Darren Harvey-Regan’s photobook The Erratics is a multi-layered and complex investigation into stone, rock and chalk – natural elements that stand in as metaphor for memory. There are two main visual methods for the book. The first method is to photograph large stone formations in the Egyptian desert. The second consists of pieces of chalk Harvey-Regan found in the south of England, transported back into his London studio and then photographed on a plinth. The photographs are contextualized by Harvey-Regan’s own writing in this beautifully designed and crafted book.
Although the subject matter of chalk and rock bears some similarities, Harvey-Regan photographs them in radically different ways. The rock formations in Egypt are photographed in the matter-of-fact style reminiscent of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s typologies such as their renowned Water Tower series. In these photographs from Egypt there is an emphasis on objectivity and photographic realism. This methodology makes the rock formations appear like monuments, towering over the desert landscape. The unusual shape of the rocks invites the viewer to read them like objects that signify something other: the profile of a head, an animal, or the phallus. The irony here is that the work is photographed objectively, though the reading of the photographs is very much subjective.
Harvey-Regan’s photographs of Egypt feed into a larger discourse of colonialism whereby the misappropriation of foreign treasures was underpinned by photographic works depicting these new lands from a European perspective. Egypt in particular was a prime target during British explorations and photography quickly became a trusted method to document, catalogue and archive areas of interest. Harvey-Regan’s work, whilst not directly linking to this colonial past, functions as a reminder of this powerful link between colonialism and photography’s ability to ‘capture’.
The second photographic methodology brings the artist closer to home when he collected pieces of chalk and photographed them on a plinth in his studio. Once removed from their natural setting and situated within the artist’s studio, the chalk assumes a strange new identity as an object that needs to be studied and looked at similar to a bust. In addition to that Harvey-Regan sculpted three-dimensional geometric shapes into the chalk. This is one of the major differences to the work from Egypt as the artist reaches beyond the frame to change what is depicted within it. Another aspect to this work is that the shapes carved into the chalk do not just correspond, but they precisely align with the representation of the plinth the chalk is resting on. This alignment between the carvings and the plinth is reliant on the camera assuming the perfect vantage point. In other words, the relationship between object, plinth and camera must perfectly match in order for the visual effect to work. This is a very smart and carefully considered approach.
All the work in the book, indeed the book as well, are different shades of grey. As a consequence the viewer is tempted to see this as abstraction: not just what is depicted in the photographs but other aspects such as the image layout and the text as well. Like one of Harvey-Regan’s pieces of chalk resting on the very edge of a plinth, the interplay between image and text as well as objectivity and subjectivity is finely balanced in this book.
– reviewed for Photomonitor by Marco Bohr
For further reading:
Darren Harvey-Regan’s The Erratics is detailed on the artist’s website here
An interview with Darren about this project by Naomi Itami can be found here.