Ingrid Pollard uses photography in her art to examine topical issues such as the myth of the sublime English countryside, the position of people of colour in Britain and the destruction of the environment.
Wordsworth Heritage (above), is a billboard poster commissioned by the BBC and first exhibited in 1992. The confrontation with the national English landscape is explicit. Using a popular postcard sold to Lake District tourists, Pollard revisits the area from the perspective of people of colour. She places herself and Black walkers against popular Wordsworth locations in the Lakes in the North of England
Pastoral Interlude, 1987
The Pastoral Interlude exhibition consists of five photographs, of which three images are shown here. First shown in 1987, the project brings together Pollard's ideas of landscape, race and national identity.
The project’s origins are located in Pollard’s holiday snaps of the countryside that she visited as a teenager with her father.
The works in Pastoral Interlude contain three elements: a rural landscape, a solitary Black person and a text.
Pollard’s images are not sharp but grainy with muted colours.
In Pollard’s hands, holiday snaps and postcards are charged with memories of her countryside walks. The exhibition recalls with irony the tradition of English landscape painting as a metaphor of individual freedom and transcendence. The images captured by Constable, Palmer and Gainsborough are revisited.
In each of the photos, Pollard positions herself in the centre of the frame. She explores how people of colour like her are excluded from sharing that experience. She is challenging the social and political framework within which such concepts as ‘picturesque' and ‘inclusiveness' are constructed.
The Black figures interrupt the landscape vista as they gaze away from the viewer, capturing the feeling of isolated and lonely people whose presence in this landscape is problematic.
The photographic techniques used by Pollard deploy nostalgic references to deconstruct nostalgia. For example, tinting each photo in the style of the 19th century fulfils a dual purpose: it creates the feeling of sublime watercolour mages of areas like the Lake District, and also that of sun-faded postcards on sale today.
A text, written as a stream of consciousness, is inserted below the photograph frame, adding a further disruptive element and another layer of meaning to the assemblage.
Pastoral Interlude invites the viewer to consider ‘place’ as more than something to store in the memory via a snap-shot. Pollard’s photographs reflect her central thesis that the landscape is not natural but a human construction in its physicality and emotional power to attract and repel.
Pollard’s texts tell us not what is in the image but what is invisible. In Pastoral Interlude the prominent Black people in the images are in reality invisible in the iconography of English landscape painting. Juxtaposing random words of Wordsworth’s and Blake’s well-known poems next to the image create a disruption that challenges established meanings of ‘Englishness’ and the countryside
Pollard’s physical presence dominates the foreground. Sitting on a wall with a camera in hand, she looks to the left in front of a fence which symbolically is keeping her out of the countryside. Pollard found herself not “wandering lonely as a cloud” in Wordsworth’s line but “lonely as a Black face in a sea of white". Pollard as a woman and a person of colour is excluded from the landscape. Her use of a well –known text engineers a confrontation with the idea of the iconic English countryside.
Pollard gazes across the countryside accompanied by the text “…Searching for seashells waves lap my wellington boots, carrying lost souls of brothers and sisters released over the ship side…” The rural view becomes “… the sea carrying lost souls of Black people over the years" – who feel excluded from areas like the Lakes. Pollard’s memories of Wordsworth’s The Sea Shell are transported to the Atlantic trade by alluding in the text to Turner’s Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying) and the plight of her ancestors in their journey from Africa to the Caribbean.
A young Black man fishing in the desolate stream is accompanied by a text that suggests a mixture of alienation and exclusion. “.. Death is the bottom line”. We are then told Pollard believes that the owners want him off their “GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND. No Trespass, they want me dead. A slow death through eyes that slide away from me…” The re-versioning of Blake’s words from Jerusalem creates two worlds: Black and White – joined by history, but not by shared experience. The final sentence suggests that a Black person's face is not recognised and affirmed through other's gaze. They are not accepted within the ‘authentic’ English landscape.
In Pastoral Interlude Pollard rewrites popular culture with a subversive take on the tourist postcard.
About Ingrid Pollard
Ingrid Pollard (born 1953) is a British artist and photographer. Her work uses portraiture photography and traditional landscape imagery to explore social constructs such as Britishness and racial difference. Pollard is associated with Autograph, the Association of Black Photographers. She lives and works in London.
With training in Film and Photography but coming from a community arts background, Pollard has in the past also documented the work of actors, dancers, writers and theatre companies.
Pollard has played an important role in photography since the early 1980s, documenting black people’s creativity and presence in Britain. Recent work includes a re-examination of the UK and international archives to decolonise ethnographic and state-sponsored imagery of the former colonial countries.
From 2005 to 2007, she curated Tradewinds 2007, an international residency project with an exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands. She has participated in group exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum. She has been involved in education and research, her work has been displayed in national collections in the UK and internationally. Pollard has exhibited widely in Europe and America, including Tate Britain, Victoria and Albert Museum (London), NGBK (Berlin), Caribbean Cultural Centre (New York), Camerawork (San Francisco) and the National Gallery of Jamaica.