1. A lot of your work explores the complex relationship between landscape and thought, can you discuss where this initial interest stemmed from?

I’m not sure where the initial interest stemmed from, but I’ve always been interested in how certain environments and spaces can, in the words of Nan Shepherd, help to ‘instruct’ and to ‘harbour’ a level of intellectual engagement with the landscape (but not only our physical encounter with landscape). Perhaps this is as much a form of shared consciousness, and a nod to Agnes Martin’s notion that much of our awareness of beauty, for example, is in our mind as much as it is manifested through our eyes.

2. Extensive research and thinking occur in the making of your landscapes, particularly through the writings of Jacquetta Hawkes, Nan Shepherd and W G Sebald. Is it challenging to avoid expressing subjective responses?

I’m drawn to writing where the landscape, is in a sense the protagonist for a wider poetic, lyrical and perhaps political understanding of how we might stand back from the world in order to pause. In a way, that is nothing more than a recognition that we are all travelling along an ancient path, and my very small intervention here is a response or series of responses. Bringing a picture of the world into being is a conscious decision, and I have to stand by that.

the south west collective Guy Moreton trees and yellow trees
KS02, The Wilderness, Langdale, 2012 C-print. 78 x 102cm

3. Can you talk more about how the writing of W G Sebald informs your photography?

Where to start! So much has been written about W G Sebald since his untimely death in 2001 and I suspect Sebald’s influence on the literary and art community throughout the world is profound. I knew of W G Sebald when I was a student in Norwich in the 1990s and read The Rings of Saturn not too long after the English version was published, and I still find that book one of the most compelling and engaging modern literary works.

My own photographs that responded to W G Sebald’s writing were actually commissioned for an exhibition called Waterlog with Tacita Dean, Alec Finlay, Marcus Coates, Alexander and Susan Maris, and Simon Pope. It was curated by Jeremy Millar for Film and Video Umbrella and exhibited at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery; the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts UEA, and The Collection Lincoln in 2007-8. My photographs are of landscapes that I’d revisited in a series of walks I’d made in the early-mid 1990s with a German artist friend who lived in Suffolk.

The work was made using a large format 10×8 inch camera, and touches on ideas of reverie, coincidence, and happenstance, suggested through a sense of melancholic longing, and of shared cultural memory and historiography. The photographs are also contextualized in a book, published by Film and Video Umbrella called Waterlog – Journeys Around an Exhibition, and includes writing and poetry by Tacita Dean, Robert Macfarlane, Brian Dillon and Matthew Hollis, amongst others.

the south west collective Guy Moreton trees and yellow trees
Above Mar Lodge, Braemar, Scotland, 2018.

4. You recently had work showing in Machines à Penser at the Fondazione Prada, Venice. Would you talk more about the work that was exhibited?

Machines à Penser was curated by Dieter Roelstraete for the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture. The curatorial premise behind the exhibition was to explore how certain conditions such as solitary retreat or exile correlate with thought, and in particular, the thinking ‘done’ by Adorno, Heidegger and Wittgenstein in the early 20th century.

I exhibited my complete set of 12 photographs of the Norwegian landscape and ruins of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s retreat in Skjolden, which is at the inner end of the Sognefjord. I’d originally exhibited this work in a major exhibition called There Where You Are Not at The John Hansard Gallery, Southampton in 2005; which was also a book published by Black Dog London (Ludwig Wittgenstein – There Where You Are Not, with the artist and poet Alec Finlay and director of the Cambridge Wittgenstein Archive Michael Nedo). So, for the Venice exhibition we presented these photographs alongside Gerhard Richter’s overpainted photographs of the Swiss Engadin mountains, Goshka Macuga’s sculptures of the heads of the philosophers-as-vases, Mark Riley’s dioramas of the philosophers’ huts, Alec Finlay’s Hutopia installation and a Susan Philipsz’s sound work that resonated throughout the Palazzo. I also exhibited 3 new photographs made in the Cairngorm mountains, near Braemar in Scotland in 2018 which correspond to Alec’s Hutopia installation and also act as a counterpoint to my photograph of the ruins of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s house in Skjolden, Norway. This new work is now in the collection of the Prada Foundation in Milan.

5. Literature, art and philosophy demonstrate a great deal of importance in the making of your work. Can you tell me which photographers have inspired you over the years?

I was privileged to have studied and practiced photography in a different time, and was taught by some very great teachers including Markéta Luskačová, Keith Arnatt, John Riddy and Roger Ackling (I’m not sure I can call Roger a ‘photographer’ though strictly speaking, he did focus the sunlight through a small handheld lens onto the surface of discarded wood). I have relatively recently shown with Tacita Dean and Gerhard Richter and all of these artists and photographers have been inspirational in different ways, as has my wife and companion – the photographer Nina Sverdvik who over the last 20 years, has taught me much about Norwegian and Scandinavian cultural history.

Guy Moreton the south west collective of photography ltd rocks trees and blue water
LW118, Skjolden, 2001-2005. C-Print. 132 x 105cm

6. You have made images from what must initially seem quite chaotic subject matter, for example, the series There Where You Are Not, with branches very close to your camera lens. How do you begin the picture making process in these conditions?

All of my work starts with walking and sometimes writing and sketching, notes on paper, or through the use of a small digital camera (or an iPhone…). In Skjolden, on the west coast of Norway, when I was photographing for There Where You Are Not I was also reading Ray Monk’s Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius and Richard Wall’s Wittgenstein in Ireland. With Alec Finlay who I collaborated with, I wanted to attempt to understand what it was about these landscapes that Wittgenstein felt he could work with clarity and undisturbed, that no other place afforded. I suspect much of his thinking happened through walking – in order to arrive at the site of his small house which overlooks Lake Eidsvatnet, one has to walk through a forest of Birch, Elder and Pine and climb over rocks. In the edit of the photographs that I have exhibited, I have tried to immerse the viewer in a representation of the landscape through the walks that I made there.

The large-format camera has the technical ability to give the sense of not just viewing the landscape, but also being very close to and within the landscape itself (or the forest for example). It can of course, also allow the photographs to be printed at scale.

7. Extending the previous question, how do you tend to work – are you accompanied by an assistant, prefer to work alone, or does it vary from project to project?

It depends on the project, and the budget and timing. I’ve been very fortunate to work with Simon Griggs who’s a great assistant and also a colleague (and an ex-student) and the most recent project in Scotland, for all sorts of logistical reasons, I couldn’t have done without him.

Dingle Marsh Dunwich 2007 Guy Moreton the south west collective of photography ltd trees and water
Dingle Marsh Dunwich, 2007 C-print. 132 x 105cm

8. Lastly, are you in the process of making new/ or ongoing work? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

My work-rate is very slow, partly due to having a full-time University teaching job, and a young family – but the positive aspect to this is that I try to focus the time that I have, which sometimes includes the time that I share with my family (!), as a space to research and develop new work. I’m hoping to continue to make new work around Jacquetta Hawkes’s time on the Isle of Wight (the beginnings of which are featured on The Photographers’ Gallery website under ‘Viewpoints – Photography and Landscape’) and I’m currently showing some work in an exhibition in Chicago at the Neubauer Collegium until September.

Guy Moreton

Guy Moreton is currently showing in Hutopia curated by Dieter Roelstraete, at the Neubauer Collegium, University of Chicago until 6th September 2019 with Goshka Macuga, Alec Finlay, John Preus and Ewan Telford. He is Associate Professor of Photography in the School of Art, Design and Fashion at Solent University, Southampton.

Guy will also be doing a lecture in Norwich in November about his work and W G Sebald, as part of the current Sebald exhibition there which includes his unseen photographic archive, at Norwich Castle Museum and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.


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Interview by Ella Cousins 

If you enjoyed this interview by Ella, check out another Collective interview with Photographer and Founder of Another Place Press Iain Sarjeant: https://thesouthwestcollective.co.uk/ian-sarjeant-discusses-publishing-and-photography/

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