When on holiday in the last week of June 2017 I visited a gallery called ‘Celtic Images’ at Hilton Court Gardens in Pembrokshire, Wales. The work of two local photographers was featured here -Kersten Howard and Lisa Gabrielle.
‘Celtic Images is about celebrating Pembrokeshire in photographic art. The gallery brings together work from a number of local photographers who express his or her vision of Pembrokeshire in a variety of different styles’ – Hilton Court Gardens
To reach Hilton Court Gardens you first must drive down a very long and stately gravel drive through hay bale strewn fields, overlooking a very rugged and very beautiful coastline. We parked in the small car park and walked through a little archway in to a cobbled courtyard, it was raining so I imagine on a dry day it would have been filled with the jostle of other visitors but on this day it was empty and slick with rain. To the left was a sign announcing ‘Celtic Images’ gallery and so we approached, and entered…
The room itself was fairly small, carpeted, bright with artificial light and smelled like an office. To the left a lady was working at a computer and apart from a small ‘hi’ didn’t offer any further conversation – this I actually prefer when looking at an exhibit as I like to first form my own opinion of the works before any persuasions or further information is offered/produced. The work of K. Howard seemed to form most of the exhibition. His work was hung on every wall and there were wooden racks full of large prints in cellophane with their price tags on -ready for sale. A small card display frame held the work of Lisa Gabrielle, just to the right of the door of which we entered.
We must have spent a good twenty minutes or more looking through Howards large prints -some were very tourist aimed and I therefore found these the least inspiring but every now and again, among them we came across some real gems..
The images that stood out to me were ‘Preseli Pony’ and ‘Preseli Ponies 2’, ‘Farewell the Day – NewGale’, ‘Across the Bay – Tenby’ and ‘Catching the Light -Pwllygwaelod’. The images in the ‘Preseli Ponies’ series were unlike any images that I have come across before which made them the most intriguing to me. On his website, Howard explains that he used a long lens so as not to disturb the ponies in their natural habitat and he positions the subjects between him and the setting sun which created the ‘halo’ effect. The ponies become a dark silhouette with a golden or silver outline (depending on the format -colour or black and white) against a black backdrop. In Preseli Ponies 2, the mother touches noses with what is presumably her foal and all that is present in the picture is the silver outline of their figures – therefore no other information about the subjects or their location can be acquired – the image is purely an expression of the animals themselves and the touch of their noses shows a connection between them. In my opinion it is one of the purest animal behaviour photos I have ever come across, an affectionate moment between mother and baby without anything to detract from the scene. The silver glow makes it distinctly otherworldly and it encourages the viewer to feel the atmosphere and bask in the mood of the photo and not to seek further information from other parts of the frame (as they would not find anything but blackness).
I now want to briefly comment on the images which were not of much interest to me, as they formed the majority of the exhibit. Technically all of Howard’s photographs are good, great even, yet the majority of them didn’t move anything in me -they are so similar to what you will find in any good tourist shop in the form of postcards. Endless sunsets, long exposures showing milky seas and misty waterfalls, miles of untouched sand, the insides of abandoned ruins at sunrise etc. All of which make great tourist souvenirs but once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, in my opinion. The names of some of these photographs for reference are, ‘At the Tides Edge – Marloe Sands’, ‘Honeyed Bliss -Amroth’ and ‘Old Drying Hut – Freshwater East’. Even the majority of images containing stormy skies and seas lack drama, everything is soft and fluffy and easy to view with the exception of a few as I have mentioned above and will now explore further. Please see my Pinterest board here to see all of the photos mentioned in this review.
Another of my favourites was ‘Farewell the Day- NewGale’. I particularly enjoyed this image because of its moodiness and evocative nature. There was less emphasis on any particular subject and more of a general feeling and it was nostalgia evoking for me personally. The image doesn’t seem over planned and the clue is in its name ‘Farewell the Day’ that Howard was very aware of the mood that he was capturing in this photo. I can imagine Howard standing in this dusky half-light, the calm shiny sea before him and the last light seeping through heavy cloud bringing a kind of peace, he forgets about his subject and just presses the shutter, absorbing the atmosphere around him.
This hasn’t been the first exhibition to show me that seeking the perfect, most professional looking, most aesthetically pleasing image is not always the way to go but it did give me a bit of a jolt. It is so easy to try to fit in to an idea of what a good photographer is and the type of imagery that is beautiful and perfect but in fact lots of this tourist orientated stuff is really boring. I don’t want to create work like this, Id rather my images were less popular but that they really meant something, that they were different and more interesting -I want to make people feel something and to express my own personal view of my surroundings and not the view that others collectively may have of a place/subject. For me, Howards Exhibition at the Celtic Images gallery was really useful – in some areas I found real inspiration and I was very moved and in other areas I learned that some work can be quite boring when technically it is very good and that I should follow my creative flow more so as not to fall in to this category.