Richard Long

Richard Long (1997): A Walk Across England: Hong Kong: Thames and Hudson
John Berger(2013):Understanding A Photograph: Great Britain: Penguin
Sean O’Hagan “One Step Beyond” interview with Richard Long (
Clarrie Wallis talk on Richard Long

I first became aware of Richard Long when I was given his book ‘A Walk Across England’ as a present many years ago. I have always liked the playfulness in the photographs and captions here. Although many have quite literal captions, there are others where the caption fixes the scene with something else that is not depicted (e.g. A distant sound of rolling thunder’ as the caption for a photograph of open countryside with some clouds in the distance). I did not realise for a long time after receiving this book that he was a well-known artist anyway, and only became aware of his other sculpture much later on.

Richard Long is concerned that his work should disturb the natural environment as little as possible. Any materials he uses should be as much as possible sourced from the immediate area he is working in.  As is mentioned in the course notes, he wants to distance himself from earth art practitioners such as Robert Smithson because this type of work is intended as permanent constructions. In many cases Long’s work will disappear quickly (such as ‘A Line Made by Walking’), but even with the more robust pieces he leaves it to chance as to whether the object itself remains or is altered by weather, animals, or people.

At the end of the Clarrie Wallis talk an observation is made by an audience member regarding the connection between the transient nature of his outdoors work, and the implied transience of exhibition pieces. This seems an important point as although many exhibition sculptures and installations are of necessity temporary, in Long’s case this temporariness is very much part of the work.

How does his sculpture relate to photography though? In a lot of his – in particular early – work the only evidence it ever existed at all is in a photograph. But the photograph is not the thing itself, only a memento, a reminder of the thing at a point in time. John Berger says “A photograph, while recording what has been seen, always and by its nature records what is not seen. It isolates, preserves and presents a moment taken from a continuum”. Although this is true of photographs in general, it seems particularly apt in Long’s case. He says in Sean O’Hagan’s interview he is not interested in ephemerality or transience. His only concern is the work at the time he constructs it, so that for him it exists only at a point in time anyway. A photograph of the work is maybe closer  to being able to show his intentions to the world than most other sculptors.

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