Review – Another World Around Us (Urban Arts Studio)

“I was sick of being sick of it,” explains Jonathan Sisson, the filmmaker-turned-photographer behind a collection of shots of Lancashire displayed at Urban Arts Studio in St Annes. Born and raised in Lytham, he aims with these photos to challenge the familiarity – perhaps tedium – of the county’s landscapes.

The lovely, diffident Jonathan, fortuitously braving the Beast from the East to have a fag outside, introduced himself to us as we entered the exhibition’s opening night. He explained that he tries to show the otherworldly in the everyday. The collection has an eerie, extraterrestrial thread, which is especially evident in pictures such as “Vision of a New Horizon” (pictured): the lines of a glowing orange beach curving towards a just-disappeared sun evoke the images of Mars taken from the Viking space probes.

Jonathan’s background as a filmmaker is beguilingly evident. This is both in technical terms – the lenses he uses are similar to those used for motion pictures, adding extra depth to the photographs – and in the presentation of the exhibition; the photos bear grand, epic captions reminiscent of book and film titles.

He reminds us that Tolkien used Lancashire, especially the Ribble Valley and the Forest of Bowland, as inspiration for the mystical setting of Middle Earth. In the image “Devil’s Reef”, where flat water pooled on the beach at low tide reflects the bleached clouds, Jonathan envisions the home of cosmic Lovecraftian creatures.

The exhibition is clearly conceived by Jonathan as a coherent narrative – a hero’s journey. For him, the images are settings. His opening shot is “Field Under a Sky of Dreams”, a gorgeous verdant landscape, where pale hills blending into the muted sky give the impression of being underwater. His villain’s lair is “Tower on the Edge of Forever”, an intriguing concrete structure leaning disinterestedly towards a deserted, greyish beach. “Sea Walkers”, where the portrait orientation gives a sense of the vastness of the striped hoary sky, serves as the closing scene.

Another World Around Us is At Urban Arts Studio St Annes, until 31st March.

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