City Land (i): Black Country



In a review in Source (Issue 52, Autumn 2007), Sara-Jayne Parsons wrote:

'There is a straightforwardness in [Denison]'s engagement with these views as he rejects an idealized view of nature and challenges traditional ideas of the picturesque. His gaze is not that of a tourist; he is interested in time and continuity in landscape and doesn't try to mask the legacy of industry in favour of a more traditional scenic experience. The terrain of the Black Country is framed as mostly mundane and unremarkable ... Yet the tone of Denison's eco-message is optimistic and his photographs acknowledge that nature and the man-made environment already co-exist and continue to evolve ...

'The contemporary green spaces that Denison draws our attention to are the places people play. They are mostly sites of unofficial recreation where wasteland and the limits of industry have been reclaimed as a breathing space by local populations, and nature attempts to win back its territory through weeds and thick undergrowth. Here people walk their dogs, ride bikes and try their luck at fishing in the canals. Leisure is homespun and not prescribed; paths are routes that have been established by popular consensus ...

'One would be hard-pressed to characterise Denison's views as scenic or charming. Conceptually his challenge to the notion of the picturesque is ever-present but it is interesting to consider that ironically some of Denison's photographs rely on the understated use of formal historic picturesque tropes. For example, the pictorial success of Coal: Walsall Canal at Moxley, Darlaston relies on interest created through the diversity of varying textures of plants and shrubs set against the smooth watery surface of the canal. The dramatic contrast in light and shade throughout the scene where dark storm clouds contrast with patches of bright sunlight further emphasizes the complexity of the landscape.

'Similarly, the potential for the picturesque appears in Sandstone: Handsworth Golf Course looking North to M5/M6 interchange, Sandwell Valley, Birmingham ... The formal drama of this image is striking. Its power lies in the simple juxtaposition of scale between a series of monumental electricity pylons and two golfers located on an archetypal kidney-shaped green. I also can't help thinking that this photograph is a respectful nod to John Davies' Agecroft Power Station where a local football game foregrounds the site of some massive cooling towers.

'Ultimately Denison's photographs reveal a landscape coming to terms with the uneasy relationship between a working past and post-industrial present, an issue that surfaces in many other contemporary British cities that are experiencing regeneration ...'


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