Photography exhibition launches at Tyntesfield
PUBLISHED: 15:40 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:40 30 August 2019
A photography exhibition will take place at a National Trust site.
$tow High In Transit, by photographer and academic Olli Hellmann, will take place at Tyntesfield, in Wraxall, from today (Friday) to November 22 from 11am-5pm.
The merchant house of William Gibbs was a major player in the Peruvian guano trade from 1842-61.
Born in Madrid, William's unique combination of Spanish language skills, knowledge of the South American trade and access to London finance markets put him ahead of competitors in the lucrative guano trade. Eventually, he became known as 'the richest commoner in England'.
Guano is the excrement of seabirds and bats and is a highly effective fertilizer due to its high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium.
Guano profits funded the conversion of Tyntesfield from an ordinary country house into a grand Gothic Revival mansion — worlds apart from the Chincha Islands where bonded labourers mined guano under the harshest of conditions.
Olli Hellmann is a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Waikato, in New Zealand.
His interest lies in the effects of globalisation and in translating his academic interests into a more visual language.
In this work, he seeks to compare Tyntesfield's fertile wealth with the barren landscape of the Chinchas.
Olli said: "What fascinates me about the story of Peru's guano trade is that something as unremarkable as bird droppings could fuel a booming global economy.
"When you visit Tyntesfield you get a real sense of how much money Western companies, such as the Gibbs merchant house, made from selling guano to international markets - the expensive art, the lush gardens, the various extensions to the original house, the private chapel — all of this was paid for by the excrement of sea birds.
"For Peru, however, the boom proved to be a curse. By juxtaposing Tyntesfield with the barren Chincha Islands, Peru's main source of guano in the 1800s, I want to show the guano wealth was not distributed evenly."
$tow High in Transit was developed in collaboration with Tyntesfield, and is a series of triptychs and diptychs which juxtapose the fertile wealth of Tyntesfield's landscape and lavish interiors with the barren Chincha Islands.
The name of the exhibition refers to the storage of the guano on the merchant ship's return to England.
When contaminated by seawater, guano gave off methane gas, which in certain conditions caused spontaneous explosions.
The cargo thus had to be stowed high enough above the waterline to avoid the risk of asphyxiation and explosion.
Visitors are invited to use the hashtag #StowHigh on social media to give their thoughts on the exhibition and the themes it explores.