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Caught in the fabric of world landscape and documentary, a dialogic practice

Holt, Jenny (2017) Caught in the fabric of world landscape and documentary, a dialogic practice. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This practice-led research investigates the artistic practice of documentary filmmaking as a means to explore tensions of place and visuality in landscapes of the South Pennines in the north of England. Created through an iterative process of practice-led and theoretical research, the thesis comprises four films: The North Wind (2013, 6’), Uplands (2014, 11’), Archipelago (2016, 19’), and Crossing (2017, 7’), and a written exegesis. The research addresses the dialectic between landscape’s visual epistemology and dynamic human-centred senses of place. Tensions between the ‘frame’ as a ‘bounded’ world of vision and place as dynamic and mobile engenders, and is developed through, an artistic documentary film practice that is processual and emergent (Hongisto 2015, MacDougall 2014), bringing pictorial and phenomenological concepts of landscape into a new relationship. The research is critically underpinned by Merleau-Ponty’s concept of ‘flesh’ (1968) as a means through which a ‘chiasm’ or ‘crossing over’ between concepts and experiences of place in the research location, and methods of artistic practice which explore and mediate themes of place, is created. An approach to film practice as ‘process’ has engendered a methodology of filmmaking as ‘weaving’ as a generative ontology of ‘making’, in which form ‘unfurls from within’ (Ingold 2005). This concept of weaving analogises the overarching filmmaking process, as well as becoming a means to navigate tensions of place in the landscape as a dynamic ‘play of forces’. Meanings of place in the South Pennines, a region of gritstone moorland straddling the Yorkshire-Lancashire border in the north of England, are central to the research. I argue that distinct tensions of landscape in the South Pennines - a pastoral ‘wilderness’ tied to northern England’s industrial histories - are pivotal to its ‘specific ambience’ (Ingold 1993) as a site of dwelling. Entangled senses of place generating themes of place and landscape in each of the films, interact with a development of practice methods, producing an approach to ‘form’ and ‘content’ that is reciprocal and interdependent. I argue that this triangulation of documentary filmmaking and landscape via theories of embodiment advances a critical understanding of filmic tensions of place and landscape. Valuable insights are also gained into processual and material approaches to documentary film, and film practice as a form of knowledge creation about experiences and senses of place and landscape.

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