Camper van visit as part of rural tour | Leah Gordon

We had a visit from Leah Gordon and Annabel Edwards on 29 May as part of their tour exploring the Enclosure Act



The enclosure acts describe the legal process through which common rights over land were terminated and the common land converted to the exclusive property and use of a landowner. This project starts from a belief that a deeper understanding of the enclosure acts, along with the industrial revolution and the American and Caribbean plantation system, is vital to having a critical understanding of the systems and politics that will inhabit now.

After a preliminary research trip in Shropshire, we identified the small pockets of common land that still exist. The stories behind the remaining commons and commoners that held the varied rights presented as an excellent mechanism for understanding the historic legacy of the Enclosure Acts. We started to make contact with people that still had common rights over land and discover how they exercise these rights. We photographed commoners in the common lands where they held rights and interviewed them to hear more about their personal stories, commoners’ status and to discover any historic stories they knew about the land.

The photographs were taken on an analogue medium format camera with black and white film and the subsequent prints are hand-tinted using traditional photographic dyes. We used this process to enliven the landscapes, through colour, with a form of magical realism and invoke the uncanny nature of the land. This serves to highlight a lost deeper, more mystical, often matriarchal and less mercantile connection to the land. It is the breaking of this relationship which Italian feminist historian, Silvia Federici, argues was central to the capitalist expansion of which the Enclosure Act was a dominant apparatus.

Leah Gordon (born 1959 Ellesmere Port) is a photographer, film-maker, curator, collector and writer. In the 1980's she wrote lyrics, sang and played for the feminist folk punk band, 'The Doonicans'. Leah makes work on Modernism and architecture; the slave trade and industrialisation; and grassroots religious, class and folk histories. Gordon’s film and photographic work has been exhibited internationally including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; the Dak’art Biennale; the National Portrait Gallery, UK and the Norton Museum of Art, Florida as well as broadcast on Channel 4, Arte and PBS. Her photography book 'Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti' was published in June 2010. She is the co-director of the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; was a curator for the Haitian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale; was the co-curator of ‘Kafou: Haiti, History & Art’ at Nottingham Contemporary, UK; on the curatorial team for ‘In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st Century Haitian Art’ at the Fowler Museum, UCLA and was the co-curator of 'PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince' at Pioneer Works, NYC in 2018 and MOCA, Miami in 2019. In 2015 Leah Gordon was the recipient of the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Travel Award for Central America and the Caribbean.

Hand-tinting by Marg Duston

In January 2020 GRAIN Projects commissioned 11 photographers to make new work in collaboration with and in response to rural communities and locations cross the Midlands. In the new bodies of work the artists and photographers explore issues of rural life, environments, economics, politics, land use, community, young people and cultural identity against a backdrop of crises of post Brexit agriculture, the global climate emergency and the Covid 19 pandemic.

The projects range from the poetic, documentary, conceptual and archival and demonstrate a range of different approaches to photography about the rural that is not dominated by the picturesque, pastoral or romantic but by important new voices that show the complexities, connections and diversity of the rural landscape, people and places in a state of significant change and decline and our essential and integral relationship with the rural.

The projects culminate in a new publication and a symposium which will provide a platform for sharing the work as well as for presentation and dialogue about the issues and concerns that have been explored and that the work raises.

Writers Camilla Brown and Mark Durden have written essays for the publication and will be speaking at the symposium alongside the artists and photographers.

The artists and photographers are Alannah Cooper, Emily Graham, Guy Martin, Leah Gordon, Marco Kesseler, Matthew Broadhead, Murray Ballard, Navi Kaur, Oliver Udy and Colin Robins, Polly Braden and Sam Laughlin.

The project is supported by Arts Council England and Birmingham City University.


Published: 02.06.2021