Bradford star Liza Dracup brings magic and myth of Sharpe's Wood to PM Gallery & House

By Ben Miller | 29 October 2010
A photo of a forest under green lights
© Liza Dracup
Exhibition: Liza Dracup – Sharpe’s Wood, PM Gallery and House, London, November 12 2010 – January 8 2011

When you look at Liza Dracup’s photographs, it’s impossible to suspect they aren’t the results of Photoshop tinkering.

Captured during four years of nocturnal expeditions into woodland on the outskirts of her native Bradford, they resemble something from The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Blair Witch Project, finding perfect full moons above forests bathed in dark green twilight, eerily shadowed by trees, thick moorland and shallow lakes.

“They’re printed straight from negative,” says the 42-year-old artist, pausing.

“They really are. I go out with this old camera – it’s a vintage one with a gorgeous lens on it. You get a 6x6 cm negative, and I get it enlarged so that the prints are a metre square.

“You wouldn’t be able to see it in the colours that the camera can – you can only see certain things depending on the light and the streetlight. It astounds people because it gives you something that you can’t see.”

A photo of an illuminated woodland
Dracup prints straight from negative, using the light of passing cars or streetlights© Liza Dracup
Dracup is a member of The Bradford Grid, a group of photographers who have been shooting rural terrain across individual miles cut out of an ordinance survey map for the past eight years.

Lacking the option of instantly judging pictures on a digital camera has forced her to develop a sharp sixth sense. “I’m an experienced experimentalist,” she laughs. “It’s a lot of guesswork, but the waiting game is part of the excitement for me.

“I do have experience, if you see what I mean. I’ve come from a film background, so I’m used to using my imagination and waiting for the image, rather than reviewing it straight away.

“I work intuitively, and my decisions are made in my head rather that in the back of my camera. At night there are so many subtle variations, so your perception is a lot more limited because you don’t have the light.”

A photo of an illuminated forest
The show heads to London for the first time© Liza Dracup
Some of her images are illuminated by passing cars or streetlights and, although she says she’s “not into fantasy or anything like that”, her work has universally mythic undertones.

“Although the wood is local to the Bradford area, I do think it’s a transferable show,” she points out. “Deep within our memory, psychologically, we’ve all got northern European fairytales and folklore.”

The magical elements of her work are never contrived, and her late-night forays were a natural progression for Dracup.

“I didn’t pick up my camera and say ‘I want to photograph trees’,” she explains. “Your work tells you so much – I know that sounds quite simplistic, but sometimes things are quite simple to work out.

“What I found was I photographed landscapes…the British landscape became a dominant thing.”

This is the first outing to the capital for the show, having started out at Bradford’s Impressions gallery before being wrapped up and “going into hiding for a bit”, according to Dracup.

“For it to be out there for two months and have an audience there is great,” she adds. “When they look at it, I think people tend to feel a very strong reaction.”
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