Blog: Mario Popham

The photographer on the latest instalment in an ongoing collaboration exploring how we have shaped, and in turn been shaped by stone

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The project began as a conversation during breaks at a college where Tom Baskeyfield and I worked as technician and tutor in the art department.

Having seen my work in an exhibition at Cornerhouse in Manchester, he felt some affinity with my photographs of urban growth and was curious to see how they might sit next to the exquisite graphite rubbings he had been working on.

We were both interested in exploring our relationship to the natural environment through art, and we were happy to discover that, visually, our work did indeed complement each other.

Tom had been stewing on an idea for a project based around the connection between his hometown of Macclesfield and the local quarry at Tegg’s Nose – the source of the stone from which the town was originally built.

Work began with Tom’s rubbings registering the specific details of raw rock and cobbles that were formed over millennia, while my old large-format camera captured the broader context in which the stone exists in the present.

After completing the first chapter with support from Macclesfield Barnaby Arts Festival 2016, the work was exhibited in various spaces and we found it hung together harmoniously on the walls. But it was interesting to note that we both brought quite different ideas to the work: while Tom saw it as a recognition and affirmation of a time when we had a more direct connection to the natural environment, I took a more pessimistic view in that I saw it as proof of our biological and inevitable desire to mould and exploit nature for our own purpose, for better and worse.

After many an impassioned and occasionally heated debate, usually in the pub after a day’s working up a hill, we both came to the conclusion that this friction between our ideas was in fact what stimulated the work. The project is a dialogue of contrasts – town and country; the micro and the macro; deep time and human time; chaos and order; idealism and cynicism; photography and drawing – and we took these ideas forward with us as we embarked on the second part of our project.

In this next chapter titled Of Flesh and Stone, which will have its first airing at Home from 9 March, we explored the legacy of the industrial revolution through the prism of the slate industry in North Wales. While the first instalment looked at the origins of a small town in relation to a small hill, in Wales we were confronted with the effects of large-scale human disruption from a time when we began to fully harness the forces of science and technology. We were both outsiders now and were very fortunate to be welcomed in by those who called this conflicted landscape home.

Over the course of a year, we explored the quarries and surrounding villages, drawing connections between these beautiful yet ravaged mountainsides and the northern English towns from where we had travelled. All the while we searched for some better understanding of our place in history and nature. The resulting work is the sum product of our thoughts and wanderings.

Of Flesh and Stone is at Home, Manchester, 9 March-29 April. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England

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