Liza Dracup

Ideas Series: Liza Dracup

In 2007 Impressions Gallery opened its new purpose built venue in Bradford with Sharpe’s Wood, an exhibition by Bradford born and bred Liza Dracup.

Liza is a landscape photographer whose work draws on British landscape and often on the distinctiveness of West Yorkshire’s woods, rivers and most recently wildlife.

Ever since she can remember, Liza has been attracted to the mystery of the woods and fascinated by their perceived magical realism. Sharpe’s Wood is a cherished place; a place where she used to play as a child. Liza used her intimate knowledge of ‘her’ wood to make a series of photographs that are capture the rhythm and pace of the night.

Shot only between the hours after sunset and before sunrise Sharpe’s Wood is the very essence of photography – that is, time and light. It is this recording of light, and sometimes the lack of it, that defines the work.

We all have nyctalopia, or to give it its non-medical name – night blindness. Our eyes limited vision means we are ill equipped to see deep into the dark. Shadows are rendered sooty black, flat and one-dimensional. The camera
understands more than us. The camera becomes our looking glass. Dracup has made images from the night rendering what she calls “making the invisible visible”.

We are not passive consumers of landscapes images. Our sense of our own memory is implicated in how we respond to the photographs in Sharpe’s Wood. Consequently, the location of these woods is of secondary importance – these are any woods, anywhere. The photographs tap into the powerful psychological workings of age-old stories. These are the woods of Little Red Riding Hood…if you go down to the woods today you are in for a big surprise…we only have to consider how the low budget horror film The Blair Witch Project entered our collective psyche to know that this is the territory in which our imagination is unleashed.Yet, the photographs of Sharpe’s Wood can also be described as beautiful.

Speaking of beauty has not been particularly popular or fashionable in recent discussions about photography. The concept of beauty can be problematic and heavily laden. Few of us believe in the notion of ‘beauty in itself’. We
know to ask ourselves questions but that should not stop us, instead it helps us to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of Sharpe’s Wood. We can see the intensity of what we cannot ordinarily see – the golden hues on the bark of the beech wood trees; the turquoise glows of the moonlight seeping into the edge of the photographs.

Since Impressions commissioned Sharpe’s Wood Liza has gone on to make two new substantial bodies of work. Chasing the Gloaming (2011) was her response to the moonlit oil paintings by legendary Victorian artist Atkinson Grimshaw.

These photographs, taken at that point of fading light just after sunset and just before the dark, depict rivers, woodlands and the Yorkshire coast as ethereal and otherworldly places. For Re: Collections (2013) Liza worked with the quirky Natural Sciences Collection, housed by Bradford Museums and Galleries. Originally collected for their scientific value, Dracup worked with these taxidermy specimens to present studies that “questions our own personal relationship to British wildlife and its conservation.”

Whilst, both of these projects are powerful, strong and alluring bodies of work, Sharpe’s Wood is ‘the one that got away’. For me, it is more than a document of the appearance of woods. These photographs locate us firmly within a twilight zone of psyche and memory. Here we must confront our fears. In my mind, the wolf is dead and we all live happily ever after.

Liza Dracup’s work can be viewed on her website www.lizadracup.co.uk