Photographer explores the Gunpowder Mills photographically and launches Powder series

July 14, 2015

Featured today is photographer Sarah Deane and her project Powder which will launch at the Royal Gunpowder Mills on Tuesday.

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Please introduce yourself: who are you, where are you based and what do you do?

I’m Sarah Deane and I’m based in London, where I’m studying photography at the Open College of the Arts. I also work as a photographer and social media manager.

How did you get into photography?

I studied art at school and later started experimenting with photography. I’m not particularly interested in gadgets but I do find the relationship that we have with photography fascinating. Photography is associated with the truth, reality and the present, and I like to challenge that whenever possible.

Please give us some background information about your project Powder.

The landscape is the silent witness that fortifies histories, maintains boundaries and offers traces of evidence in its many layers.

Having grown up in a rural part of the West of Ireland where a troubled history lies dormant in the land, a natural curiosity was awoken about the hidden side of conflict. Entrenched in the topography is a complex story of resistance and re-settlement, of famine and exile.

My interest in the Board of Ordnance sites across the United Kingdom, particularly in the Lee Valley where I live, spans a number of years. This interest developed further when I started working as a volunteer at The Royal Gunpowder Mills Archive.

Throughout 2014, I photographed The Royal Gunpowder Mills site, exploring the structures and archaeology that remain long after its days as a site of manufacture. Although the landscape is silent, it hints at a turbulent past and at untold narratives that are unveiled discreetly.

Powder explores the remnants of the manufacture of explosives at The Mills together with the concept of the land as witness.  By adopting a contemporary approach to conflict photography, I have been able to trace aspects of the unseen experience and of the hidden battle fought on the Home Front – the unfamiliar side of conflict.

What inspires you?

I tend to read a lot and I have a budding collection of photobooks. When I first saw Simon Norfolk’s work For Most of It I Have No Words: Genocide, Landscape and Memory it had a profound effect on me and challenged the way in which I see conflict and work as a photographer.

More recently, I have been fascinated by Marc Wilson’s The Last Stand which focuses on coastal defence structures in Northern Europe. It’s amazing to see the layers of history that is contained within the land.

Let us know more about any upcoming exhibitions.

Powder will be exhibited at the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey from 23 July to 31 August, opening daily from 10.00 to 17.00.

There is an Admission Fee for The Royal Gunpowder Mills £9.75 Adult; £7.75 for children.  Concessions available.  Note: this is not just to see my exhibition but to access all events and facilities on site.

What’s the next step?

I have started a new project based on the volunteers at the Royal Gunpowder Mills. They are an exceptional bunch of people that give up a lot of their free time to ensure the site remains open to the public. Many of them have worked on the site when it was a government research facility, and they offer a unique insight into the work that was carried out there.

Sarah Deane


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