Ladies of Pemberley by Megan Ogden
Exploring and offering discourse through narrative on the women in Jane Austen's England. Ladies of Pemberley reveals the researched semiology on the female role of women in Austen's books as discovered by photographic artist Megan Ogden.
200 years ago, Jane Austen died in Winchester aged 41. Ladies of Pemberley was inspired by Austen's fictional world and her thoughts on women in society. 'Ladies of Pemberley' set to explore the lives of women who actually lived in the homes that Austen imagines. During this project I learned about how women actually contributed to the household, in ways I never imagined: "In Jane Austen's England, women were seen as unequal to men and treated poorly by the law. Despite the elevated men being seen as explorers, travelling across the world to add to their collections, women had their own role at home in running their husband's estates and in interior design. Through narrative, their contributions are suggested.
Tell us more about yourself and your practice.
I’m a photography graduate of Plymouth University, I was born and raised in the Midlands. I like to tell stories through photographs. I’m a bit nomadic, I don’t like being ‘stuck’ in one place for too long. I love a good sunset and the pub. My favourite place is the beach and I’m an Aquarius.
I work digitally. I was told to work in film to slow down my image making process but I am too nosey. I am not outwardly an outgoing person, so when I’m behind a camera I use it to investigate and explore to my heart’s content. I feel that digital gives me the ability to experiment very freely, especially when beginning a project and i’m not sure what direction i’m going in. It’s just a personal preference I guess.
What was your creative process for this series or for your work in general?
I always start with a question or a curiosity that I want to try and answer. I mean, usually I don't find the answer, but to me it’s about the exploring, the learning and potentiality of the project. It’s kind of intriguing to look back on a project once it’s nearing its finish because of how much it will have changed and adapted since its beginning but the fundamental basis of why I make the work will always be there.
What work inspires or has inspired you?
If you would have asked me this three years ago, I would have shouted Francesca Woodman at you. She was my access to photography, as people I know could probably tell you. I began making self portraits at college as a way of expressing myself and telling a story that I could not communicate otherwise. I had a lot of anger that I wanted to explore in a new way other than just cooping it up or taking it out on the people who had caused it. Life was pretty complicated back then as any eighteen year old can tell you. You experience a lot of new things and your opinions change, and to me Woodman was someone who I could really relate to and could see similarities to myself. At a time when you don’t really know your own identity, it was pretty grounding to have someone who you could associative to, both through her work and at a personal level.
When I started at university, I felt a little immature and clumsy when I was still making these self portraits and presenting them to people who were making more outwardly informed projects. I felt I had to start making my own imagery and stop making copies of Woodman’s. I was introduced to a lot of new material and artists when I was at university and I would now say I like a random collection of work from Uta Barth and Rinko Kawauchi to Elina Brotherus and Woodman. I think the fact that they are all women probably says something, but I try not to look too much into that. I’d say Barth, Brotherus and Kawauchi inform my work currently, both aesthetically and theoretically I am drawn to their work. Woodman I would say still captivates and inspires my love for image making and she probably always will.
Are there any artistic movements you enjoy in particular and why?
I’m not really drawn to any particular movements, my ideals and impressions are made from a whole bunch of random elements drawn together in some kind of chaotic collection and these elements I have acute obsessions with.
Art History, Greek Mythology, Philosophy, Music, Feminism, and Literature are to name some of the informants. But my work is of course informed by the history of photography, I am however, unable to pinpoint what my likes and dislikes are within it.
Do you have any opinions or ideals underlying your art?
My practice is all about the narrative, what one image means to me, will have potentially a different impact on another. My images work as a series, aiming to open up a new perspective to the viewer on the subject of focus. Ladies of Pemberley had the aim of showing the role of women in the home, and how they had a larger part to play than initially imagined.
My images, you could say, are fairly ambiguous, I do not aim to write my findings in a picture. Instead I make suggestions and use text to direct the viewer about the project, therefore allowing the viewer the opportunity to view the images separately to the informed text and make their own opinions before engaging with my own. I guess it’s about giving the viewer a kind of ‘freedom’, just because I feel a particular way about something, I am not trying to make the viewer feel the same, I only hope the viewer takes something new away from looking at my work.
Love the series ‘Ladies of Pemberley’. It’s fitting that Austen is used in the narrative behind your work since she was one of the first women to pursue writing as a career during that time. Can you tell us more about your relationship with Austen and your opinions on her own ideals at the time?
Thank you, it’s been great to get some feedback on this project as I don’t feel like its quite finished yet. Austen has been a great influence on my upbringing and values. Although last year it was the 200th anniversary of her death, her thinking could not be more current, what with the spotlight on changing the cultural ideals on a woman’s place in society.
Aside from giving us the likes of Darcy, Austen was pushing a career that was not socially considered as acceptable or exceptional. So in this respect, she was revolutionary, continuing to work in the same field as other female novelists of the time. But what is so relevant about Austen, is the way she writes about the day to day livelihoods of her female characters. She must have been writing from experience and you can get a sense of the domestic situations that women of that time lived through. Her leading female characters all have that something ‘extra’ about them, something not apparent or excepted by the rest of those in that character’s environment. And that is a drive to not take part in things just because it is seen to be what’s done. She will not marry for money or social advantage, but instead would marry for her own happiness. What’s more the character has flaws, making her much more relatable and realistic. Something that I feel is important to see in fiction, is a lead who does not always make the right decisions and is not perfect, despite being seen as the ‘heroine’.
For me personally though, I love Austen’s wit, I still laugh a little when I read particular passages. It’s a nice break to read a female writer mocking society of the time, and there are definitely still some cross-overs to today’s generation: our human nature and how we seem to behave.
Any words for aspiring artists?
Do what you want to do, take risks, take breaks, but always be yourself.
I agree that getting advice on your work is crucial. It gives you a detached and impartial opinion on your work and can give you ideas and outlooks that you can not achieve through your own eyes alone. However you have to think about what is the purpose of your work, are you making it for your own means? If so, you are the audience. So, take advice on board but remember you do not have to abide by this advice: always be true to yourself. This applies especially in an academic context, don't worry what other people are doing. Don’t suddenly start making a social documentary project because everyone in your class seems to be. Carry on taking those still life’s or studio portraits, whatever is your ‘thing’. Follow your passions and don’t make work you’re not interested in because what’s the point? Finally I would like to give the most important bit of advice i’ve learnt: enjoy the ride, love what you’re doing because it’s unique and the best.
Is there anything you’re currently working on?
I have just made a little series from Berlin at the Tempelhof Airfield. It has quite an interesting history to it and I was very inspired when I was there to want to photograph it as a space. The airport was built by the Nazis to replace a much smaller existing airport. Adolf Hitler was personally involved in the designing of the airport, hiring Architect Ernst Sagebiel as the architect who designed it in such a way as to ‘impress’ people who saw it. Now abandoned, the airfield is open as a public space; people play football and have barbecues.
As of 2014, 1200 refugees have made Tempelhof Airfield their home. I was drawn to this space for its ability to be an example showing our change in social values over time (and also I might add, for it’s irony). To me I am unsure of what the outcome of this series is, I do not think it fits in a book, but I do not want to leave it as a digital series. But for now however, this project has been put as a background task in my mind. I will soon be heading to Wales, to the town of Milford Haven to work on my most current body of work. The images I plan on making here are as a response to my time in the Milford Sound in New Zealand. It was Captain John Grono who visited New Zealand and on ‘discovering’ Milford Sound, named it after Milford Haven, his hometown in 1812. It is however a fjord and not a sound, it was formed after the sea flooded a glacier valley.
I want to see what kind of response I make visually to the place that the ‘8th wonder of the World’ is named after. So, I am being directed to Milford Haven. My family who have a strong emotional connection to Pembrokeshire where Milford Haven is, give the town a title that is far from the ‘8th wonder of the world’. But why? I’ve yet to visit it so I want to disassociate any prejudgements I may have when I go there. Once I’ve been, I will spend some time (probably quite a lot of time) trying to make sense of what I’ve taken and what it all means.
Where else can our readers view your work?
I have just made my website live and finished editing my work from New Zealand (and before that Canada) so if anyone is interested please see my website: www.meganogdenphotography.com or check out my Instagram for more @meganogdenphotography.
And a big thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure and I really like what Semi Zine is doing, it’s a great platform.