The marginal landscapes of Ros Boisier

Fri 3 May 2024

In this month’s blog post we look at the marginal landscapes of Ros Bosier’s Inside, a book where one is never quite certain what is happening. The margins between reality and fiction, between the natural world and the built environment, are blurred but remain entirely separate.  

It’s a book where the borders between the planned and the unplanned, between the formal landscape and the informal landscape overlap. Things fall apart in ways they are not supposed to, things grow in an  unruly fashion, the line between the orderly and the chaotic are confused.  

Image 1:  

Inside-Ros Boisier_01_resized

Photography of this kind of halfway landscape is one that has a great tradition in photography. Back in the 1910s Eugene Atget photographed the area outside the old walls of Paris, the area called the Zone. This was a 250m defensive buffer of land where building was forbidden.

This was land that had once been defined by the availability of sight lines to defend the city (Prussia had put the city under siege only 40 years before). This was land for the poor; ragpickers built houses and shelters in the Zone to form communities that lay beyond the metropolitan Parisian pale. The land was described as terrain vague, that space where the urban, the rural, the developed and the unplanned meet.  

And though Atget photographed this space, it was done with a distinct geographical foundation, with the planned order of Paris defining the undergrowth and unkemptness of the zone. 

Image 2:  

Inside-Ros Boisier_02_resized

In the UK, Marion Shoard described a similar kind of space as Edgelands, land she described it in her essay of the same name as ‘...unplanned, certainly uncelebrated and largely incomprehensible territory where town and country meet.’ 

It’s the kind of space you find at the edge of cities, beyond the carparks and B&Qs of the out-of-town shopping centre. It’s also the kind of space that is increasingly under threat from development and road construction. 

Perhaps the best rendition of these Edgelands are the paintings of George Shaw. They show the fringes of the estates around his home near Coventry, the gradual merging of recently built houses into the scrub and woodland that lies beyond the rows of garages, the garden fences, the sense that you have reached the end-of-the-suburbs. 

Image 3:  

Image credit: Ros Boisier

The idea of Edgelands, like the zone, or the liminal, is just one of many manifestations of these halfway landscapes. Another is what Gilles Clement calls ‘The Third Landscape’; areas uncontrolled and unexploited by man, places where random biodiversity holds sway, places essential to the overall health of the planet as a whole and urban conurbations in particular.

The idea of the third landscape recognises ‘…the ecological importance of small, yet essential left-over, untamed or abandoned spaces. It proposes a radical statement that projects should include ‘free’ spaces, where biodiversity is able to evolve on its own, in its own time.’ 

So an allotment is not a third landscape, and nor is a garden. But the scrap of land that borders the allotment, where brambles and nettles grow, where nobody bothers to dig, might be.  

One of the finest books showing the third landscape is Alessandro Imbriaco’s book, The Garden. This details a family living beneath a bridge amidst waste ground in Rome. Imbriaco shows them living in a swamp, surround by layers of foliage; trees reach up above a mass of undergrowth.

Paths disappear into a mess of branches and leaves, a primordial foreground of ivy-covered tree trunks rising over a fern covered swamp floor. It’s intentionally Edenic, but without a sense of comfort, and there is always a world that lies beyond, the sense of the untended coming up against the signs of human development, power lines, roads, apartment blocks.  

Image 4:  

Image credit: Ros Boisier

Ros Boisier’s work is somewhat different. In Inside, she shows micro-environments, rocks, trees and shrubs isolated against each other, sitting in awkward proximity to office building, shopfronts, and garden walls. There is the sense of the old coming up against new, the images hinting at the work of Basque artists such as Jon Casenave. 

Image 5:  

Image credit: Ros Boisier

This is especially apparent in her image of what looks like a tree trunk (with the top chopped off) standing by what looks like a dolmen. Photographed at night, we see the old combined with something new and quite brutal, a juxtaposition that finds peculiar echoes throughout the book. 

Image 6:  

Image credit: Ros Boisier

The out-of-place idea of Edgelands is apparent in her images of a potted tree in a corner of a room, the arboreal rubbing up against the domestic. Similarly, her pairings of images links lumps of rocks with ventilation piping, blocks of concrete with bare-branched trees. 

Image 7:  

Image credit: Ros Boisier

The world Boisier creates is one where old meets new, the old apparent in the cliff-faces, the ferns, the darkness of the undergrowth, the new in asphalt, concrete, and paving, one form of natural rock created by settlement, eruption, and compression, set against that create by humans in factories, mixers, and trucks.  

It’s a liminal world she makes, but one where we are at the fringes, where the human is the intrusive world. It’s us who lie on the edges and time will prove this right. 

Image 8:  

Image credit: Ros Boisier

Buy Ros Boisier’s Inside


Colin-Pantall-photographyColin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer and teaches on the MA Photography programme at Falmouth University.

Learn more about Colin

Photography, BA Photo

Get in touch today