Emily Graham has the ability to make us look at the world a little differently. Half-documentary half-art, the London-based photographer has a knack for exposing the disregarded details of her subject matter. The previous example being The Blindest Man, featured on the site last year (and set to be published as a book in 2022), which follows the trial of an unsolved treasure hunt. And now, alongside two ongoing series named Echo and The Palace, Emily has returned with a brand new project titled Dirft (and yes, the misspelling is intentional).
“The work is a kind of document of an often overlooked part of the English landscape and, on a personal level, a piecing together of the visual impressions that impact on one’s psychological attachment to place; the physical, sensorial aspects of environment – and the contradictions within such spaces – both familiar and strange; protective and hazardous in their secrecy; freeing and enclosed; unseen and visible.” By looking intently at a plot of “unmanaged” public land, Dirft centres itself in the Midlands town of Rugby, Warwickshire, which is where the photographer grew up. Shot over a year from early 2020 to 2021 and commissioned by Grain Projects, the work is a lot shorter than her previous accords, yet still manages to distinctively portray a distinct documentation of time and place in an equally in-depth fashion. As such, Emily sees the work as means of attempting to “reconcile memory and visual impressions”, capturing the relationship between the land and myth of her hometown, even though she and all immediate family have since moved.
GalleryEmily Graham: DIRFT (Copyright © Emily Graham, 2021)
Throughout, you’ll notice a sense of quietness hidden between the shrubs and desolate scapes of the midlands. There’s a strange beauty in the landscape here, where typically grey British skies infuse the grasslands with a moody and, in some cases, overbearing atmosphere. In other images, the sun travels through the branches and everything changes. “This particular place,” she adds, “is an unkept spot on the edge of the town; it’s part recreation ground, part meadow, part waste-ground, where the Oxford canal and River Avon intersect, but it could be one of the many other spaces like it.” Shot on the peripheries of the urban and “not quite rural” cuffs of the English countryside, not only does the imagery connote childhood memories for Emily but it also resonates on a more universal level, too. “Growing up here we spent time in and out of these kinds of spaces – playing, building, hiding, poking in ponds, riding bikes, then as teenagers, sitting, walking, hanging out and drinking. It’s the kind of land and landscape that is more accessible to young people (in England).”
Many of us can relate to the memories of the days spent entertaining ourselves in a field or park. And Emily’s work with Dirft conjures up these moments with open arms. It reminds us of feeling free, like you’re miles away from home and hidden from anyone else around you – let alone your parents. “These spaces often feel private, unobserved, away from the surveillance of towns and cities,” she adds. “Here land and nature are messy and wild but unremarkable – not your classic landscape or your epic wilderness – though they are where I formed my ideas about the English landscape.” These ideas are based on making these explicitly ordinary spots feel allusive, and to see what they can say about humankind’s relationship to the environment.
In one photo, a ladder has been intentionally placed over a pond, granting its users access to the other side of the overgrown land. It was the very first image that Emily took for the series: “It epitomised this sense of these spaces being places of possibility, mystery – the scene emerging from this very ordinary and banal land, and the subsequent photograph transformed the scene, removing it from its surroundings.” In another, Emily photographs four girls as they interact with the location. “At first, I was interested in whether young people still use these spaces in the ways in which I recall them – and how much of my associations with these spaces is a memory and nostalgia – making dens, climbing trees and riding bikes.” This image represents Emily’s quest to elicit a deeper meaning through both the art of photography and through the visually entropic nature of the world around us. How much longer will the land remain like this, and how much of her memory can be trusted?
“I’ve often been concerned that these kinds of spaces will gradually disappear – certainly in the area I’m from. As the town grows, development has happened across many of these kinds of spaces. So the work is a visual engagement with this landscape, with this in mind.”
Emily Graham: Dirft (Copyright © Emily Graham, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.