2016 / Fine Art / Still Life


  • Photographer
    Sara Hannant

I am fascinated in the magical properties of the photographic process. Through experimental approaches, I investigate how the photographic image can alter the perception and reception of physical objects. In folklore, a strip of cloth or ‘cloutie’ is torn from a person’s garment, dipped into a holy well then hung on a nearby tree. As it falls to the earth and rots, it is believed the illness will disappear. The cloths are said to connect to the divine power or spirits thought to inhabit the sacred place. Unfortunately, some people leave cloths made of fabrics that will not biodegrade, and the offerings are consequently removed by the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network. I have re-animated these discarded cloths using natural forces in keeping with the folk magic, symbolised by the four elements of air, earth, fire, and water. The still-lives represent the cloths as they are submerged in a bowl of water, contained within a plastic bag, embedded in the earth and transformed by fire. The photographs keep open to scrutiny instants that the normal flow of time immediately replaces. Celestial and human forms appear to be revealed, suggesting that these are entities inhabiting the offerings. As we recognise our desire to identify such forms in the inanimate, we defy rationalism. While we might not refer to these illusions as a divine power or spirits, at some level this recognition invites belief. The boundaries between the image and reality become blurred as the viewer is prompted to contemplate visible and invisible relationships.

Sara Hannant is best known for her photography exploring magical belief and folklore. Her books include 'Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey through the English Ritual Year' (2011) which is also a Horniman Museum touring exhibition, and 'Of Shadows: One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic' (2016). Sara’s work is widely exhibited including at The Royal Society of Arts, Christie’s and Towner Art Gallery and published on the BBC, The Guardian and in the Sunday Times among others. She is a graduate of UAL and lectures at City, University of London.