Woodman has worked in higher education in a number of institutions including Exeter School of Art and the University of Cumbria following his studies at St Martin’s School of Art and the Slade School of Art in London. His work has been shown extensively at home and abroad (including a long-standing collaboration with Roger Polley), featured on Channel 4 and he has published a number of books including Ruskin’s Pond (Woodman 2010) and Of Truth of Water- John Ruskin (Woodman 2010).
His work involves the meticulous observation of landscapes and the natural world and considers issues of representation and perception. They address concepts of space and time through the recording of views of place and the changing aspects of light, movement, weather and seasons. He uses fixed frame and hand-held cameras to capture visual transformation and transience. His observation extends not only to ‘on screen moments’ but also to his own self-reflection.
In order to get a flavour of his work I have viewed a number of the abstracts from longer films available on his website including:
From Four Seasons (Woodman 1977)
Time Flow (Woodman 1977)
November Morning (Woodman 2010)
Observational Series – Wood (Woodman 2011)
Ruskin’s Pond (Woodman 2012)
I chose this selection largely on the basis of their subject matter, that more closely coincides with my own, and also to cover both his early work as well as later films.
The two early works Time Flow and From Four Seasons both from 1977 feature 2 and 4 simultaneous images respectively. The first with two adjacent views and the second four. In the case of Time Flow, a silent film, Woodman uses two 16mm cameras set up adjacent to each other to create a view of a small part of a Suffolk river. Although both cameras start recording at the same time, the left-hand camera records in real time at 25 frames per second while the right-hand camera is set to film at 50 frames per second in the first 100 feet of film, at a much slower pace of 10 frames per second for the next 100 feet and then finally at one frame every 10 seconds to produce a time lapse sequence. Clear in this film, are the concepts of space, time and movement – the space a tiny view of a river, a small snapshot of nature then represented by varying sequences of time with the right-hand film showing the perspective through a normal human lens and then also through slower and faster representations of time. For me, the two frames side by side disrupt the viewers normal sense of time and provide an interesting insight into a perspective of nature not normally accessible to us. However, at any time we can return to our normal sense of time in the left-hand image.
From Four Seasons is a much more frantic and chaotic viewing experience but interesting in terms of the representation of the four seasons. It is different in kind to Time Flow in terms of its more urban view and its presentation, in that the quadrants do not fit together to make a whole scene, further disrupting the viewers’ experience. It is also produced as a time lapse, in each case over a 24-hour period. However, it is important to note that the full-length film introduces each quadrant singularly first and then moves on to the more chaotic presentation of the final sequence, where all quadrants are viewed together. In this film, Woodman returns to his two themes of time and space extending time over seasons, a twenty-four-hour period, and light and darkness.
Woodman’s later works – Observational Studies – Wood, an ongoing series, and Ruskin’s Pond represent a change in his work in different ways. The abstract from the wood introduces a change in technique in terms of hand-held rather than a fixed camera and the introduction of sound. Woodman argues that this is in order to be more responsive to changes in light and to record naturally occurring phenomena. He makes an interesting comment in his introduction to the film as follows:
“New also to this series is the filming of selected ‘objects’ in ‘real time’ within the landscape. These representations in digital video provide a different kind of phenomenological viewing experience. They present some questions concerning video and the represented light from objects recorded in space/time in continuous duration – the nature of objects?” (Woodman 2011).
Ruskin’s Pond is a work of two halves featuring films of the ponds in the grounds of Ruskin’s houses – one in London and the other Brantwood, Coniston in the Lake District. The work returns to the exploration of movement, change and the transient nature of light with the sequence covering moments of calm and others of disruption caused by wind. This film includes the natural sounds of the scene.
I found this research immensely interesting and see potential opportunities for both experimentation in my practice as well as options for the presentation of my work through both still and moving images and sound. I also see it as providing me with options for collaboration with filmmakers as I have done in the past. Woodman addresses through his filmmaking the Kantian concepts of space and time and while the still camera, I would argue, has the ability to freeze both time and space the video camera rather reflects the transitory nature of them. From an aesthetic point of view I found Ruskin’s Pond the most interesting and could see clear similarities between this and my own work with water and reeds. I can also see the potential for video reflections being better able to give the viewer a more transient experience of the scene.
Woodman, J. (1977). From Four Seasons. J. Woodman. United Kingdom: 11 minutes.
Woodman, J. (1977). Time Flow. J. Woodman. United Kingdom.
Woodman, J. (2010). November Morning. J. Woodman.
Woodman, J. (2010). Of Truth of Water. Cumbria, Cumbria Publishing.
Woodman, J. (2010). Ruskin’s Pond: A Photographic Study. Cumbria, Cumbria Publishing.
Woodman, J. (2011). Observational Series 2 – Wood. J. Woodman. United Kingdom.
Woodman, J. (2012). Ruskin’s Pond. J. Woodman. United Kingdom.