Review by Douglas Stockdale •
This photographic book is the second of his three-part series, the first being Farmed, published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2016. Paul Hart investigates the English Fens, a region of reclaimed marshland in Eastern England. It is a very flat lowlands that appears strikingly similar to the lowlands of The Netherlands, which frequently has man-made rivers, drains and canals to attempt to control the constant amount of water. As implied by the book’s title, this is a landscape that was created because the marshlands have been drained by mankind over many years. Thus, water is indirectly the subject of his project, seemingly always present; in the water ways, on the wet roads or suspended in the air of a foggy and partially concealed landscape.
This flat region of Fenlands that Hart documents is almost entirely created by man over the past two hundred years with very little remaining of the original marshlands. Apparently due to the underlying peat soil it is a highly agricultural region which supplies the UK with a substantial amount of produce and vegetables.
Hart minimizes the presence of individuals in his photographs, perhaps save one of somebody on a bicycle leading a horse from a brick barn area, or another of a car looming in the mist with an unseen driver. Due to nature of this man-built landscape, mankind appears to be always indirectly present. Roads, bridges, fields, houses, barns, drains all have the imprint of mankind.
The amount of moisture present in the Fenlands creates a lot of fog and haze, thus many of these atmospheric photographs have a mysterious appearance. There is a sense of balance in his elegant-captured vistas that also elicit a slight undercurrent feeling of melancholy. It is a flat landscape without much drama. His black and white (monochromatic) images also lend a more romantic viewing as compared to what could have been fact-defined color images. The resulting subtle tonalities are similar in visual quality to modern landscape photographs made by Wynn Bullock or Brett Weston.
His photographic project is created using black and white film and medium format cameras, thus providing large negatives that allow Hart to tease out exquisite and delicate tonalities in all of his photographs. Having spent many years using similar equipment and film in my photographic career, his project elicits wonderful memories investigating the landscape.
This is an elegant and classical book design with ample white margins framing each photographic image that creates plenty of breathing room for the viewer. I appreciate the printing by EBS in Verona Italy who have a wonderful reputation in Europe for duo-tone printing of black and white subject books. The resulting book quality is wonderful and a joy to hold and read.
I find that this body of work provides a sense of mediation when contemplating this sparse, yet beautiful, urban landscape.
Paul Hart, Drained copyright 2018.
Photographer: Paul Hart, born Deal and resides Lincolnshire (UK)
Publisher: Dewi Lewis Publishing, UK
Essay: Introduction by Francis Hodgson
Hardcover, cloth bound book with tipped in image, sewn binding, duo-tone (black and white) lithography, printed by EBS, Verona, Italy
Photobook designer: Paul Hart