Essays and Texts

Ode à Oxford, Le magazine du Monde

C’est la plus ancienne université d’Angleterre. Une véritable institution que la photographe Joanna Vestey a souhaité immortaliser dans toute sa majesté. Seule présence humaine sur ses clichés: des conservateurs, gardiens ou femmes de ménage, personnages perdus dans l’immensité. Comme pour mieux donner l’échelle des ces lieux qui défient le temps. ...

Read the full essay 'Ode à Oxford' article from M Le magazine du Monde, 9 janvier 2016 (PDF, 1.2MB)


Oxford: The Dark Interior

Russell Roberts, 2016

The colleges of Oxford are repeatedly photographed as a backdrop to the swathes of tourists that visit each year. A simple walk down Broad Street for example, can become a complicated dance as you duck and weave your way to avoid disturbing the countless scenarios where people stand momentarily to be pictured in relation to one of the oldest academic institutions in Europe. This visual connection with place that people make through snapshots is often a marker of a personal journey, but it is also a journey through the tourist imagination of Englishness embodied in the stone facades, quadrangles and passages echoed in countless postcards of the City. Such rituals and images are linked to the fast, uncomplicated consumption of Oxford as a particular kind of myth that tells us little about the inner life of its colleges.

Read the full essay Oxford: The Dark Interior (PDF, 36KB)


The Ready at Hand and the Book To Come: Joanna Vestey’s Negotiating an Absence

Duncan Wooldridge

In his infamous analysis of tools, Martin Heidegger drew a distinction between the states of an object being ‘ready at hand’ and ‘present to hand’. His observation, that the ‘ready at hand’ object is one we use without a consciousness of its properties – we only notice a hammer when it fails in its duty – acutely mirrors both the photograph and the book. The technologies and supports of both image and text are things we ignore in the task of gathering information, looking at an image or reading. We might update Heidegger’s observation, however: the ‘ready at hand’ tool also emerges to us when it has been superceded by a new technology with a similar purpose. In the compulsion to see the new as superior, the properties of the old are also revealed.

Read the full essay Negotiating an Absence (PFD, 73KB)


Without Place and Free From Its Origins

Joanna Vestey

Photography may indeed be on the verge of losing its privileged place within modern culture. This does not mean that photographic images will no longer be made, but it does signal the possibility of a dramatic transformation of their meaning and value, and therefore of the medium’s ongoing significance. However, it should be clear that any such shift in significance will be an epistemological affair rather than a simple consequence of the advent of digital imaging.

(Batchen, 1994: 50)

A quotation that I believe remains every bit as relevant for anyone associated with photography to understand today as when he wrote it. ...

Read the full essay Without Place and Free From Its Origins (PDF, 97KB)


Artist Talk - In Conversation With Paul Hobson

Paul Hobson:
Good evening, everyone. I’m Paul Hobson, I’m the director of Modern Art Oxford, I don’t actually direct this gallery but I have my own gallery that some of you will know just in Pembroke Street, and I’m really delighted to be in conversation with Joanna Vestey about some of the ideas arising from these bodies of work here, and it’s my great pleasure and privilege to have been invited to do so." ...

Read the full Artist Talk - In Conversation With Paul Hobson (PDF, 5.1MB)


The Photographing of Spaces of Learning, from Talbot to Höfer -part 1

Joanna Vestey

Oxford, is home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world and has long been a place of interest to image-makers. The picturesque views and architectural gems of the city and its colleges have provided many commercial and artistic opportunities alike. Historical precedents to photographic images of the city can be found in John Bereblock’s (1566-unknown) illustrations in Divinity School and Duke of Humfrey’s Library or David Logann, (1635-1692) engraver to the university, in his Arts End and Selden End works, made at the Bodleian Library. English Romantic landscape painter J.M.W Turner (1775-1851) created several well-known paintings in the city, among them, Tom Tower, Christ Church (1792-1793) and The High Street, Oxford (1810) - views that recur in later photographs. ...

Read the full essay The Photographing of Spaces of Learning, from Talbot to Höfer -part1 (PDF, 469KB)


The Photographing of Spaces of Learning, from Talbot to Höfer -part 2

Joanna Vestey

Both of the series of works that I discuss here, Ross’s Museology (1987) and Höfer’s Libraries (2005), were published in book format. Ross’s Museology (1987) series published as a monograph by Aperture in 1989, is made up of 45 colour, medium-format images, created over 12 years. In contrast, Höfer’s Libraries (2005), published as a book by Thames and Hudson is more encyclopaedic in its extent, containing 137 large format colour images. Where the space of the library is the focus of Höfer’s image making, within Ross’s Museology (1987) the natural history museum lies as his point of focus. Natural history museums throughout the world, from the Museum Nationale d’Histroire Naturelle in Paris and the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to the British Museum in London are explored. ...

Read the full essay The Photographing of Spaces of Learning, from Talbot to Höfer -part2 (PDF, 444KB)


Photography and Conceptual Taxonomies

Joanna Vestey

In The Photographing of Spaces of Learning, from Talbot to Höfer I positioned photography as an organising device through the work of Talbot, described by Russell Roberts as being an extension of the ‘museological dimension’ (Roberts, 1999). Here I move on to present the continuing desire to bring order and thereby meaning into the expanding flux of contemporary visual culture. At the core of my approach is the question of what the work depends on for meaning. I draw on the paradigm shifts that occurred in the 1960s and 70s with the impact of continental philosophy and draw on the work of Foucault and André Malraux (1901-1976) particularly. ...

Read the full essay Photography and Conceptual Taxonomies (PDF, 1.8MB)