Meet the photographer rejecting the limitations of the Welsh landscape

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© Victoria Maidstone

This article is part of the Education collection, a series of interviews highlighting student and early career photographers. 

Victoria Maidstone’s graduate project traces both the river Severn, and her own complex relationship with nature, to their source

Victoria Maidstone does not see herself as a landscape photographer, nor does she describe her work as landscape photography. She finds the label limiting. Her work does not aim to tell the story of a specific location, but instead provides a mirror for her personal experience of the natural world: more meditation than representation.

Maidstone’s images are influenced by both mythology and geology, specifically in tales of origin and beginnings. The Styx, one of five rivers in the ancient Greek underworld, flows from the land of the living into the land of the dead, binding the two. In Indian, Egyptian, Babylonain, and Maya mythology, bodies of water predate humanity, sometimes the world itself. Water is the starting point for both river and humanity, a “source” and prime mover found in both science and storytelling. There is a factual aspect to these genesis myths too: a vast majority of early human civilisations settled on rivers – the fresh, flowing water paramount to developing societies.

“I wanted to portray an interiorised perspective of the landscape, to put my own physical and emotional aspect into the image” 

Maidstone is cognisant of this long dance between people and water, and focuses less on its literal depictions than the emotional and spiritual bonds which exist between humans and the land. “I’m looking at place and community, how [people and nature] interact, and how things became,” she explains.

While studying an MA in photography at The University of the West of England, Maidstone longed for the rural spaces found in her home county of Staffordshire, hunting them out camera in hand. In her latest series, The Source, the artist undertook multiple trips to the Cambrian mountains in Wales, the source of the longest river in Britain, the Severn. The project is a slow rumination on the water’s cadence, a fluctuating narrative. Maidstone makes motifs of fallen trees and twisting river bends, the river constantly redefining its surroundings. “I was going on these trips to experience presence. Sometimes I wouldn’t take a single photograph,” Maidstone remembers. 

Maidstone compares the river’s flow to that of human life. It moves on a set path, yet is in a constant state of mis- and redirection. “I wanted to portray an interiorised perspective of the landscape, to put my own physical and emotional aspect into the image,” she says.

Rivers are abundant with contradicting metaphors. Cyclical yet linear, old yet new, fixed yet changing. When following a river upstream, we find its source, a body of rain that births all that comes after. Yet, even this understanding is a myth. “You can’t actually photograph the source because it isn’t one set place,” Maidstone explains. Nearby bogs and shifting highland trickles into the river’s “beginning.” “What is the source of the source?” Maidstone wonders. “It could be anywhere. It could be anything.”

Maidstone’s photographs reflect not just on nature, but human nature itself. She does not look at the river to capture what she sees, but instead records the moment itself, her presence entwined within the landscape, an immersion into the river. “There is a lot of myself in these images,” she says. “I want people to connect, to be thrown into this different world, this different kind of space.”

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable is a freelance writer, as well as a curator at the arts consultancy Artiq. Prior to this, He studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, followed by roles at British Journal of Photography and The Photographers' Gallery. His words have featured in British Journal of Photography, Elephant Magazine, Galerie Peter Sellim, The Photographers' Gallery, and The South London Gallery. He is particularly interested in documentary ethics, race, gender, class, and the body.