Liz Orton

Liz Orton recently visited and gave an in depth lecture on her work, this was very informative and opened up a new side of working with photography that I hadn’t seen before.

Orton was a researcher for 15 years, before she became a photographer. Research space became problematic however she became interested in the visual aspects within this field. She gave people cameras as part of her research however this changed into becoming a body of work. It provided a shift in the power balance and Orton feels as though this practice was thoughtful as she found it difficult to photograph people and questioned the ethics of photographing people. She did this for about 10 years.

Her boyfriend at the time sparked interests which led to her taking photographs again, she saw some work that he was developing about extinct species, specifically plants. This provided a trace of the past, which fascinated Orton. This led to looking at a Herbarium and she started to produce work now. ‘The herbarium was universal as it represents everything in nature, finding plants produce a physical archive. The physical organisation reflects the biological organisation within the plants.’ This project was called splitters and lumpers, this relates to the botanists and areas within this field. She worked with the plants and materials that were not in system within the herbarium, whether this not be filed yet or organised and placed into its specific area. This project was shot in medium format and held around 20 images, Orton only showed us a small selection of images from this as she only went briefly into this project, with the final prints permanently on display at the herbarium.

She was asked to do more and the herbarium, therefore she moved and began looking at homes, so very unsatisfactory to Orton as it felt documented however they did not say anything. Effectively she set up her own palm department, effectively her own herbarium in image form. She used her own criteria and invented a system to hold the 4000 images of palms, people also have started to begin to give their images of palms to Orton, therefore expanding this catalogue. What forms of knowledge were valid question of method, the place was not overly happy with this result as it didn’t benefit them or provide any scientific value. Tensions of artisan scientists, art illustrates and amplifies what science is doing.

She then went on to photograph Epping Forest, as she had spent very long time here previously. She began to delete images as they all became or felt inadequate as they were not showing anything. She then went on to look at the mission statement for the poorest, it originated to reinforce and reintroduce years for mediaeval time, Orton went on to find people that were working in carrying out the work and photograph this. She created her own tree actions to effectively go on and undoing what they were doing, showing that is the work necessary. It posed questions of the language of the authenticity of the image.

She began collecting Crom Cards, approximately 500, then went on to hand make colleges, she categorised them then reconstructed these into a wheel, almost like a colour wheel showing the difference each location had, ordering of space. She did her thesis on the horizon and the I reconfigured the horizon and stuck in the old athletics. Aesthetics is often what people are drawn to as they are pretty, she whips out her work at this as she doesn’t want to see them as pretty or hanging in a hotel room but she wants and to be seen the concept behind the work and the theme of the ground is still there.

Orton then went on to show us a short film which she feels is complete and hasn’t quite worked out the small niggles that make this work incomplete, in her eyes. She used a cherry picker and the movements of the cherry picker going up through the canopy of the trees to explore the lines of the vertical and horizontal potentially exploring time and space. Orton wants to make us question how we would think differently on the on the ground and we are when we are not on the ground, however she has nothing conclusive to say as it is still a work in progress.

Handful of soil for the whole horizon – is a book that Orton made an explores that the themes that have dimensions before also this shows the struggle of photographing in the forest. It often depicts people holding specimens that would be featured in booklets and leaflets and guides about the forest. She wanted to strip away the science, to see what it would look like without the knowledge, effectively removing the context. She likes the idea of the transition, a movement of an image. She works with material such as guides and used the images of other people to inspire ideas or to re-enact gestures and actions within a studio or out in the forest. Nothing can beast understand on his own. There is a thread between all of the images.

Kirsten Brothers have inspired her and made her question the visibility and invisibility of the photographer and images. Images withhold as much as they were real. She screen-printed images of the prints into the original bark. And began to have interests in Anthropocene. The scale of the images due to the absence of horizon, changes the visual space, returning to the circle image and Orton went on to construct a small series of colleges based on this.

This talk was very interesting and very insightful into the work of a practising photographer and the journey she has taken to get this far, and what her future plans are. Orton spoke very clearly and presented herself clearly in a manner that enabled me to follow her train of thought, although at times when she got very enthusiastic I found it difficult to keep up, as it was a lot of information to absorb in quick succession.

For more information or images that Orton took visit her website:



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