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Photography - ISSUE #14

A Storied Ground

Photographer Jermaine Francis’ recent series, A Storied Ground, situates portraits of Black Britons within the English pastoral landscape, prompting viewers to reimagine who is considered the natural or rightful inhabitant of such spaces. Madeleine Bazil, editor of The Rhizome newsletter, caught up with him to discuss his work, the politics of the image, and the connection between landscape and identity.

Madeleine Bazil: Could you give us a brief introduction to yourself and your work, in particular A Storied Ground? How did this project come about, and where did your interest in landscape portraiture originate?

Jermaine Francis: My practice is always engaged in some form of story or an investigation of a negotiation of our space. It’s always been something I have been interested in - being aware of my early upbringing, my colour and class background. That negotiation of space appeared to be not so neutral. A Storied Ground is a continuation of this journey.

The genre of landscape has always interested me; it began when I was a student. In the case of the rural landscape, it was the work of [photographer] Ingrid Pollard that helped me to contextualise the feelings that I had in regards to my experience in this particular environment. For me, Pollard’s work was so important. I felt, and still feel, no one had dealt with the complexities of the English pastoral in such a way. It was nuanced and layered, and also not all about alienation. The work of the Canadian artist Stan Douglas in the late 90s also made a great impression on me.

A Storied Ground, I suppose, is my attempt to address some of the issues of the pastoral: an absence of the Black figure - but not in a one-dimensional sense of just a comment of alienation and the outsider, but one of belonging, and narratives of Black identity that is not reduced to hegemony.

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