The Pink Cottage
This body of work has come about from finding a hidden archive of photographs at a property that belongs to my parents.
This Archive of photographs is like reimagining the history from someone else’s life and this piques the curiosity of the viewer to want to learn more.
Why would someone not cherish these photographs if they are personal, why would they leave them behind buried instead of burnt?
My name is Rosie Lawrence. When I am not at University I live on a farm, with a big shed, and a house called Scotland Hall in Stoke-by-Nayland, owned by my family. We have lived there since 2002 when I was five years old. During Christmas 2019 I was given a job to clear out space in the shed. I came across a box full of about 100 negative colour prints hidden on the top floor of the building in an attic. These contained photographs of people, cows, horses, dogs and the landscape around the farm. I had asked my father if he knew what it was, but he had no idea. The box also contained codes written by hand on notepads in different colours and styles of writing. Something intrigued me about these films, ranging from 35mm up to 6x7 and I was determined to blow them up into colour prints using the Colenta at the University. Once I printed one, the prints started to come out as negative prints and that was when I realised they were positive film which I had just turned into a negative, so I decided to experiment a little.
I found a way of putting each film through the black and white chemicals, converting them into negative black and whites and then converting them again by flipping them in the darkroom to make them look like normal black and white prints. The photographs started to look even more curious and, just as I was about to start my next project, I thought about doing it on these images and trying to find the owner of the photographs and what they were about. The first thing I wanted to know was who lived on my family farm before us to see if they left them behind. So, I called my dad to ask if he knew the person who lived in our home before us and he mentioned the name, Robert Clark. He had warned me not to contact him but wouldn’t say why. If you knew me you would know I am a very nosey person, so of course I didn’t listen to my dad and went back to the box of film to see what I could find. As I dug deeper into the film I found some 35mm film in frames with labels on them saying ‘Chris Reeve Photography’ with a phone number underneath. I tried ringing the number but it went straight to voicemail so, instead, I stalked him on Facebook where he had a photography account. I messaged him to ask about the positive film and he said they belonged to a man called Robert Clark, the same name dad had mentioned. I asked if he had his email which he then gave me, but Chris Reeve also warned me against Robert Clark saying he was a little unstable.
I tried emailing Robert Clark a few times before he finally answered. I asked him about the photographs; where I found them and what I wanted to do with them. I asked if we could meet up somewhere close to us both. I said I was willing to travel to meet somewhere and he mentioned London so I suggested the Pear Tree Café in Battersea Park as I felt it was a safe place to meet, full of families with young children. I waited for about half an hour before he showed up, with no recollection that he was late. His appearance was quite disshevelled, with thinning hair. I started asking a few questions about the photographs, but he hadn’t given me much information before he simply got up and walked away.
Once I got back to Derby, where I go to University, I started to print out more images to find out all I could about the photographs. I was looking for Robert Clark online, just as I did Chris Reeve, but nothing was found; no website, no Facebook profile, nothing. I hadn’t had much luck with the photographs until I looked more closely at the codes I found in the shed, which I then discovered were actually coordinates. I looked up the coordinates on a map and discovered that they led to an abandoned Pink Cottage on the farm where my Grandma used to live. It was so old and damp that no one wanted to live there, so it simply sits there, with scraps of her old stuff, untouched and unloved for years.
At Easter I went home but, suddenly, Coronavirus struck and we went into lockdown. I started to find out exactly where the coordinates told me to go. They led me to the edge of the cottage’s garden, into the trees and stopped next to a dead tree that had fallen to the ground. I wondered whether something had been buried underneath so I decided to dig a hole to see what I could find. Once I had dug quite far into the ground I realised nothing was there, so I looked at the coordinates again. Around the space where I was standing, on the other side of the fallen tree, a load of branches were all pointing in the same direction and sunk into the ground as if they had been there a while. I moved them out the way and started digging again in that area. Eventually I found a black suitcase buried in the ground containing images of cows, but also children aged around 6 to 7 years old. There was an address book with names and numbers scattered about, letters which hadn’t been opened and even more coordinates printed on maps. There were bits of paper about the Foot & Mouth Disease and what the government had asked people to do.
From this evidence, I starting to piece together the story that the photographs were trying to tell me. Suddenly, it all started to make sense. The cows, the farm and why Robert Clark might have left. I decided to email him one last time mentioning that I had found more stuff underground, this time about the Foot & Mouth outbreak. I asked him if he had lost his cattle to the disease and what had happened after. He didn’t say anything about his cattle, apart from the fact that he was trying to sell them, and he mentioned about moving away from the farm afterwards. The children were a touchy subject that he would not talk about, so I left that to try and find out for myself who the children were. This is still an ongoing investigation into the children and the friends of Robert Clark. I did ask him about what he was doing in the shed and he said he had a little business on the side to make more money. This is still a continuing study into Robert Clark and his story on the farm. It is not yet the end.