Expectations

November 23, 2014

Very often I find that the expectations of a place dictate my photographic work in some way. Tintern Abbey is a place I have practically been lusting to visit for well over a year now. I've not only seen the tourist pamphlets, friend's photographs, and website, but have also encountered a plethora of art historical material. J.M.W. Turner's paintings, among other artists' renditions of the abbey were displayed in the Tate Britain show Ruin Lust in early 2013, and in summer this year the museum in Chepstow also had an exhibition, Sites of Inspiration,  featuring artwork of the abbey. There were paintings, engravings, prints, drawings, and literature pieces surrounding this fantastical place.


Today, as we rounded the bend in the mountain and descended into the valley where Tintern abbey stands grand against a backdrop of golden autumn leaves, I couldn't help but calculate how to photograph the architecture of such a huge structure. Then, surprisingly, I found myself more interested in its relationship to the village which sits unexpectedly close to the site.

The village of Tintern is dotted along the A466 and also the Wye River. The abbey, is seemingly the head, and the village streams along behind it like a long, thin snake. There are homes, some new and some dilapidated. There are quaint shops, with painted signs, and hipster cafes and folky cafes, and pubs which smell of delicious fried chips. There are farms with cows, and rusted structures covered with foliage, much the way the abbey used to be depicted in paintings. And there are many walking trails and cyclist trails. It's a town of course, why was I so surprised?

 

My friend Gareth and I spent many hours hunting for the right mountain path which would lead up to a modest, old church we saw on the hill from the bottom of the valley. Why have such a little church up so high on a mountain, in a forest, when the grand daddy of all abbeys was right there? I'm sure there was some answer involving eras and history, but beyond that, the visual relationship between small church and giant abbey was bound to be a great photographic story. However, by the time we found the crumbling St. Mary's it was getting close to sunset, and no one wants to be lost on slick, muddy walking trails after dusk.

 

Below are some of my pictures of the abbey and Tintern village, which I have tried to photograph with "fresh" eyes. There are also some images of the abbey released by the Chepstow Museum and Tate Britain which advertise their exhibitions. I cannot help but wonder how my photographic process would be different if I was innocent to all the imagery of the abbey I have previously consumed. A wise professor once told me, "We all have image banks, and the more images in your bank, the more knowledge you are able to draw upon. There is the danger, however, of becoming completely unoriginal." So it seems life is full of double edged blades; I remain, for the most part, unconcerned.

 






 

 

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