Simply, by throwing rocks into the sky and photographing them at striking locations, David Quentin, a London-based photographer, created the distinctive @_RocksInTheSky project. It began as an impulse and has built by snapping rocks suspended in the air across the British Isles and elsewhere on his travels in North America and Scandinavia. The result is the deceptive impression of Roger Dean-style floating rock formations. So David Quentin brings Roger Dean to our world!
What does this do for me? It is certainly beautiful and equally unsettling photography. It can also be funny.
For Quentin, it is about creating something ‘alien’ and ‘unfamiliar’. I think this simple practice alerts the viewer to dimensions and gravity by creating an allusion of scale and also of a stasis in time. It is about sky, but also about drawing attention to the materiality of the earth – its rocks and soils. Quentin pays careful attention to the geology being deployed in relaton to landscape, its age included.
In these ways, perhaps these photographs make us look at landscapes afresh by introducing something incongruous and alien. Maybe also it draws attention to the passage of time at particular locations and landscapes but alerting us both to a split second in which the image is taken, contrasted against the deep-time processes captured in the landscape itself. Elevating geology also evokes the passage of time in itself.
I wonder whether there are both light-hearted and more serious possibilities of adapting this for public engagement in archaeological sites and monuments? There are two sides to this.
First, there is the throwing of things other than rocks. Why not throw material culture that derives from, or resonates with, the landscape being photographed? This might not necessarily be precious ancient artefacts that might be damaged by slinging them around of course! But certainly fragments of common archaeological objects thrown above grass or other soft surfaces, or modern items with an archaeological theme, could be deployed in this fashion.
Likewise, I wonder whether I could take this practice on tour as a distinctive way of photographing ancient monuments, cemeteries and other archaeological landscapes? If so, might I have stumbled on a new way of engaging people in archaeological sites thanks to David Quentin? Certainly David has already made connections to place, but also to prehistoric monuments via his Twitter feed including Ciarn De Barnenez (Brittany), the Hoar Stone (Gloucestershire) and the Dorchester Cursus (Dorset). He also jokes that a nodule thrown about a Kent beach is the ‘famous Venus of Ramsgate’ and does actually photograph at least one cemetery/churchyard scene with a floating rock.
Archaeology is all about interactions between people and landscape. This might be a specific further way to consider how people move artefacts, their attention to celestial bodies and the heavens, towards weather, seasons and climate, towards the elements. Indeed, given that funerary monuments are all about being framed by, and interacting with the sky and perceived otherworldly realms, this might be a simple strategy of alerting people to mortuary links between the sky and the ground, and the things/materials/stones from the place photographed.
So this afternoon I tried it out a few times. With the help of my son, and only going outside near my house, I used a stone slab, a fragment of 19th-century pottery, a plastic skeleton, and a polystyrene Hallowe’en skull to see if my rapid snapping could produce results. Nowhere near good enough perhaps as the great Quentin, but certainly ok as first attempts I think!
Next step – taking ‘Archaeology in the Sky’ on tour…