Earlier this month I visited the Oxford Photographic Society’s Annual Exhibition at The North Wall, to see what the photographers of Oxford had to offer my amateur interest in camerawork. The naturally lit room in The North Wall was lined with a colourful and distinctive array of photographs. Many members of OPS had travelled across the world, returning with snapshots of the sights they saw and the lives they intersected. Others chose to exhibit scenes rather closer to home, bringing to light the local landscapes and wildlife of the British Isles.
Amongst the beautifully captured photographs of animals, birds in flight, and illuminated cityscapes, was a selection of images that sought to illustrate the striking relationship between human existence and nature. We too often forget the role that nature plays in our lives; our comfortable world has been designed to reduce its impact upon us to a minimum. When we are reminded of the extent to which we can be dwarfed by the elements, it is a humbling experience.
John Deason’s Lofton Islands struck me for this reason. A small settlement sits in the shadow of a cloud-topped mountain, beneath its sheer cliff faces. Enveloped by grey sky and clouds, the settlement appears desperately small and helpless. Deason captures what could be seen as its vulnerability, or perhaps, in a more optimistic view, its protection by the great mountain. In a second photograph by Deason, Fishing Settlement, Lofton, we experience that same shrinking feeling of the settlement against the backdrop of mountains and at the mercy of the weather.
In another world, we see a sky-blue house being slowly and softly shrouded in forestry. This is Kelara’s Evening Light, taken by Tony Tarry, a beautiful portrayal of a small dwelling soaked in the evening Indian sun. The photo reminds us of nature’s surrounding and prominent presence, which we so often take for granted. Simon Hamblin’s Northleigh Woodland, meanwhile, reproduces a view of a winter forest from below, in striking intricacy. The tree branches, in contrast with those of Tarry, appear like capillaries against grey sky. But the photograph’s real interest is the humans below; through their presence, Hamblin skilfully gives us a glimpse into what it feels like to be beneath such an ornate ceiling of branches on a cold winter’s day.
Across the room, Adrian Cubitt explores a similar theme – interaction between human and nature – to very different effect. His image captures a decisive moment in a busy, wet street, shared by who we assume to be two mothers and a group of four children. All are dressed in yellow rain ponchos, and Cubitt has given his picture the apt title Ducklings in Venice. This expertly captured moment of a family in such a transient environment brings with it a warm and welcome recognition of personal trips made to similar rainy destinations, with our own ponchos wrapped around us.
The images described here only provide a minimal insight into what the exhibition offers as a whole. Though I have focused on a set of photos that I perceive to be topically linked, the exhibition covers a variety of themes and vividly demonstrates the highly skilled work of local artists.