Interview: Dawn Jutton, The Poetry of Photography
Constantly framing the landscape visually – making compositions. The rhythm of the walking creates the rhythm of the words.
For fine art photographer Dawn Jutton, the visual and the literary are intimately intertwined. However, it is only in recent years that she has fully embraced the written aspect of her work, accepted the moniker of poet alongside that of artist, and started to explore how her writing and images are linked through her photography and artistic practice.
Part of my own creative journey is predicated on the notion that you shouldn’t be pigeonholed into one form of artistic output. It is a mission statement of this blog, to embrace all aspects and outputs of the creative life. I was interested, then, to talk to an artist who has started to explore these two creative outputs and question how they are dependent upon one another.
‘The two things happen simultaneously; the visual composition and the words to describe them’ she explains. Her ideas, she tells me, are always at their most fluent when she is out walking and traversing the urban or country terrain. Many of these walks are accompanied by her faithful dog, Flynn, a staple at her photographic studio in Stafford, and the images she captures are often taken on these daily excursions.
Despite the familiar subject matter, Jutton would not describe herself as a ‘landscape photographer’, rather a fine artist who takes inspiration from the landscape. The statements that she makes with her work are not about the landscape itself, at least not in the traditional sense, and are not trying to invoke the notion of the sublime.
Thorough fares and the way we imprint ourselves on the landscape. Even when out in the wilderness it’s still a guided walk that we follow. I am trying to subvert that and go deeper.
Jutton states that people have commented on the stillness and the emptiness of her photographic work. ‘It’s what I feel in the moment’ she says, ‘there is not a predetermined idea, I just respond to what’s in front of me.’
Often the phrases and words that she finds in these moments are part of this response. Sometimes their connection to her work may not be immediately apparent, and these ideas she describes as ‘parked’ somewhere in her mind, ‘it may take some time, but eventually I’ll come back to them.’
Part of this process is also reliant on an element of repetition. As any dog owner will know, you often tread the same paths on multiple occasions. However, this is never an issue for Jutton’s artistic response to the place, ‘I can go back to the same place and respond differently. Responding to what is on my doorstep is more important than travelling to different places.’
Part of this preoccupation with place and situation within the environment is rooted in her childhood. With her Father in the RAF, Jutton spent much of her youth moving around and lived in many different places throughout the world. As such, she tells me, ‘fixing in one place became very important as a teenager, which was also the point that I took up photography.’
Perhaps it is this remnant of adolescent displacement that resonates within the emptiness described in her photographic work. Jutton describes how there is a feeling of being on the periphery of the landscape itself, ‘a voyeur, just walking through temporarily. I don’t live in it or connect with it.’ An aspect of these feelings, she tells me, is almost impossible to capture within a photograph. Being present in the landscape evokes so many senses and emotions that a purely visual medium cannot truly connect with.
Unconcerned with decoding Stafford’s past, the dog drives us on through silver guiding gates, his excitement tapped out in a random rhythm on the thin ice. – excerpt from Doxey Marshes, Dawn Jutton
This disconnect is where her poetic narratives come in. They are ever present throughout her work, and even Jutton’s sketchbooks are littered with the odd phrase or musing in response to an image she has taken. In this respect she is constantly questioning what she is creating and responding to, and what the possibility for the next image is.
Yet, her artistic process is not just confined to photography and writing. She often draws the images that she has taken, ‘it is a thought process. It helps to think about what the photograph is about.’ There is a constant conversation between image and text throughout her sketchbooks; one informing another and vice-versa.
Just as the words find meaning within the images she takes, so too does the visual influence her writing. ‘In my mind when I am writing it is visual, but not my own photography’ she explains. The poems are not a descriptive act of narrative about a particular image but a response, and conversely for the reader, a trigger, to the complete experience of moving through the landscape. While photography is an immediate response to the landscape, the poetry is an attempt to recapture the feeling of being there.
In this respect Jutton can find constant inspiration and affinity with the landscape. The changing seasons, weather, light, general change in the landscape over time, and her own frame of mind, ensure that these responses are constantly in flux.
I’m just a go between, things discover me, I don’t discover them. But in them I can find myself and grow. Raymond Chandler
After many years as an art lecturer, Jutton, has a keen knowledge of art history and this also informs her work. The above Chandler quote she states particularly resonates with her and her approach to photography. Other influences are wide, and varied. She often cites artists from a range of mediums, not limited to photography, such as Howard Hodgkin and the sense of what is beyond the frame as influential upon her work.
Occasionally these artistic and intellectual connections are retrospective. Recently being compared to Raymond Moore has helped her to gain a new perspective of her work. As has the book Edgelands by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley. ‘Work I have an affinity with helps to understand my work, but I don’t actively seek influences. It’s more intuitive’ she states.
Her influences, then, just as her response to the landscape, is reciprocal – a continued conversation that weaves and meanders to varying conclusions. Currently she is working on a number of different outcomes and resolutions for pieces, both in photography and poetry, that have the same place as an inspiration. It is fascinating and inspiring work – the notion that one place can inspire such a range of artistic responses.
Finally, I ask if there will ever be any incorporation of the written text within her photographic projects as a culmination of the two mediums that she is working in. It is something that she is questioning, yet the result would never be a simple as a photograph to illustrate a poem. They represent ‘different times and places, they are not co-dependent on one another.’ Perhaps this will be resolved in the future, but for the time being both her poetry and photography work as separate strands of one artistic practice. If there is ever a need to bring them together, Jutton will find it, perhaps in the middle of a long autumnal walk across the Staffordshire marshes. But for the time being, this is one artist who is embracing the different sides of her creative space.
Dawn Jutton’s work will be part of the exhibition DUST from 9th-20th December, at Longton Town Hall, Stoke-on-Trent. One of Jutton’s poems has been featured recently in The Poetry of Staffordshire, which includes contributions from Roger Elkin, Jean Sprackland and Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, published by Offa Press. Other poetic musings can be found here.
Her award-winning photograph, ‘Lichfield Cathedral Interior (in homage to Turner)’, will be part of an exhibition at Lichfield Cathedral next summer and shown alongside a recently donated painting by JMW Turner.