney.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Barnard, G. (2013). Boredom to Burn. [online] Gawainbarnard.com. Available at: http://gawainbarnard.com/photo_13162026.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.
Dearden, V. (2014). Welcome to Venetia Dearden’s Website – Somerset Stories Fivepenny Dreams. [online] Venetiadearden.com. Available at: http://www.venetiadearden.com/en/somerset_stories_fivepenny_dreams.html [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Karenknorr.com. (2014). Belgravia | Karen Knorr. [online] Available at: http://karenknorr.com/photography/belgravia/ [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Pantell, C. (2017). Hometowns. British Journal of Photography, (7857), pp.60-74.
Purdyhicks.com. (2017). Tom Hunter Porfolio at Purdyhicks Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.purdyhicks.com/display.php?aID=10 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate. (2010). Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, Keith Arnatt 1988 -9 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-pictures-from-a-rubbish-tip-t13169 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate. (2010). Walking the Dog, Keith Arnatt 1976 -9 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-walking-the-dog-t13064 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Tate.org.uk. (2009). Roni Horn aka Roni Horn: explore the exhibition, room guide, room 10. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/roni-horn-aka-roni-horn/roni-horn-aka-roni-horn-explore-exhibitio-22 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
Taylor, J. (2013). Photography and Nostalgia – WeAreOCA. [online] WeAreOCA. Available at: https://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].