||Reviews & Interviews
||In The Steps Of Robert Pinnacle
-Transcript of interview of Kate Mellor
by Sylvia Rudman
||S.R. Let’s talk about
the body of work called “In the Steps of Robert Pinnacle.”
How did this come about?
I was commissioned by Photo98 the European Festival of Photography
and the Digital Image in conjunction with the Mercer Art Gallery
to photograph European spa towns. I was given the freedom to
develop the project in any way as long as I did some of the
work in Harrogate, the town, itself, being a historic spa town
and the Borough Council being a major sponsor.
S.R. People think of them as fabulous, exotic
K.M. Yes in the sense
of exotic being from elsewhere as in ‘the past is another
country’ and fabulous too. The nature of these environments
is fantastic, fabled. I think of these places as being historic
and that was the base from which I began to work. To think around
how we construct history. Then I began to work from the premise
that history is a mixture of fact and fiction. I grew up near
the spa town of Malvern Wells and I just remember being dragged
along there through these ghastly elitist environments with
their pompous decaying architecture until we got to the main
draw - apparently - a grotesque dark hole with very smelly water
in it. Dark, dank, mouldy decay. As soon as I realised that
I felt some antipathy towards them - towards these crumbling
aspirational places I knew I probably had a story to follow
S.R. The person whose story
you did follow was Robert Pinnacle - can you explain more about
him? Where he went and what he did?
K.M. Robert Pinnacle was a historic landscape
painter who lived and worked in spa town society. The society
which grew up around these sources of water attracted those
who had status and wealth and so artists, musicians and writers
would have been looking for patrons and commissions there. Part
of the idea was also to look at how the artist is positioned
in society, history...
I made work in Bath, Bagni di Lucca, Aix-les-Bains, Baden-Baden,
Marianske Lazne, Franziskovy Lazne, Spa and Harrogate. I tend
to think of people like Pinnacle as my cultural ancestors -
the forerunner of landscape photographers today - so I reconstructed
Pinnacle’s works using a pinhole camera - painters of
this era used pinholes in their work. Also I liked the emphasis
on perspective I could create with this particular pinhole.
It seemed appropriate for the rather picturesquely constructed
images painters of Pinnacle’s era favoured. Then there
is the curiously watery look of pinhole images and the fact
that because the exposure times are so long people can be present
in front of the camera but not register, not be recorded. So
that was metaphorically appropriate. I would then respond to
the place often working around some narrative, with a more contemporary
aesthetic, less picturesque, more iconic using a Hasselblad
6 x 6 medium format camera or sometimes a Widelux panoramic
S.R. What I like about
this work is the varying aesthetics. You are working with the
transparency of photography, because the ‘contemporary’
work masquerades as much less mediated, apparently more ‘real’.
K.M. The fact that photography has
this rhetoric of truth is important to this work. I adopt different
methodologies to emphasize that. Usually one strategy is kept
to in order to make one particular way of seeing stronger, more
convincing. Photography is seen as real and there is a parallel
between that and the way that history is seen. In the Steps
of Robert Pinnacle plays on that . It is in fact a total conceit.
Despite the fact that his name is seen to be engraved in gold
in the image Names alongside figures such as Benjamin Constant
and Southey on a memorial plaque Robert Pinnacle doesn’t
actually exist. I made him up and he gets to be about 300 years
old before I finish with him.
How did he get his name on that plaque? Digitally I suppose?
K.M. Yes that’s me proving
Robert Pinnacle’s existence. Around that time photographic
discourse reflected on what digital imaging would bring to photography
because the new media did not have the same expectation of it
- of truthful representation - that it would not be able to
function as evidence in the way photography did.
S.R. How does the audience respond when they
find out that Robert Pinnacle is a fictional character?
K.M. They seem to like it a lot
- they've been round the show, looked at the photographs and
read the excerpts from Pinnacle’s journals and they have
to get to the end before they can read ‘Robert Pinnacle
is a fictional character who bears a passing resemblance to
many people both living and dead.’ I think they know they've
been persuaded to suspend their better judgement and that amuses
S.R. It says in the publication
‘Shifting Horizons’ that the work is a bit of a
K.M. Yes and no.
I had intended the Pinnacle character to be a real dog and a
piss artist but - as fiction writers observe - the characters
get away from you and invent themselves and their own lives.
The thing is that a number of his experiences could have happened
or have happened and that is something the audience recognise.
But really although it is intended as a critique on several
levels it is also a homage to all those artists, all the work
that’s gone before, who have contributed to, helped to
form to our vision.
|"This work was made for a commission
to document European spa towns. I chose to base the project
on the career of the landscape painter Robert Pinnacle, who
visited and resided amongst these unique societies which provided
his main source of patronage. In Pinnacle's era artists frequently
used such devices as pinholes to assist perspective and, partly
for this reason, I chose to re-construct his works using a pinhole
While re-tracing his career through Europe I made other photographic
works using a variety of formats and processes, contemporary
and historic, drawing on the narratives that prevail in these
once fashionable locations."