Professor Patrick Sutherland

Profile image of Professor of Documentary Photography

Professor of Documentary Photography

London College of Communication

Biography

Patrick Sutherland is a documentary photographer. He studied anthropology before undertaking the Newport course in documentary photography with David Hurn and John Charity. After Newport, he pursued a career as an independent photographer, working for editorial clients and developing his own personal documentary projects. His first book Wetland, with writer Adam Nicolson, was the result of two years living and working in the Somerset Levels. It received funding from the Welsh Arts Council and South West Arts, was exhibited at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford and then toured the UK. The work was published in the Sunday Times Magazine and Granta and went on to win a small literary award. Numerous public documentary commissions followed. One project on intensive agriculture, commissioned and exhibited by the Impressions Gallery in York, was published as the essay Farm Blight in the Independent Magazine and went on to win a World Press Photo Award. Patrick joined the University of the Arts London in 1993 as course leader of the postgraduate photojournalism course.

For over two decades Patrick has been working in and documenting the culturally Tibetan communities of the Spiti Valley in North India. The project started as a photographic reportage, which eventually led to an international touring exhibition, the book Spiti the Forbidden Valley, with an essay by the Tibetan filmmaker Tenzing Sonam and a dedication by Henri Cartier-Bresson, as well as magazine spreads and exhibition catalogues. A more recent project on the Buchen, travelling lay religious theatre performers, exorcists, musicians and healers unique to Spiti, led to an exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, and a book Disciples of a Crazy Saint, with Tashi Tsering. Patrick is currently fascinated by the emerging genre of computer modified photographs displayed in Spiti houses.

Patrick Sutherland also directed The Elephant Vanishes, a long-term project documenting the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle. Working with LCC MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography students, the project resulted in several exhibitions and publications. A trilogy of books entitled 'Home', 'Community' and 'Economy' was edited from student work. 

Research interests

Documentary photography and photojournalism, ethnographic field recordings, the culture and communities of the Spiti Valley in northern India, western Tibet and Khorchak Monastery in particular, the Tibetan Opera, Lama Manipa, Buchen and other Tibetan lay religious performers; Caste, music and performance in Spiti; historical photographs of Spiti and Western Tibet; photographs of the Elephant and Castle.

Research statement

Since 1993 Patrick Sutherland has been working in and documenting the culturally Tibetan communities of the Spiti Valley in North India. The project started as a photographic reportage, which eventually led to an international touring exhibition, the book Spiti the Forbidden Valley, with an essay by the Tibetan filmmaker Tenzing Sonam and a dedication by Henri Cartier-Bresson, as well as magazine spreads and exhibition catalogues. The project received funding from LCC, the Arts Council and Cambridge University (Frederick Williamson Trust).

As his understanding of Spiti evolved, Patrick became interested in documenting the community sonically. A radio interview with LCC colleague Peter Cusack on Resonance FM and a broadcast of his early recordings led to funding from the British Library and an AHRC grant entitled The Spiti Sound Archive. The BBC World Service commissioned and broadcast a radio documentary called Breaking the Stone. The practice of sound recording has also led him to a more nuanced understanding of the social role of music and musicians in Spiti, which manifests in an interest in caste politics and the threatened community of lower caste performers. The archive of sound recordings is being deposited in the permanent collection of the British Library. Additionally the British Library has acquired a substantial collection of photographic prints and digital files.

A more recent and collaborative project on the Buchen, who are travelling lay religious theatrical performers, exorcists, musicians and healers unique to Spiti, was stimulated by their negative responses to his reportage photographs of them. One Buchen told him “Your photographs are so bad that when you leave, people tear them up and put them in the fire”. A second AHRC grant led to fieldwork, an exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, and a book Disciples of a Crazy Saint, with Tashi Tsering, director of the Amnye Machen Research Institute in Dharamsala (published by the Pitt Rivers Museum).

Patrick was subsequently awarded grants from the British Library/Arcadia funded Endangered Archives Project to survey and then document the 'Narrative and ritual texts and narrative paintings of the Buchen of Pin Valley in Spiti'. This involved two winter fieldtrips, collaboration with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala and the training and mentoring of local researchers. All the material from these fieldtrips is now available online. 

Patrick's work occupies a territory where documentary visual arts practice overlaps with anthropology. He has presented papers at anthropology conferences, lectures to various University anthropology courses and contributes regularly to the Visual Anthropology MA at Manchester.

As a result of a conference presentation to the International Association of Ladakh Studies in Rome, Patrick was invited to join a major multidisciplinary research fieldtrip to Western Tibet in 2010. The team included Dr Christian Jahoda (anthropologist and project leader from Austria), the late Prof Tsering Gyalpo (tibetologist from Tibet), Veronika Hein (linguist from Switzerland), Dr Christianne Papa Kalantari (art historian from Austria) Dr. Hubert Feiglstorfer (architectural historian from Austria). The expedition was funded by the Austrian Academy of Science, Vienna, with grants from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). Fieldwork permits and access were supported by the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, Lhasa. A 292 page co-authored book on Khorchak monastery was published in early 2013 in China with Tibetan, Chinese and English texts, and republished by the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press in 2016.  Further grant applications are in the pipeline.

Patrick Sutherland also directed The Elephant Vanishes, a long-term project documenting the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle. This project has involved the commissioning of acclaimed documentary photographer Paul Reas, several years of themed projects with LCC MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography students, the production of exhibitions and several publications. Three exhibitions have been held at the Cuming Museum in Southwark. A trilogy of books entitled 'Home', 'Community' and 'Economy' has been edited from student outputs. Work from the project has been exhibited in numerous venues, from the now vanished subways of the south roundabout at the Elephant, and the infamous shopping centre to the Photographers Gallery and Tate Britain. Short films about the Elephant, made by students, have been broadcast by Channel Four and the Guardian. The project has received major funding from Southwark Council, and additional support from Getty Images, LCC and the University of Wales, Newport. From A Distance, an extraordinary exhibition of photographs by Paul Reas was exhibited at LCC in October 2012, accompanied by a dedicated publication, an issue of Fieldstudy, with commissioned essay by Giles Fraser, the Guardian’s 'Loose Canon' columnist.

Patrick is currently fascinated by the new computer modified photographs displayed in Spiti houses and has presented a recent paper at the International Association of Tibet Studies conference in Bergen (2016).

These images seem heavily influenced by recent Indian studio photography: static, full-frontal expressionless portraits layered upon generic internet-sourced modern domestic interiors or “landscapes” montaged together from separate images of non-Himalayan mountains, parkland and dense beds of flowers.

But further research has revealed an established history of modifying images, re-imagining and extending the individual static photographic frame: black and white photographs modified with minor honorific gestures of colour; photographs substantially repainted; photographs montaged/collaged on to other photographs in a pre-Photoshop era; portraits and multiple portraits layered on to computer generated landscapes or interiors; and especially photographs clustered and grouped together in a multitude of ways. 

These images and image clusters challenge the limitations and stasis of straight photographs, a form which cannot express the subtleties of affiliation and association that Spiti people demand from their photographic imagery. By bringing images of people together within a frame, people who are separated by time, politics or geography; by visually expressing connections between ordinary humans, politico-religious elites and deities; and by compressing or collapsing the past, present and future, Spiti photographs transcend the limitations of the straight document. In doing so they express some fundamental Buddhist ideas of lineage, authority, enlightenment and reincarnation. But photographs are also function in very different ways: they are not closed objects but open vehicles for the transmission and communication of power. 

Students

Current students & thesis titles

Noni Stacey'Community Photography': Radicalism and a Culture of Protest in London-based Photographic Groups and Collectives of the 1970s.

Alexander Awramenko, The Interstitial Space: Photography and the Extended Gaze.

Julia Johnson, How can participatory methodologies be most beneficially used in peer-led therapeutic environments?

Sarah McAdam, Home is where the Art is: an investigation of art within domestic spaces.

Completed students & thesis titles

Sophie Beard, We seem to know you - An exploration of the family photograph used in the British National News from 1986 - present.

Gary McLeod,  An Unfolding Voyage: Rephotography and the Challenger Expedition.

Selected research outputs

  • Documenting the material culture of the Buchen

    Sutherland, Patrick (2016) Documenting the material culture of the Buchen. In: First International Conference on Spiti: Recovering the Past & Exploring the Present, May 6-7 2016, Wolfson College, University of Oxford.

  • Spiti

    Sutherland, Patrick and Coldstream, John (2015) Spiti. [Show/Exhibition]

  • Khorchag

    Jahoda, Christian and Gyalpo, Tsering and Papa-Kalantari, Christiane and Sutherland, Patrick (2013) Khorchag. Studies and Materials on Historical Western Tibet, 1 . Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, Lhasa, Tibet, Republic of China.. ISBN 978-7-80589-204-7

  • From a Distance

    Sutherland, Patrick and Reas, Paul and Takvam, Monica (2012) From a Distance. [Show/Exhibition]

  • Economy: photographs of the Elephant and Castle

    Sutherland, Patrick (2012) Economy: photographs of the Elephant and Castle. [Show/Exhibition]

  • Economy: the Elephant and Castle

    Sutherland, Patrick (2012) Economy: the Elephant and Castle. The Elephant Vanishes, 3 . London College of Communication, London, UK. ISBN 9781906908157

  • Disciples of a crazy saint: The Buchen of Spiti

    Sutherland, Patrick and Tsering, Tashi (2011) Disciples of a crazy saint: The Buchen of Spiti. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. ISBN 9780902793514

  • Disciples of a Crazy Saint: Photographing the Buchen of Spiti

    Sutherland, Patrick (2011) Disciples of a Crazy Saint: Photographing the Buchen of Spiti. In: Disciples of a Crazy Saint: Photographing the Buchen of Spiti, 14 February 2011, University of Cambridge.

  • Community: The Elephant and Castle

    Sutherland, Patrick (2008) Community: The Elephant and Castle. The Elephant Vanishes, 2. London College of Communication, London, UK. ISBN 9780954807450

  • Home: the Elephant and Castle

    Sutherland, Patrick (2008) Home: the Elephant and Castle. The Elephant Vanishes, 1. London College of Communication, London, UK. ISBN 9780954807443