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Exploring the Pastoral

'Elementary Husbandry' at Bank Street Arts
‘Elementary Husbandry’ at Bank Street Arts

I was thrilled to be in Sheffield earlier this week hanging my work at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. I have been working on Elementary Husbandry for several years, beginning shortly after I relocated to the rural Mendip Hills in Somerset from living in the city.
Popular myths of the countryside, and narratives of the spaces beyond our towns and cities as places of sanctuary, retreat and escape are sources of great personal intrigue and underpin the motivations behind the images I’m presenting. They encompass both my personal reflections on my immediate surroundings and my preoccupation with the representations of the British landscape more broadly, which I have spoken about previously, and also touched upon in my textbook, Perspectives on Place.
From the series 'Elementary Husbandry' © Jesse Alexander, 2016
From the series ‘Elementary Husbandry’ © Jesse Alexander, 2016

The title, Elementary Husbandry, draws upon two founding pieces of Western literature: Hesiod’s Works and Days (c. 700BC) and Virgil’s Georgics (c. 40BC). These ancient poems conflated practical advice for farmers alongside guidance on how to lead a modest and virtuous existence. They are widely accepted as the prototypes for the pastoral motifs that have since become ubiquitous within artistic expressions of rural life and depictions of the agricultural landscape. They intrigue me in their use of the land, and in particular its stewardship, as metaphor and allegory.
This exhibition coincides with my residency at Bank Street Arts, during which time I’m creating a piece of work called 
The Nymph and the Shepherd. This involves making a new image for the gallery each week. Through nuances within the photographs, and the correspondence of material between the gallery and myself, I aim to consider the amorous romance that is often a feature of pastoral tales.
From the series 'The Nymph and the Shepherd' © Jesse Alexander, 2016
From the series ‘The Nymph and the Shepherd’ © Jesse Alexander, 2016

The OCA is generously sponsoring a symposium that is aligned with some of these themes, which will be held on Saturday 23rd July called New Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self.  This will be an opportunity to hear from some great practitioners who use photography and the land to explore personal and historical narratives. Speakers include: Michal Iwanowski (whose great new book Clear of People is currently under production), Hanna-Katrina Jędrosz, Christina Stohn and the OCA’s very own John Umney. It would be great to see you there.
There will be a reception at Bank Street Arts on Friday 22nd July from 18:00 – 20:00 to view the exhibition and, for those who are able to come to Sheffield ahead of the symposium, to catch up before hand.
But if you can’t make it, I’d love to hear your own thoughts on how the British countryside is represented – not just in photography, but in any discipline.
Jesse Alexander is Programme Leader for BA(Hons) Photography

Posted by author: Jesse
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8 thoughts on “Exploring the Pastoral

  • Looking forwards to the symposium. I’m finding the new interpretations of what landscape is in both photography and writing very interesting. Its certainly helping to inform my current practice. Also looking forwards to hearing Michal Iwanowski speak, saw him earlier in the year and his work was fascinating and how memory of place can be connected to us without physically setting foot in a place.

  • I am of course looking forward to this event for many reasons, seeing Jesse’s work, having the chance to hear the other speakers and their ideas but also to take a big step myself.

  • Very intriguing. The myth of countryside tends to get eroded when the struggle of farmers hits the press. Despite such reports blinkers still tend to come down as we think of the rich in Britian escaping to their country retreats as they have done for hundreds of years. I think many forget that those who work the land are doing just that working. It is their job, their livelihoods depend on the success of their farm as a business and their work is just as valid if not more so than that of a city worker they just have a much more beautiful and raw space in which they work. Juxtaposing the notions of idyllic countryside with the reality of working on a farm (there is no roof when it is pouring with rain, the job can not be delayed for another day as the welfare of stock must come first), could be a challenging and exicting area to tackle with art.

    • Dear Rebecca,
      I’m sorry – I wanted to thank you a while ago when you commented on here. It sounds like you have a very interesting personal insight here and I hope that it translates into your photography. Do share it with me if this is the case.
      Many Thanks

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