Dr. Paul Coones, Chariman, Curators of the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford1/14
Phyliss Bursill,Picture Gallery Invigilator, Christchurch Picture Gallery2/14
Prof.(Emeritus) John Morris, The School of Anatomy, Oxford3/14
Marek-Brojak, Custodian, The Medieval Kitchen, Brasenose College, Oxford4/14
Prof. Paul Smith, Director, Oxford University Museum of Natural History5/14
Jonathan FLint, Hall Steward, Trinity College DIning Hall, Oxford6/14
Robert Wyllie, Head Porter, The Milner Hall, Rhodes House, Oxford7/14
Prof. Margaret Snowling, President, The Parlour, St John's College8/14
Monika Pietruszewska, Custodian, St-Catherine's College9/14
Sister Ann Verena CJGS, Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College10/14
Robert Bowerman, Grounds Manager, The Martyr's Pavilion, St Edward's School, Oxford11/14
Dr. Jon Whitely, Curator, The Randolph Sculpture Gallery, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology12/14
Su Lockley, Librarian in Charge, Oxford-Union13/14
Alice Ogilvie, Head of Venue Services, The Divinity School, Oxford14/14
Writing about Oxford Jan Morris said: “Slap in the middle of England stands the city of Oxford, on an ancient crossroads beside the Thames. Its origins are obscure but its fame is universal, and it forms a national paradigm — in whose structure sometimes shadowy, sometimes splendidly sunlit, we may explore the history, the character and the condition of the English”. Oxford, 2001.
With my Custodians work I wanted to explore this further, looking at the ‘structure’ of Oxford that Morris refers to, and in particular what could be revealed by examining the relationship between the Oxford institutions that make up that structure and the individuals that occupied them. I set two criteria: the spaces I photographed had to be in Oxford, and each of the venues should select one person who would be seen within them as a ‘Custodian’ in one capacity or another. I was interested in how multiple time periods can be exposed by a single image, and how these images lead to broader questions about how institutions shape us, and we them, and about how permanence and transience can be seamlessly juxtaposed within the relationship of a ‘Custodian’ to the space they work in.
These works all contain traces of other times. Some of the institutions I photographed displayed a ‘patina effect,’ different periods layered on top of each other, sometimes only revealed by the work of the Custodian themselves. Locating the traces of other times within these images is as much up to the viewer as the spaces themselves. Much as an archeologist viewing the layers of history would bring their knowledge of the past, these works require the viewer to bring his or her points of reference to perceiving how these spaces have been used through time and the people who may have passed through them. The spaces and individuals stand as testimony to our knowledge and creativity, honouring the highest echelons of human achievement – think of the marble sculptures in the Randolph Gallery, or the structure of Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian. The buildings themselves are notable, but what went on inside them is also what is to be celebrated and that depends on the knowledge and curiosity of the viewer. The Evolution Debate that took place between Charles Darwin and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in 1860 in the Oxford University Museum, the extraordinary achievements of so many of the alumni; twenty-six British Prime Ministers, at least fifty Nobel Prize winners, and over one hundred and twenty Olympic medal winners. Oxford is something of a pilgrimage site for visitors honouring not just the buildings, but what has been created, thought, or discussed inside them.
The buildings within all of these works have a sense of permanence. Buildings, and these in particular, are for perpetuity. It is the very contribution of these Custodians that furthers the existence of these spaces – preserving them, ensuring their permanence – yet our own time there is so seemingly fleeting, both as a visitor and for the Custodian themselves. The images acknowledge the role of the Custodians within the space yet at the same time there is a creeping sense of our human brevity when seen this way.