First Chances Workshop at St Andrews: ‘Framing Nature’

One of the highlights of the Land Lines research trip to St Andrews in April 2018 was the workshop hosted by Land Lines team member Dr Christina Alt, poet and writer Professor John Burnside, and St Andrews University tutor, Dr Garry Mackenzie. Titled ‘Framing Nature’, the workshop invited young adults from the First Chances programme to consider how we look at nature in our day-to-day lives, in literature and in music, and how we can identify and understand the different framings that we impose onto our environments.

Throughout the morning, the students were invited to listen to and reflect on the integration of birdsong into music by John Burnside, who played a selection of songs that exemplify a composer or artist’s relationships to birdsong, or nature more generally: for the full playlist and a more detailed discussion of the morning’s events, take a look at our blog post on ‘Wild Music’ here. The afternoon activities, however, were geared towards how we associate language and literature with images of nature. Firstly, the students were invited to share three photographs they had taken over lunch on a walk around the town: the images they produced were all inspired by the concept of framing nature, and we were presented with some fascinating perspectives, including a paper frame laid over a dead guillemot on the beach, a rusted window shutter, moss-covered stone staircases, and a bright hedgerow with a single red berry tangled in its leaves.

One of the striking images taken by the students in the ‘Framing Nature’ Workshop

The students had clearly carefully considered their task – some had captured the invasion of a beachside garden by ducks, others had focused on decay and decline through crumbling architecture. One particularly well-composed image depicted the ageing cliffs above the East Beach, with rock formations visible underneath.

Invading ducks…
A rocky headland

There was also some interesting discussion based around how the students had chosen to destroy their paper frames: one particularly innovative group chose to slice theirs to pieces using found crab claws as scissors. It was encouraging to see the humour and confidence of the group of emerging as they took control of the lens and described the thought processes behind their work.

The presentation of the students’ chosen photographs was then followed by a group activity that encouraged participants to make unusual and unexpected connections between pieces of text – ranging from Harry Potter quotations, to makeup marketing messages, to poetry – and a selection of images (which included peeling feet, microbes, animals, forests and robots to name a few).

Some of the students and their chosen “frame”: a historic archway in St Andrews

The students worked intently on matching up the quotations with the photographs, a selection of which were then discussed by the group. Some of the matches provoked a laugh amongst the attendees: for example a quotation from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh with a photograph of a polar bear eating a rather gory deer carcass, and a feminist statement by Lady Gaga placed next to a photo of a crab with its claws raised, ready to attack. It became clear that the focus of the activity was to encourage the students to think about how language can alter deeply-ingrained perspectives and provoke a completely new understanding of both commonplace and unusual images, which built upon discussions earlier on in the day.

The students chose a few of their favourite photos to present back to the rest of the group

An enjoyable and enlightening day for many reasons, the workshop primarily gave us a chance to see the ways in which Land Lines research could play a part in education outreach programmes like First Chances, and it was a privilege to be offered an invaluable insight into the ways that young people can make connections between our environment and the arts.

By Lucy Rowland

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