Sharon Harvey: Photographer

Artist Feature / LucyCheseldine

Sharon Harvey is a photographer who undertook a BA (Hons) Fine Art, Printmaking & Photomedia at Central St Martins College of Art & Design, London. Sharon has exhibited extensively in Leeds, London and Melbourne. Her images have been reproduced in various publications and photobooks including Northern Gothic (2014), Ultraviolet (2014), Black and White Photography Magazine (2012) and Lenscratch (2013), an online contemporary photography blogzine.  She works with a range of photographic processes that enable the materiality of the resulting photographs to become apparent.

For example the image below, Reach, is a cyanotype – a process that uses two chemicals: ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide. These are applied to an absorbent surface such as watercolour paper, which is then in conjunction with a stencil exposed to ultraviolet light and fixed with water. The materials and techniques employed enhance the physical properties of the artefact. The grain of the paper and the irregular tonality of the blue work towards a final image that is fixed with the magical properties of the photographic process as opposed to a digital one. The subject shows a person reaching towards a book, stored on a library shelf. The light picks out the texture of the books, hand and arm. The folds and creases of the shirt are similarly illuminated. The timeless humanity of the image is strangely moving, as this picture could have been made in 2014 or in 1914.

Sharon Harvey, 'Reach'. Cyanotype, 2014. Copyright the artist.

Sharon Harvey, ‘Reach’. Cyanotype, 2014. Copyright the artist.

I usually shoot with Ilford FP4 or HP5 black and white film, 120 or 35mm. I prefer an intuitive and experimental approach so use Pinhole, Holga and an old Pentax K1000 camera. My favourite would have to be my Zero Image 2000 Pinhole Camera, beautiful wood and brass, medium format. A Christmas gift from my husband. Prior to that I used a round biscuit tin. (Harvey, 2015).

Sharon is clearly fulfilled by the making and crafting possibilities inherent in photography, as well as the refining of an aesthetically pleasing image. This  enhances the object nature of wet photography as well as the magical properties of light. Although Sharon has mastery over these techniques she also gives the image over to the unexpected . She explores the inconstancies that natural phenomenon contribute to any act of creativity. Thus areas may be blurred, ghostly and evocative of the ‘ectoplasm photographs’ of Victorian spiritualism. Grimes has commented on the new photographic technologies of the 1880s and 1890s, discussions of `imponderable fluids’ like ectoplasm blur distinctions between the material and the immaterial, since ectoplasm can both be visible and invisible, tangible, and intangible’ (1).

Sharon Harvey, 'Forest Hut'. Hand-developed silver gelatin print, 2011. Copyright the artist.

Sharon Harvey, ‘Forest Hut’. Hand-developed silver gelatin print, 2011. Copyright the artist.

In Forest Hut, Sharon captures a black and white image of a dilapidated building, lost within a chaos of encroaching branches that threaten to subsume it.  Overlaying the subject are marks left by the artistic process. The veil of gossamer, through which we see the forest and hut, increases the layered texture of the picture. Through the power of suggestion of form and object, it adds an uncanny aspect to the image.

I draw inspiration from the dark-side. The otherworldly and uncanny, to be found in books, films and other artists/photographers work. (Harvey, 2015).

‘Uncanny’ literally means ‘unhomely’ (2) and what could be more uninviting than the apparently abandoned, deteriorating shell presented to us in Forest Hut? It is a dwelling place that could once have been home to a forester or hermit, but is now left lingering in an unresolved yet quietly picturesque solitude. It is this sense of ambiguity that overwhelms the photograph. The felled trees that disturb our visual path to the hut unsettle the distinction between life and death. It is unclear whether the twigs are green with sap or as grey as dried up kindle. Freud (1919, p.241), states that ‘the uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression’ (3). Does this image rouse in us a repressed fear of death and decay or that we can become homeless and friendless?

Moving closer to a more stable idea of landscape and home, a seascape reveals Sharon’s love of Yorkshire:

I love walking in the countryside, Yorkshire is beautiful! The forests and woodlands are magical. Timeless, otherworldly, beautiful and uncanny places. (Harvey, 2015).

Sharon Harvey, 'Thornwick Bay 2:55pm'. Pinhole photograph, 2014. Copyright the artist.

Sharon Harvey, ‘Thornwick Bay 2:55pm’. Pinhole photograph, 2014. Copyright the artist.

Thornwick Bay 2:55pm was part of a series of seascapes commissioned by Fuse Art Space, Bradford. The techniques and processes used here disrupt the supposed ‘realism’ of photography. This image could be a drawing or a print stylised by the polarisation of the light and dark. Here, the motion of the sea water has been frozen in the foam and froth that caress the rocks.  Inherent in all of the images under discussion has been the signification of time. Time as a constant; time as destructive; time as human activity. The cliffs and rocks are weathered and eroded by millennia of shifting tides; this motion has been frozen through Sharon’s art of photography. This evokes another repressed fear; the smallness of human endeavour in relation to the power of the natural world. It also rejoices in the mysterious delights of a landscape that we have the capacity to imagine through artistic ability – as Harvey does – opening up voids to the impossible.

(1) Grimes, H. Late Victorian Gothic: mental science, the uncanny and scenes of writing. Glasgow. 2006. p3.
(2) Freud, S. The ‘Uncanny’. 1919. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (1917-1919): An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, 217-256. p219.
(3) Freud, S. The ‘Uncanny’. 1919. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (1917-1919): An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, 217-256. p240.

For further information about the artist:

Upcoming events:
– Solo exhibition: The Gallery @ Woodend, Scarborough. 20th June – 18th July 2015.
– A copy of ‘Forest Hut’ is set to appear within Katherine April’s ‘Breathing into Bloom’ at The White Room, York, during April 2015.

Samantha Broadhead