Fig.1: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Detail of Men Gurta.

The 'St Breock Longstone' or 'Men Gurta' stands at the summit of the St Breock Downs within a 10m low stone mound or cairn, it has a distinct northerly lean. Men Gurta is a massive stone, it is the largest (4.9 metres) and heaviest (16.75 tonnes) monolith in Cornwall, and probably dates to the late Neolithic to mid-Bronze Age (around 2500–1500 BC).  I sat staring at the stone for quite a while, it is in the middle of nowhere and there is no manmade sound to be heard (there is a wind turbine field close by and it was windy anyway so I couldn't hear that). Nevertheless, there was something profoundly spiritual about being alone with the ginormous rock that had been put there amidst a vast empty expanse of land about 5000 years ago. The rock is formed from Devonian shale which has beautiful extensive feldspar veining. I took images of the rock's surface to add to the growing collection of patinas I have been photographing - the timeworn surfaces visualising traces of time, impermanence (Fig.1).

Fig.2: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Men Gurta (in page layout spread for Interminable Chain project).

I also took 'portraits' (Fig.1) of the stone. Maybe I am overthinking this too much but I couldn't help but feel like I was taking a deadpan portrait of someone, like a Rinek Dijkstra or Alec Soth portrait. I guess when I am taking portraits or fashion photos, I prefer subjects to be still and I like to work around what is in front of me, the monolith was like the perfect model. It has been commented to me before that I tend to make subjects statue-like, not statuesque as in photographing from low down to accentuate the projection of them, but with a stillness to them. But as much I was feeling a connection with the stone, I took a lot of images which usually means something isn't sitting right for me. It's one of those photography moments when you get carried away in a moment and lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish - my project isn't about the specific rocks, it is about the traces of time embedded into their materiality. I have placed far too much importance on the actual rock, the detail image of the patina (fig.1) is all I need.

The image has uniformity with the central positioning being like something extracted from a deadpan typology, but my project is not a typology. Deadpan portraits and typologies are both concerned with the individual 'particularities' of a subject being what makes it unique and distinguishable, as Julian Stallabrass in specific relation to deadpan, or 'blank' portraiture: 'variability from picture to picture occurs mostly in the particularities of the subject.” (Stallabrass, 2007:71). My work is also concerned with the particularities, in my case the surface patinas as opposed to the distinguishing exterior, and interior, characteristics of a person. I have realised I need to focus on just that and not concerned myself with photographing the actual monuments in their entirety. The rocks become more universally understood and less specific in this way. This realisation has made me understand why I also felt a bit odd about the 'portrait' I took of St Pirran's Cross (here), whilst the cross is appropriate because it is incomplete (thus tying in with the concepts of wabi-sabi which are informing my work), it is too literal a translation. Moving forward, I am going to focus on the abstraction of larger subjects and not show them in their entirety. I want my images to have universal recognisability through their particularities - specific landmarks and monuments are too location-orientated for my objective.

REFERENCES:
Stallabrass, Julian. 2007. What’s in a Face? Blankness and Significance in Contemporary Art Photography. Article in October, Fall, 2007, Vol. 122 (Fall, 2007), pp. 71-90. The MIT Press Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40368490 [accessed 11.02.21]