An exhibition at the Victoria Gallery and Museum Liverpool by the photographers Stephanie Wynne and Stephen McCoy as part of LOOK Liverpool Photographic Festival.
18 July – 24 August 2019
Location: Gallery 7, first floor, VG&M
Below is a short written piece I produced to accompany the exhibition:
TRIANGULATION: A SPATIAL STORY IN THREE PARTS
Triangulation. The word has an air of precision about it. From the careful placing of the theodolite on the trig pillar, to the no less careful eye of the surveyor scanning a point in the distance, through to the geometric delineation of a landscape rendered in two dimensions, it is important to be precise. The rationalising and abstraction of space that defines the process of map-making – a mediation of the world that we are at once immersed within and standing back from – is analogous to that routinely invested in the work of the landscape photographer. Does a photograph map the topographic features being gazed upon by the photographer? Perhaps, perhaps not. It depends on how you are defining ‘map’. But what both forms of media do nevertheless impart is their ‘propositional character’, as Denis Wood suggests in his book Rethinking the Power of Maps. Both map and photographic image throw us something we then take it upon ourselves to do something with by way of response.
In the hands of photographers Stephanie Wynne and Stephen McCoy, Triangulation (the project) invites us to rethink the practice of triangulation and to enter into – or at least be more attentive to – a compelling dialogue unfolding between cartography and photography; between map-making and image-making. The way it does this is by offering us another form of triangulation, one that draws a tentative but discernible line between three discreet fields of knowledge; or, to borrow from cultural theorist Michel De Certeau, between three spatial stories.
The first of these is the story of how the British Ordnance Survey map came into being. Triangulation conjures a history of triangulation that speaks as much to the technological leaps and bounds that helped shaped innovations in cartography since the founding of the Ordnance Survey in 1791, as it does the geographical particularities of Great Britain as an island-nation and as a landmass set apart from continental Europe. Set against the backdrop of a nation grappling with the uncertainties of Brexit, Triangulation helps incite reflection on the extent to which the points we choose to triangulate necessarily need to fall within the political boundaries of the nation-state.
The second spatial story has a much deeper provenance, one that trails its way through cultural histories of landscape, where the process of ‘putting a frame’ (literally and metaphorically) around a part of the world – a cityscape here, an affecting rural prospect there, a Shangri-La beyond the horizon (somewhere over the rainbow) – is a part of how people down the ages have gone about the task of making that world. The aesthetics of landscape can be as rigorously disciplined or as messily chaotic as circumstances and artistic dispositions demand. In Triangulation we are privy to both the exactingly precise and the serendipitous workings of chance. As with the surveyor who has hauled his or her theodolite across a field or up a rocky incline, McCoy and Wynne, having found where X marks the spot, carefully erect their camera and tripod atop the triangulation pillars. What follows is a 360° panoramic scan that is enacted with the same degree of care as that expected of the Ordnance Survey cartographer. But in other respects, aesthetic considerations are obviated by the necessity to frame the view as they find it, whatever the weather and the challenges posed by the relentless buffeting of wind. Happenstance, and the simple need to get the job done, removes much of the burden of agency.
The third spatial story provides a tantalising glimpse into the trials and travails of the getting there. This is a story whose telling takes place outside the frame. It describes the coalescence of ideas and inspiration, of entwined creative ambitions, the gradual emergence of a realisable project, the aesthetic conviction and ‘mapping impulse’ that drives the process through to fruition. It describes a quest or an odyssey of sorts, a tale that is only fleshed out in its telling. It may even be suggested that Triangulation is the enactment of a form of pilgrimage inasmuch as any sacred journey is destined to reap a reward, something that is brought back to the mundane world. If we accept such a conceit, then each of these images may be looked upon as talisman or souvenir whose function is to prompt enunciation, whether this be the telling of the spatial story inscribed in the making of the image, or the calling out of what are otherwise neglected markers of cultural and industrial heritage. We might also consider whether each of these images is perhaps a stepping stone in a pilgrimage that can only be fully realised when all of the primary trig pillars still standing (310 at the last count) have been photographically mapped. But that would be to sketch the contours of a spatial story as yet untold.
Les Roberts, July 2019.