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Alan's Cow, 1986 - Tom Wood Alan's Cow, 1986 - Tom Wood

David Sinden finds his expectations challenged by Tom Wood's poignant landscapes when he reviewed a less-seen body of work by a prolific photographerat the Turner House Gallery in Penarth

I first came across Tom Wood when I showed his exhibition Looking for Love in the early nineties. I was struck by the immediacy and directness of his work and by the way his images so readily conjured up the experience of city night life not the glitz and glamour of newspaper society pages or clubbing reviews, but the edgy anticipation of nights out and the hopes and disappointments so often played out in pubs and clubs across the land through the capture of nuanced looks and an almost desperate, small scale hedonism.

It was with some surprise then that I encountered this exhibition of landscapes, largely from Ireland and North Wales, by a photographer that I have always associated with a gritty, very urban Merseyside.Comprising several bodies of work produced over a period of some forty years, it begins in gallery one of Ffotogallery sTurner House space with a series of images shot in the West of Ireland (Wood s original home). Mixing colour and black and white, they explore themes of community, belonging, migration and a sense of place in an old, largely rural landscape. This is not just some euphoric elegy to the past, though. Key perhaps to an understanding of this work is a photograph, titledThe History of Ireland , of two old men watching people disembark from a passenger jet. This picture is set in juxtaposition with an arrangement of rural landscape images. Many of the other photographs in this first room are shot on roadsides as if always justpassing through . The effect is more than a travelogue. It s a poignant testament of an insider turned outsider, able to pick up on the nuances of a landscape that seems to exist in its own time and alive to the undercurrents of change that have swept across the country in recent decades.

Pen Y Cefn Road, 2004 - Tom Wood Pen Y Cefn Road, 2004 - Tom Wood

In gallery two, the mood seems to shift as we encounter images recording urban and domestic details, predominantly in Merseyside and Wales. Garden paths, playgrounds and suburban details form a visual backdrop to a series of cluttered, panoramic-format, colour interiors, which conjure up associations with renaissance altar pieces or classical friezes (though, an essay by curator Mark Durden cogently argues that they remain closer to 17th century Dutch interior paintings in their elevation of the minutiae of everyday existence). They seem to serve as memorials to lives well-lived by Hazel, to Aggie or to Idris who, according to the title,lived happily and wasfantastic at hedge laying, stone-walling, anything with horses . These images are crowded with memories and associations, and, although few people actually appear in any of the photographs in the exhibition, they resonate with an almost tangible human warmth that permeates these small-scale vistas. Where people do appear in this room, they seem so transitory or impermanent browsing a cluttered, ramshackle car boot sale or passively watching on a street corner.

Achill Red (between Dugourt and Keel), 1990  - Tom Wood Achill Red (between Dugourt and Keel), 1990 - Tom Wood

In the upstairs gallery, we are presented with a series of panoramic format images, largely, though by no means exclusively, in colour. These are not sweeping vistas or majestic grand vistas, though. They are richly detailed vignettes of an agricultural landscape; carefully framed records of the edges and borders, where the tension between a tamed, farmed countryside meeting the lush exuberance of a native flora creates a tapestry of form and colour. They could be read as formal, aesthetic explorations: experiments in photographic composition and tonal rendition. Yet, when seen in the context of the very human landscapes and domestic interiors of the downstairs galleries, it s hard not to see them as an expression of a deep, underlying belief in an exuberant arcadia that exists in an older, more primal state. In these images, nature always seems poised to quietly reclaim the frame.

A final, single display case contains a series of four old, black and white (one of them is even sepia!) photographs of scenes of life in rural Ireland. Their titles hint at tantalising personal stories: Political Movement/Procession, or the wonderfully named The Great Aunts Never Married, Played Violin for Queen Victoria, Buried in Unmarked Graves. Seen in a room where you are surrounded by colour images of the modern countryside, they inevitably provide a poignant coda to the exhibition: a reminder that human activity is so transient and that we live in the wake of earlier times.David Sinden

Aggie's Bedroom, 2013  -Tom Wood Aggie's Bedroom, 2013 -Tom Wood

 

Tom WoodLandscapes was at Ffotogallery, Turner House, Penarth between 6-27 September 2014. It is a touring exhibition produced by Oriel Mostyn in partnership with Ffotogallery and Aberystwyth Arts Centre. It will also be shown at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in early 2015.