Wig Sayell - Artist Photographer

previous exhibitions

'Recording Bodicote'

fibre based prints

Shown at Gallery 8, Magdalen Road Studios,  Oxford 2018

Over the last six months, I have photographed an area of land adjacent to my home. Within the last few years, the edge of this North Oxfordshire village has seen immense change, not only through large scale house building, but also the immeasurable, smaller alterations that are required when rural ‘improvement’ schemes are introduced.  


In approaching this subject matter, I take my inspiration from ‘The National Photographic Record Association’ and ‘Recording Britain’ projects, initiated by the Victorians and continued at the outbreak of WW2. Wistful, humble, yet also an aspect of the process they document, these projects called on artists and photographers to record their own vicinity during a time of growing urbanisation.


 The photographs I produced utilised techniques that designedly resist artistic control: photographs are taken during unsettled weather; brush strokes are erratic; the printing process produces images that are ‘incomplete’. This is reflective of the environment to which I am responding, one undergoing a process of transition. Through this work I am certainly drawing attention to those aspects of rural life threatened by 'improvement', but I also wish to question the 'conventional structure of retrospect' that Raymond Williams takes to be the established and nostalgic accompaniment to this. I am interested in reflecting on how my own work might engage and resist such nostalgia. 


These images aim to respond to the uncertainty of the moment, rather than establishing a point of stability, from which the past can be fixed and mourned. We are living in a time of transition, one in which the question of what is to come and what is gone, is yet to be settled.

'Untitled Portraits'

digital photograph with cartes des visites

From 'The Workhouse Community Project' shown at Banbury and Bicester College, and The Churchill Hospital, Oxford 2017


When researching early portraiture for 'The Workhouse Community Project' (see blog page), I bought poor quality examples of carte de visite of unknown people: commercial portraits that aimed to flatter aspirational Victorians. Like later formal portraits, they are highly conventional, yet end up testifying to the individuality of their subjects. 


I decided to create images that echo six of the cartes de visite.


In producing this photographic response, I had in mind the self-representations we often choose for websites such as linkedin. There, we try to appear at our best. We aspire. And we can appear, as a result, a little bit too similar. Even here, however, I like to think some of our idiosyncrasies shine through. Despite having the permeance of digital technology, these images too will pass. The fast pace of contemporary life make them as ephemeral as those archaic faces temporarily held on photographic paper. Like those past portraits, I tried to make these six new images hint at possible stories, but finally withhold any certain truth. Who are these people? Where were they? Why are they here?







'Bedruthan Steps' - Cornwall

Pinhole Photograph

Solo Exhibtion 'Recent British Landscapes' at The Old Fire Station Oxford, 2016




'Grounds for the Sublime'- Cadair Idris

Short Video Piece

2015 Artist-in-Residency at Stiwdio Maelor, Gwynedd and shown at VIDEOVADA Film Festival, Oxford, 2016


'Breathe'  - photographic installation

Shown at 'Afterhours' at The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

December 2014


I have always been attracted to the Pitt Rivers collection by the sense of hope and desperation behind the creation of many of the handmade objects here. Often, their purpose was to heal or protect the physical body.

In the Summer, I spent a number of weeks at the Horton Hospital and the John Radcliffe Hospital due to a collapsed lung, and my thoughts turned once more to these items. During my stay I managed to collect my own set of objects, those used by the medical team to restore my health. 

In one sense, this photogram is simply a repetition of curatorial practice at the Pitt Rivers. These are transformative objects, imbued with faith, and carefully arranged by myself, the patient.

There are differences, however. Unlike many of the treasured objects in the collection, all hospital implements, even scissors and clamps, are usually disposed of after use. The photogram monumentalises these objects, but only as marks of their absence, traces left on photographic paper.

The realm of the medical can also seem particularly austere, its devices made by unknown hands. To an extent, the formality of the photogram is true to this aesthetic, yet it also grants these seemingly cold and functional objects a ghostly beauty. And so it should be: these objects saved my life.

The appeal to the clinical and controlled is questioned in another sense: I deliberately did not use an assistant in the construction of this image, not only to indicate the work to be an act of personal story telling, but because in taking full responsibility for the challenging technical process, ‘flaws’ in the image inevitably occurred. Again, this is the way it should be: My experience of medicine was not of a ‘perfect’ activity, but one touched by the unpredictable, and made bearable by the humanity of the nurses and doctors charged with my care. 



'Fabric of the Land' Exhibition celebrating Art and Geology, Aberdeen

13th September - 5th October 2014  


From the Gallery website:

'The primary aims of the Fabric of the Land exhibitions are to link art and science, which are often seen to be entirely separate realms, whilst simultaneously encouraging the people of the North East of Scotland to access their local University. The exhibition has been held within the Department of Geology and Petroleum Geology at the University of Aberdeen, which allowed fine art and items of geological interest or significance to be displayed in the same space. 

In 2014 the quest for Fabric of the Land is to bring the academic environment of a working geology department to the city centre of Aberdeen.

The Scottish environment and landscape is shaped by its geology. Indeed the geology of Scotland can be viewed as the underlying “fabric of the land”. Artists are encouraged to create works, which derive from, or are inspired by the link between geology and the landscape of the earth. 

Fabric of the Land is an open submission exhibition and each year we engage a high profile selection panel from all backgrounds to participate in selecting the artwork to be displayed. Fabric of the Land brings a wealth of creativity to the North East of Scotland from all over the UK and internationally, including an eclectic range of work from artists and geologists; presenting diverse interpretations of art and science.

SMART Consultants are an independent curatorial agency who facilitate and curate each year’s Fabric of the Land exhibition, working in partnership with the Geology & Petroleum Geology Department, University of Aberdeen'.



'Wish You Were Here' postcard exhibition, Filament 14, Magdalen Road Studios, Oxford

For Oxfordshire Artweeks, May 2014

These postcards were specifically made for the exhibition 'Wish You Were Here', at Filament 14, Magdalen Road Studios. The locations of the images: Giant's Cave from Piercefield Estate, Wye Valley, and Peiran Falls, from Hafod Estate in Wales are both recognised internationally as early sites for commercial tourism. To reflect this, I have formatted the writing on the front which is typical of Victorian postcards.

'OVADA Open Submission' -Osney Lane, Oxford

October 19th - 8th November 2013


The picturesque remains a derided form in contemporary art. In my current practice I stage a return of the genre, whilst critically reflecting upon its constitutive elements.


In ‘Cavern Cascade’, for example, there is a fidelity to picturesque forms, as it was taken at a sanctioned viewpoint (Hafod Estate, Wales), is of a ‘picturesque’ subject, and appeals to the sublime. Despite this, I have utilised a ‘closed’ frame in which flattened distances result in a claustrophobic and almost abstract image.


Such tensions can be read in my use of pin-hole. The time it takes to use this technology means that, like original picturesque artists, I take a decidedly plein air approach, yet there are uncontrollable elements within the process, and the results are not necessarily pretty or tame Digitisation allows such visual rawness to be magnified, even as it challenges emerging appeals to ‘natural representation’, and opens up the image to commodification and exchange. 


This concern with economics reflects my interest in the politics of the picturesque, its concern with property and public access. In other photographs in this series, I explore how such ideas are negotiated by the modern tourist industry, and through the commercialisation of landscape. 



What to Look for? 

Ladybird, Tunnicliffe and the hunt for meaning

Exhibited at Museum of English Rural Life, Reading

6 October 2012 - 14 April 2013

These images were commissioned by the Museum Of English Rural Life in Reading as part of an exhibition of original artwork used in Ladybird children’s books. I was asked to offer a photographic response to Charles Tunnicliffe’s paintings for the popular ‘What to Look For...’ series. My images utilise a range of photographic techniques, from pin-hole camera to digital manipulation. Each corresponds to a season, and follow the suggestion at the beginning of What to Look For in Autumn that the book should 'greatly increase the pleasure of your country walks'. I began each image with a photograph taken whilst walking near my home.


Each image repeats structural elements within Tunnicliffe's work. They divide the page into three horizontal sections, place fauna in the foreground, utilise a soft palate with a vibrant spot colour, and locate human activity far away. Subtle differences emerge, however. The horizons, trees, and flowers are never precisely where Tunnicliffe places them. This interest in the complexities of repetition can also be seen in the use of composites. I am interested in making the viewer aware of such techniques, constantly drawing attention to the constructed nature of the images I produce.


Click on images below to enlarge



Shown at g39 in Cardiff in 2008 for their commemorative show 'Build It and They Will Come', celebrating ten years of g39. 


A Modern Picturesque

Exhibited at Southend on Sea and Westcliff on Sea Library for Media and Creative Arts Festival, Essex and at the Substation, Margate for 'Margate Rocks' Festival in 2008.


Rustics at Work - Essex County Fair

At this time, I was inspired by early Victorian landscape photography, particularly that of the amateur recording projects of Warwickshire in the 1840s who recorded local customs, festivals, landmarks and people.


One concerned photographer in particular, Richard Keene made a statement in 1844 that the picturesque landscape might still be experienced ‘within five or six miles of home’ and then listed suitable subject matter in categories such as ‘crags, brooks, …’. This became the starting point and a challenge, and the resulting titles of my images.


The picturesque landscape is rarely connected with contemporary art or photography. What are pleasure and a sense of escape for some, is false consciousness and a cliché for others. In spite of our awareness that many landscapes and places are constructed to suit our imagination (and literally in some cases, especially with the use of digital application), any political and social unrest that presides is ignored. 


What started out as a reasonably humorous quest and experiment now seemed naïve and weighted with preconception. Through my own interpretation of Keene’s categories (such as finding crags in SE Essex), I hoped to humour and broaden the notion of the picturesque whilst experimenting with the Victorian cyanotype process from highly enlarged 35 mm negatives and a final image that is ‘broken’ into pieces.


Click on images below to enlarge


Salve Regina

Exhibited at Campus Gallery, South East Essex College


The idea behind this project stems in some way from my childhood in (Royal) Leamington Spa, where along the main shopping street, I was under the surveillance of Queen Victoria. Further to this, I was named directly after her, but have never really come to terms with such a regal and influential name. Through personal observation around Britain, I became aware of the prevalence / ubiquity of the Queen Victoria Statues and felt that they could be documented in some way. Through photographing from the ‘gaze’ of the statue, and not the statue itself, I hope to reveal something about the social structure of our civic environment, and the gradual displacement of some of the statues moving further out to parkland. As with much of my previous work, I am interested in the predetermined viewpoint created by others, and this is a continuation of that theme, and an exciting challenge on a moderate geographical scale in a short time span.



At first glance, perhaps the most immediate binding factor is the height at which these images are taken.  When shown each image had a place plaque beneath it, indicating the location but nothing else. Some do seem to easily represent the town or city, e.g.: Brighton.


However, these images as a group mourn a decline, or at least, show changes in modern urban society. But, equally, they could be seen as democratising. Can we all partake in this ‘Royal Vision?’. 


Equally this could be about the impossibility of sharing the Royal Gaze, the image read not as one of seeing, but of seeing seeing. The viewer here could be barged out of their own sight by the idea of another seeing this predetermined view. 


Or is this about securing the viewer? Is Queen Victoria guaranteeing our identities as we look, forcing us to accept eight different viewpoints as emanating from one Imperial gaze? Or the reverse? The certainty of the Victorian gaze, shown to be fractured, disorientated and split eight ways, across the country, facing different directions, many hundreds of miles apart.


This work offers the viewer these many possibilities for reading the work, negotiates each, yet refuses to attempt any sound reading from any one aspect.


Click on images below to enlarge