Home Dartmoor

An affection for Dartmoor informs Garry Fabian Miller's photographic prints on exhibition at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum writes Hannah Prothero

Garry Fabian Miller is one of Devon’s most distinguished artists but he is careful to avoid the limelight. Instead the light shines through his luminous photographs which have been shown in galleries all over the world. For the last 23 years one thing has been constant: his bedrock and inspiration is Dartmoor. Dartmoor is a kind of silent partner to Fabian Miller’s whole photographic output. But he doesn’t take landscape photos. He doesn’t even use a camera. Fabian Miller makes photographic prints using a ‘dye-destruction’ method where a beam of light is channelled through a liquid onto light sensitive paper in the darkroom. Much of his work is abstract with geometric circles, squares or rectangles.

Dartmoor is a kind of silent partner to Fabian Miller’s whole photographic output. But he doesn’t take landscape photos. He doesn’t even use a camera

He is one of a loosely affiliated group of cameraless photographers who have transformed the way that we experience the natural world through art. This group was recognised with a major exhibition at the V&A Museum last year, called Shadow Catchers, including Fabian Miller, Susan Derges, Pierre Cordier, Adam Fuss and Floris Neususs.

Fabian Miller walks daily for two or three hours from his home on the Moor. “I return to these places exposing myself to the possibility that something will happen there,” he says. “As I walk on the Moor I’m trying to connect to a much deeper sense of time and values than those that pre-occupy 21st century life.”

His commitment is an inspiration to all of us who wish we could experience Dartmoor more deeply. “I’m looking for a breakthrough point from which a new kind of picture may appear. For example in December, the low raking light strikes an object on the land’s silvered surface, and throws a shadow line revealing things which have lain hidden for 6 months or more, and you see anew.”

He quotes Stephan Graham from his book The Gentle Art of Tramping (1923) “As you sit beside a hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.” Fabian Miller adds: “I believe in this opening of a golden door. On days such as these I have seen both the Spectre of the Brocken and a parhelion when walking on Hamel Down. This connects to Ruskin and the Romantic Movement. Coleridge and others would go on walking tours in Germany to the Harz Mountains seeking a glimpse of the conjunction between clouds, sky and shadows that brings forward a figure across the cloud floor. Or more often, the parhelion or a spectral double sun. Experiences such as these change your world and greatly influence the pictures I make.”

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Phrases such as the ‘Spectre of the Broken’ sound almost implausibly romantic, but this is in fact a magnified shadow of the observer, which sometimes occurs in mountainous regions. It appears as a giant figure with outstretched limbs and it famously terrified Carl Jung until he realised what it was.

Over recent years Fabian Miller has had major exhibitions in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, so this exhibition at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) is a homecoming that is close to his heart. He met his wife, Naomi, when Common Ground’s Artists’ Parish Map exhibition toured to the museum in the 1980s. He was an artist in the show and she was exhibitions officer at RAMM. They settled in Hayne Down and brought up their children there.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum reopened in December 2011 following a multimillion pound refurbishment. Fabian Miller reflects: “as an artist I appreciate that my audience exists in different countries. On this occasion I am very pleased that an opportunity has arisen for me to exhibit my work in the South West of England for the fine new galleries at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.”

Hannah Prothero

The exhibition HOME DARTMOOR is supported by Arts Council England and is at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum from 31 March to 27 May 2012, admission free, open 10am to 5pm everyday except Mondays and bank holidays. rammuseum.org.uk

Dr. Tom Greeves, an expert on the history of Dartmoor will lead two walks with Fabian Miller, which will explore the lesser known places where people first began to live and work on the Moor. Details of talks about Garry’s work by other experts including Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum and author of the monograph of Garry’s work ‘Illumine’, will be announced on the museum’s website rammuseum.org.uk

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