Riverbed Stories #12

By Mandy Williams
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photograph - 2014 - 40.64cm x 30.48cm

This photograph is from Riverbed Stories (2014), an ongoing photographic series that documents the riverbeds beside the industrial area of Erith, South London and Dartford, Kent. It’s an area that I have been documenting since 2009, during which time it has become increasingly polluted. Mattresses, chairs, televisions, and car tyres litter the beds, along with handless gloves, floating shoes and discarded baby carriages.

The black and white images from early 2014 concentrate on the mattresses that lie semi-submerged in water, or abandoned in the long grass along the banks. They are objects that remind us of past intimacies and human presence, traditional domestic symbols transplanted to a contemporary landscape.

The photographs aim to communicate the environmental destruction that is happening along this river. In an area of natural beauty, these riverbeds tell a story about the ethics of the waste disposal companies and the local council’s difficulty in protecting the environment.

Discussion

Mandy Williams
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Hi Fiona

Thanks very much for your comments about this photograph and I'm glad that you find it evocative. The mattresses certainly suggest a variety of narratives to me as well. It is strange to see these objects of domestic intimacy displaced and abandoned in the rivers and long grass, and in some cases becoming entombed in their new environment. Yes, this photograph is in the current RWA open exhibition in Bristol and won the photography prize. I recognise your work also and, so will visit your profile page as well. All the best, Mandy

Fiona Robinson
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Of course yes - I was there on saturday both as an exhibitor and presenting the two Evolver prizes. I just didn't make the connection between the title and the image on Point + Line. Congratulations! Though I do remember thinking it an interesting title when it was announced. And the image itself is really interesting, as always with such large group shows things tend to get a bit lost in the crowd. I will be at the RWA tomorrow again so will take another look at it

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Fiona Robinson
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This is such an evocative image, an abandoned mattress offers so many narratives, life, death, love, pillow talk…. Correct me if I am wrong but isn't it on show at the RWA Open exhibition in Bristol at the moment? Riverbed Stories is such a great title too.

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Daniel Leng
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I find this image and series extremely evocative due to both concept and execution. The mattress is an effective metaphor for for the decay of something once comforting, intimate, and perhaps beautiful into something terribly creepy and unsettling. I can almost smell the mold that's growing and love that the weeds are starting to ingest the mattress. Alas nature remains triumphant.

Technically, I love the details and wide range of tonality throughout the image. The dark palette in grasses gives me an ominous feeling and cradles the subject in well for me, focusing my attention. I'd love to see this print in person. I'd imagine it's stunning.

Mandy Williams
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Thanks Daniel for your thoughtful and poetic response to my work. The series was motivated by the environmental damage being caused to this area of the river not far from where I live. The river is choked by discarded household furniture and mechanical debris. My landscape work often has an underlying narrative about human interaction or presence so I was specifically drawn to the abandoned mattresses along the riverbeds. Inevitably I was thinking of who they might have once belonged to - of different bodies being comforted and sinking into sleep. There is a poignancy in seeing these mattresses strewn along the side of the river - the loss of an intimate history. Everything is exposed and laid bare. One lies surrounded by nettles, in some cases the summer foliage has completely overwhelmed them creating a hybrid form. Many appear entombed by soil and vegetation.
I'm glad you felt there was something ominous. The work is intentionally dark and reduced to the essential elements.

Daniel Leng
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Thanks for taking the time to discuss your work. I like how you describe thinking about "different bodies being comforted and sinking into sleep." It hadn't occurred to me that the mattress itself is "sinking to sleep" in the riverbank as well. I continue to think about this image and its nuances. Lots of food for thought in a generally minimalist image.

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Mandy
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I am a photographer and video artist who is interested in the social dynamics arising from contemporary culture - particularly how personal identity is affected by environment and how our social and affective lives interconnect. My interest in the psychology of place and how a sense of home is created and sustained has been a catalyst for both autobiographical and voyeuristic projects, documentary approaches to more conceptual ones.
Much of my photographic and video work highlights the domestic environment, although projects sometimes refer more broadly to place and sites in transition. My recent landscape work and photographs of the built environment share an underlying narrative about human interaction or presence and the psychology of a particular place will always lead me to research and initiate a project. Some of these ongoing series include Unseen Landscapes (2012-14), which uses Google StreetView captures as a starting point to create somewhere otherworldly; Disappearing Spot (2014), about the last seen locations of missing people, and Riverbed Stories (2012-14), photographs documenting polluted riverbeds in South East London.

Artist Statement

I am a photographer and video artist who is interested in the social dynamics arising from contemporary culture - particularly how personal identity is affected by environment and how our social and affective lives interconnect. My interest in the psychology of place and how a sense of home is created and sustained has been a catalyst for both autobiographical and voyeuristic projects, documentary approaches to more conceptual ones.
Much of my photographic and video work highlights the domestic environment, although projects sometimes refer more broadly to place and sites in transition. My recent landscape work and photographs of the built environment share an underlying narrative about human interaction or presence and the psychology of a particular place will always lead me to research and initiate a project. Some of these ongoing series include Unseen Landscapes (2012-14), which uses Google StreetView captures as a starting point to create somewhere otherworldly; Disappearing Spot (2014), about the last seen locations of missing people, and Riverbed Stories (2012-14), photographs documenting polluted riverbeds in South East London.

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