Photographs copyright of Steve Pyke and courtesy of Nazraeli Press
Upon looking at Steve Pyke’s recent published body of work, Earthward, published by Nazraeli Press, I immediately thought of the earlier found still life photographs of Irving Penn. Both photographers have created a new context for their found subjects when isolating from their normal environmental states. I believe it was Owen Edwards, when earlier discussing Penn’s photographs, wrote
“the purpose of the still life is to allow us time to contemplate the beauty of objects by holding them aloof from time”
There is something beautiful about these basic landscaping tools when held “aloof.” Perhaps beyond the strangeness of some of them, not the ones I usually see the in neighborhood gardening supply store. These are photographs of worn tools, held and handled repeatedly to complete utilitarian tasks. Likewise, these implements were designed and manufactured for some very specific tasks, with design following function. The names of these tools, provided in the accompanying captions, also provide a sense of speculation: Emmet Cutter, Newcastle Draining Tool, Whimble, Garden Dibbler, Mattock or Tybill.
For some of these hand tool photographs, they evoke recent memories of planting rose bushes and ground cover. They recall the smell of warm, pugent earth, or the physical impact of digging through the dirt. Maybe these photographs recall earlier days visiting the family at the farm, the smell of cut hay or strolling through the barns and sheds. These tools have many memories as well, as evident of patina of age or the scars resulting from heavy use. Thus they have become part of recorded history, reflecting the hand of man, hard labor and surrogates for the land itself.
These words are from the publisher, and express my sentiments exactly, thus worth repeating;
Their handles and prongs are beautifully worn, perfectly in keeping with the hard work and dedication involved in the making of this universally admired landscape. So much of what we see in the workplace today is about distancing ourselves from the end result of our labors; these garden tools, although depicted on their own, against a pale backdrop, convey an intense sense of physical engagement.
Due to the method of photographing these tools, Pyke has created objects that are devoid of scale, even if we think we know how large they are. But many of these tools are still difficult to decipher, which allows us to look at them for what they are, and appreciate their lines, mass, shape and textures. Like the earlier work of both Penn and Avedon, these are stark and direct photographs – uncompromising.
The casebound book, with a tipped in image, measures a nicely sized 9 x 12″, with 50 duotone beautifully printed plates on 64 pages, with an edition of 1,000 copies in 2008. The introduction was written by Fergus Garrett, Head Gardner, Great Dexter, where these tools remain.
Best regards, Douglas Stockdale