Followers of this blog will have an idea about the number of photographs I have taken of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands. I had many images on this theme and collated them in a book using the Bookwright software. What you will find here is an edited collection and some of these shots you may have already seen. Most of the captures included were taken during the Winter of 2020/21 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; maybe that is why they are so dark. For me, these are archetypal images of the land I walk across and cycle through every day. It is where I live. Others will see this place very differently but this is a personal interpretation of the landscape, the roads, tracks, rivers, dykes, droves and the wetlands of East Anglia.
Christo and Jean Claude never explained, interpreted or gave meanings to their work; they didn’t need to. We will always obligingly do that for them. Writers and art critics have theorised about their ideas, conjuring a complex set of social, political, philosophical and psychological reasons why we should be interested in the art they produced. If I list many of the customary arguments here, you might consider them to be pretentious, meaningless drivel. And who knows, you may well be right. What I know is, I love the mystery and sense of wonder they created by using the unbelievably simple device of concealment, and for some reason it is far more effective if the object is relatively well known and familiar in terms of scale and shape.
Modern technology insists on ever-higher pixel counts as if the weight of detail was the most essential component in a photograph. If only we could witness more, ‘capture’ more, encompass more, our desire for evidence would finally be sated. The tsunami of information swamps us, flooding every nook and cranny of our lives, absorbing and occupying our natural capacity. The increasingly futile quest to record the minutiae of the visible world is a ‘will-o’-the-wisp’, a shadow play, a distraction. When the fog rolls across the Fens we stop looking, the obsession with calculation, measurement and accounting stalls and we are free to see.
Photography differs from painting. Paintings liberate the artist from the tyranny of the subject and the objectivity of the lens. You can manipulate a photograph to create impossible realities and surreal events, but the light from objects passing through an optic is the starting point. Chance is a key element in a successful photograph, the chance alignment of distinct elements such as lighting, weather, people and place. What are the chances of standing in front of Ely Cathedral in a dense fog as a silhouetted monastic figure walks towards the Gothic doorway? Clearly, much higher than you would imagine if you photograph the Cathedral as many times as I do.
At first sight, this looks like a mirror image, but it is a photograph of one of the arrow-straight tree lines seen across the Fenlands. Why there are two rows of trees planted side by side, I really don’t know; it is unlikely to be an aesthetic decision because it is so difficult to walk between them.
Anthony Trollope (1815 -1882) writes about the Fen landscape and he says, ‘a country walk less picturesque could hardly be found in England’. Trollope was familiar with the fens through his work as a surveyor for the Post Office but was unimpressed by the landscape. I think he was wrong, the Fenland landscape can be absolutely wonderful, as you can see here. There is a poetry in this place, you just have to open your mind and heart, you will see it.