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Our next series of lectures is all about context. What is it?

Context adds meaning to an object or idea. The example given us was a humble biro. To put this pen into context is to link it with how it came to exist, its history leading it to be present in front of you perhaps even to the designer who first created a technical drawing of how it was going to look. You could further link it to manuscripts written using the pen and the influences that the writer experienced whilst conceiving what to write.

The politics that influenced those that created, manufactured, marketed and sold the pen can also be included in context. To the designers who created the packaging to the hundreds of people the pen came into contact with from creation to its final resting place in the bin. But even then the story of the pen continues until it no longer exists as a pen.

Context could be described as a spider web of connections covering a vast array of subjects all linked back and forming the world around the pen. To try and add context to our writing we have been set the task of writing about an exhibition we have seen, but to try and make it an exhibition we already find interesting. Gemma our lecturer gave us an interesting method to focus on what appeals to each of us. Laying on the floor of the lecture hall with eyes closed she suggested  we recall an image from an exhibition that we were fascinated by.

The image that sprung to mind was a photograph by Sebastiao Salgado in his Genesis exhibition last year. Why do I like the images created by this photographer? From an early age I loved the outdoors. As I grew up wilderness and natural landscapes became my playgrounds, I first camped out at 8 years old, climbed my first mountain at 16 and became a serious caver  / potholer for over 10 years in my late 20’s and early 30’s. In my late 40’s I walked the length of Hadrian’s wall and in my 50’s I have travelled to Mexico, China and Vietnam searching for new places to explore.

There is something about the beauty of a natural landscape unaltered or manipulated by man which connects with me on a almost primal level. Its been wonderful to travel the world to see many fantastic sights in so many different countries but everywhere the influence of man is there to be seen. Salgado attempted to visit places where mans influence has yet to be noticed and thus the title for his exhibition and book Genesis – the beginning. He attempts to show the world as it could have looked prior to man. The images are displayed in black and white and this also influences me. Colour can distract in images like this as the eye is drawn to the colour not the scene.

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The small gallery ‘Beetles and Huxley’ were showing a cut down version of Salgado’s Genesis exhibition so to refresh myself of the images I went to London for a ‘second’ look.

Salgado’s work impacts in many directions. It raises issues on what man is doing to the planet in the form of urbanisation and industrialisation, it reminds us that conservation of the natural world is as equally important as the need to create new towns and cities. It raises the age old dilemma of what should come first, the needs of man or the needs of nature, because man is most comfortable when he creates his own living environment separating himself forever from the natural world.

On another context line is Salgado’s work art? His photographs are beautifully crafted, lovingly printed but they are scenes from nature. In the most basic of terms he was in the right place at the right time to record ‘natures’ show. Ok we could argue that he chose the view point, the day and the time, the camera and the recording medium, but he photographed just what was in front of him, a scene he had little influence over.

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