Essays

Thinking through writing is a very immersive experience. Once embarked on, like any voyage of discovery, it must have an endpoint. The process involves shutting myself in my studio in order to tussle with images and ideas. I have an alternative favourite thinking place – a rock that I sit on overlooking the stone and mud beach that edges the tidal estuary where I live – where the height of the tide, the constitution of the water, clear or murky from seaweed, mud, twigs, and occasional farming effluent, the puzzling activities of birds, whether seasonal visitors or local, the wind direction and intensity, and the ever-changing quality of light, somehow merge to solve problems for me. This is not a place to take a laptop; an old-style pocket notebook suffices.

Most of the essays or chapters that I write for artists’ books, exhibition catalogues, or as chapters for edited collections, concern land, landscape, place, environment, ecologies, and identities, in other words, the arena that I have been researching variously for three decades. Sometimes they offer opportunities to consider concepts and specific photographic projects that I have been mulling over for some time, for instance, aesthetics, or questions of representation. Other occasions introduce me to artists, places, explorations, or materials not previously familiar to me, which is always re-invigorating. I enjoy engaging with portfolios, especially when a project has been only recently completed, so is also fresh for the photographer. Sometimes catalogue essays relate to an exhibition that I am curating, thereby allowing me to expand on the exhibition concept. All asquire momentum through the imminence of publishers’ deadlines.

From time to time, I am invited to contribute to more general publications, which I also enjoy because this often involves researching and musing on some new aspect of photographic and related thinking and practices. For instance, investigating early exhibition ‘catalogues’, lists of exhibited pictures, and tracking how this evolved into the 21st photobook, and doing so in the context of a study group that meet regularly to discuss books and the printed page, was thoroughly enjoyable, not the least because it took me into photo histories and archives that were new to me.

Selected writings – Land, Place, Environment (since 2000)

  • ‘Transience, on light and life’, catalogue essay for a solo retrospective of work by Marja Pirilä, Helsinki: Taidehalli, forthcoming, 2024.
  • ‘Foreword’ in Jane Flynn, Mennonites of Southern Illinois: A Photographic Journal, Southern Illinois University Press, forthcoming, 2023.
  • ‘Scene and Unseen: (Re-)envisioning the Arctic Imaginary through Photography’, in Darcy White, Julia Peck & Chris Goldie eds., Disturbed Ecologies: Photography, Geopolitics and the Northern Landscape in the Era of Environmental Crisis, Bielefeld:transcript Verlag,
  • ‘Touched by Light: theme, form, and aesthetics (in works by Heidi Morstang)’, in Heidi Morstang, Field Observations, Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press, 2023.
  • ‘Residual Testimony’ in H. Jennings Sheffield, Going Away from Here, Artist’s limited-edition photobook, 2021.
  • ‘Shifting Perspectives’ in Jordan Strom and Sylvia Grace Borda eds., Sylvia Grace Borda Shifting Perspectives. Canada BC: Heritage House and Surrey Art Gallery, 2020.
  • ‘Critical Environments and Photographic Investigations’ PhotoResearcher 32, ESHPh, Autumn 2019.
  • ‘Hidden Histories and Landscape Enigmas’ in photographies 2, Summer 2019.*
  • ‘Plastic Oceans’ in Mandy Barker, Altered Ocean. London: Overlapse (Visual Arts Books), 2019. (Chosen by The Royal Photographic Society as one of the top 10 Photobooks of the year 2019. Reviewed in the RPS Journal, Vol 159, Number 12, December 2019).
  • ‘New Frontiers’, article, & Editor, section on land and environment, PhotoResearcher 31, ESHPh, Spring 2019.
  • ‘On Being Out of Place’ in Liz Wells and Yiannis Toumazis eds., Layers of Visibility. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press, 2018.*
  • ‘Frontiers of Vision: On Photographic Explorations, Identity and Myth’ in Yan Preston, Mother River, Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2018.
  • ‘Histories and Imagination: narrative and metaphor in the work of John Kippin’ in John Kippin, Based on a True Story, Works 1984-2018. Kerber, Berlin 2018.*
  • Sedimentary Histories: On space and place in the photographs of Bleda y Rosa’, in Campos de batalla. Bombas Gens Centre d’Art, Museo Universidad Navarra y CGAC, 2017.
  • Imaging Nature: investigating change in the natural world’ in Chrystel Lebas, Field Studies. The Netherlands: fw/books, 2016.
  • ‘Objects, Landscapes, Poetics’ in Jungjin Lee, Echo. FotoMuseum Winterthur/ Specter Books, 2016.
  • ‘Picturing Instability’ in John Ganis, America’s Endangered Coasts, Photographs from Texas to Maine. George F. Thompson, 2016.
  • ‘Modes of Investigation: On Photography and Environment’ in Hans Hedberg, Gunilla Knape, Tyrone Martinsson and Louise Wolthers eds., Broken: Environmental Photography. Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg, Hasselblad Foundation & Art, and Theory Publishing, 2014.*
  • “A Man of the North’, in Esko Männikkö Time Flies, Helsinki Taidehalli, 2014.*
  • ‘Light Touch’, in Liz Wells ed. Light Touch. Baltimore: Maryland Arts Place, 2014. Read this publication » *
  • ‘Silent Witness’ in Oscar Palaccio, American Places, San Francisco: Chroma CIIS, 2013.*
  • ‘We were there’ in Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert, Tourists Who Shoot. Nicosia, 2013.
  • ‘Under the Shadow of Change’ exhibition text, Isabelle Pateer, Unsettled, Photofusion, London, 2013.
  • ‘Meditations on Form and Flow’ in Per Bak Jensen, Lost. Copenhagen: Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, 2012.
  • ‘Photography, Nation, Nature’in Sense of Place: European Landscape Photography. Brussels: Bozar Books/Prestel, 2012.*
  • ‘Landscapes of Exploration’ in Liz Wells ed., Landscapes of Exploration, Recent British Art from Antarctica. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press, 2012.
  • ‘Points of Departure: currencies of the post-industrial sublime’ in John Kippin, Chris Wainwright, and Liz Wells, FUTURELAND NOW. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press, 2012.
  • ‘Questions of Distance’ in Yiannis Toumazis ed., Temporary Taxonomy. Nicosia: Republic of Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture for Cyprus Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2011.*
  • ‘Potent Portraits’ in Michelle Sank, The Submerged. Schilt Publishing, 2011.
  • ‘Iceblink – In Search of a Contemporary Sublime’ in Anne Noble, Spoolhenge, Antarctica. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press, 2011.
  • Space in between: on Women and Landscape Photography in Britain’ in Johan Swinnen & Luc Deneulin eds., The Weight of Photography. Brussels: Academic and Scientific Publishers, 2010.
  • ‘Figures in a Landscape’ in Trine Søndergaard and Nicolai Howalt, How to Hunt. Hatje Cantz, 2010.
  • ‘Silent Landscape’ in EXIT 38, Spring 2010.
  • The Extraordinary Everyday’, in Marte Aas. Oslo: Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, 2010.
  • ‘Poetics and Silence’, in Jorma Puranen (2009) Icy Prospects. Hatje Cantz.
  • ‘Curatorial strategy as critical intervention – The Genesis of Facing East’ in Judith Rugg, ed., Issues in Curating, Contemporary Art and Performance, Bristol: Intellect, 2007.*
  • ‘Darkening Days’ in John Darwell, Dark Days, Stockport: Dewi Lewis, 2007.
  • ‘Jorma Puranen’, in Breaking the Ice, Contemporary Art from Bonn: Kunstmuseum, 2006.
  • ‘Crossing the Atlantic…Uneasy Spaces’ in Ann Chwatsky and Liz Wells eds., Crossing the Atlantic…Uneasy Spaces. New York University: Steinhardt School of Education, 2006.
  • ‘Land Matters’, S Kadi, ed., Loisirs et Société britannique au xx esiecle, Recherches Valenciennes 13. Presses Universitaires de Valenciennes, 2003.
  • ‘Icy Prospects’, M Miles and N Kirkham, eds., Cultures and Settlements, Intellect Books, 2003.*
  • ‘Erasing Time-Lines’ on Deborah Baker’s “Ghosts in the Nursery”’, Portfolio 37, 2003
  • ‘Paradoxes of the Pastoral’, in John Kippin, Cold War Pastoral. London: Black Dog, 2001.
  • ‘Monstrous Beauty’, in Su Grierson, Eyeshine. Glasgow: Street Level Gallery, 2001.

Selected writings – Book Chapters and Articles (since 2000)

  • Afterword: The Uncanny Observed’ in David Bate, Photography as Critical Practice. Bristol: Intellect, 2020.
  • ‘Camera-Eye: Photography and Modernism’ in Pam Meecham ed., A Companion to Modern Art. New Jersey: John Wiley, 2018.
  • ‘Beyond the Exhibition, from Catalogue to Photobook’ in Patrizia Di Bello, Colette Wilson and Shamoon Zamir eds., The Photobook. London: I B Tauris, 2012.
  • ‘Revisiting photography as art’ in Anna Auer & Uwe Schögl eds. (2008) Jubilee, 30 years. ESHPh/ Fotohof,
  • Entry writer, ‘Ansel Adams’ for Robin Lenman, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Review essay, on David Campany, ‘Art and Photography’, Source 36, 2003.
  • ‘Then and Now, some notes on photography and theory’ Source 33, 2002*
  • ‘The Critical Workshop’, Journal of Media Practice 2, 2000*
  • ‘Seeing Beyond Belief’ (with Martin Lister), Carey Jewitt and Theo van Leeuwen, eds., The Handbook of Visual Analysis. London: Sage, 2000.*

*Included in Liz Wells, Photography, Curation, Criticism – an anthology, London: Routledge, 2023. Read more »