Two Houses on Ten Mile Bank Fenlands

Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967  Diane Arbus

Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have produced a masterpiece but I do see a connection between the two images. The power of Diane Arbus’s photograph rests on our understanding of individuality and identity. The twins were seven years old when Arbus spotted them at a Christmas party for twins and triplets. The twins’ father once said about the photo, “We thought it was the worst likeness of the twins we’d ever seen.”

The houses next to the River Great Ouse share a deadpan presentation and surface likeness, but they are not the same. The flat emptiness of the Fenland landscape behind the houses echoes the featureless white wall behind the twins who remain quietly animated by their differences.

River Great Ouse at Earith, Fenlands

Submerged agricultural land is quite common at this time of year in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands but I am always struck by the sheer incongruity of scenes like this. This image was taken near the village of Earith and shows the impact of controlled flooding from The River Great Ouse.

House on The Ten Mile Bank Road, Fenlands

This photograph was taken on the Ten Mile Bank Road near Little Downham in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands. This steep embankment is designed to protect the agricultural land and the isolated houses from the potential flood waters of the River Great Ouse. With climate change, sooner or later we will all find ourselves living behind some sort of artificial embankment.

Abandoned Farmhouse at Curf Fen Drove, Chatteris

The Fenland has visual riches in abundance, but these treasures are easily overlooked or unseen as we drive by on our way to somewhere else. Just off the Isle of Ely Way, or the A141, if you prefer the prosaic designation there is a wonderful example of a Fenland Farmhouse. It embodies the archetypal idea of a house, that childhood notion of what we think houses should look like. It could almost be a drawing, a blueprint. More or less symmetrical with a front door in the middle, uniformly spaced windows, and two chimneys at either end it surveys the flat open space of Curf Fen.

I have photographed this building on more than one occasion with limited success and this evening, with the Winter light fading fast, I was absolutely certain I had left it too late. I was mistaken. The low sun reflected in the broken glass of the upper windows briefly animated the facade providing a counterpoint to the encroaching darkness.

The Ouse Washes in Flood

‘The Ouse Washes are part of a flood defense system. They are an uninhabited area of nearly six thousand acres that provides storage for floodwater that the River Great Ouse cannot discharge directly into the sea (at Kings Lynn) without overflowing its banks. The excess waters are held within the washes until tides and river flows allow discharge back into the river and thence the sea. This can take a few days or several weeks’.

‘Unfortunately, this essential safety feature results in regular flooding of a section of the A1101 main road where it crosses the washes between Welney and Suspension Bridge. This part of the road is known as the Wash Road or Welney Wash Road, but referred to as Welney Causeway.’

Welney.org.uk

Well, there you have the technical explanation that somehow overlooks the beauty and drama that is a direct by-product of the floodwaters. This photograph was taken from the now impassable Wash Road, just as the rays of the sun momentarily broke through the dark winter clouds.