In the Beginning and Always
: An Archaeology of Childhood, Found in Landscape and Photographs

  • Andrew Cross

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


For historical enquiry photographs are useful in providing records of events and influential to the construction of narrative. Photographs are also adept to facilitating the subjectivity of an individual encounter with the flow of historical time. Organised around a set of personal memories and historical events associated with landscape, this thesis considers an image-based historiographic method to retrospectively illuminate subjective formation. Under examination is the question of how we become aware of ourselves in space and time, through the encounter of historical narratives which encircle our location.

This question of historicity, or sense of becoming, is framed within a language of photography formed through relationships with specific objects and images drawn from the landscape environment of childhood. Being proposed is a model of art practice for which the curiosity of childhood establishes a methodology and critical attitude in navigating an individual path across a range of formal and theoretical considerations. Attention is given to the motivation behind landscape-oriented practice and the compulsive attachment of memories given to photographs in the same way we do with places andobjects associated with our autobiographical past.

Revisiting the time and place of one’s childhood through photographs is not only to reflect upon landscape and memories but also to eencounter the historical circumstances that shaped the environment in which that childhood occurred. In a practice that includes the collecting photographs as well as generating new ones, photographs are not a means of recording, or confirming, where we are at any given moment. Our location and historicity are not a set of fixed coordinates or events but a continuous recalculation within a stream of time. Rather, photographs, conditioned by pictorial conventions and historical context, are the means by which we navigate the stream. It is less what a photograph depicts and more what may be revealed through our encounters with them.

The research is developed through informed acts of photography and writing structured around intuitive gestures. Recognising the subjectivity that inhabits engagement with the past and its pictorial representation, I direct elements of theoretical and formal discourse into a wider reflexive attitude towards personal practice development and historical enquiry. Practice is organized into the three distinct methods of observing, collecting and making which have their origins in childhood activity. A varied photographic voice is accompanied by written reflection employed to situate practice within a framework of personal memory and cultural history. In part it is a biographical wandering through the circumstance of romantic rural landscape set in context with Cold War military technology and shifting geo-politics.

As a guide I turn to Walter Benjamin who used his own memory of childhood to help address the question of situating the biographical self within history. Benjamin points towards a methodology of historical enquiry drawing upon multi-disciplinary research encompassing visual art, archaeology and memory work. In the production of a cultural history, the methods of archaeology and memory work have the ability to disrupt existing understandings of past. They are methods of enquiry that can alter our relationship to images, demonstrating how photographs do not offer a pure unmediated apprehension of their subjects.

The thesis is not intended to confirm the status of a given practice or discipline. Nor, is it to necessarily add to the existing vast body of scholarly knowledge attached to Benjamin. Rather, it is to demonstrate Benjamin’s value to a broader inheritance of ideas and conceptual attitudes that help grant license to an on-going transformation of individual practice. Key to my own practice engagement with the past is a conceptual spatialisation of memory developed through an interpretation of Benjamin’s dialectical image. Across an encompassing montage of memory, individual photographs continually shift their relationship to space and time.

Rooted in the conscious subjectivity of childhood memory and constituted through action of the present, a diversity of practice is enabled by intuition and analytical scrutiny. Manifest through deliberate interventions with the conceptual and material properties of photographs, practice becomes the exchange of images in a relay of memory. Rather than a fixing of isolated moments, photographs and memory exist as collective ripples spreading out across time and space. Originating in the past but forever reforming into the future.
Date of AwardMar 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorJoanna Lowry (Supervisor), Darren Newbury (Supervisor), Xavier Ribas (Supervisor), Darren Newbury (Supervisor) & Xavier Ribas (Supervisor)

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