Comprising photographs made over a period of one year, Harrowdown Hill sees photographer John Spinks redeploys the language of English landscape painting to produce a series of photographs, that at first appear to be an atmospheric, often melancholic visual document of the English countryside. Beneath the surface however, is a complex story of competing political narratives set against the backdrop of the war in Iraq.
On the Morning of the 18th of July 2003 at approximately 9.20am the body of Dr David Kelly was discovered in woodland on Harrowdown Hill, not far from the Oxfordshire village of Longworth. A subsequent public enquiry found that he had died by suicide.
From 1991 up until the time of his death, Dr Kelly had been a lead member of the scientific teams tasked by the United Nations with monitoring and removing Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capability. His death occurred shortly after he was revealed to have been the source of a BBC story which questioned the Blair government's case for going to war in Iraq. The events leading up to and following his death are now often considered to mark a turning point in British politics and are at the heart of Spink's book.
Spinks had been investigating the poetry and politics of place. “I started thinking about the whole notion of nationhood and conflict, and part of it seems to come back to the land. There is still a fierce attachment to a very particular notion of England. There’s this connection with the soil. I began to imagine a piece of work about England, a way to describe a certain psychological texture.”
Harrowdown Hill is a landscape in which Kelly would often walk. Given the complexity of the story, Spinks wanted to examine Harrowdown Hill and the meanings it had accrued rigorously. “It’s not enough to photograph it once, you’ve got to go and really try to think about what that place means.”