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.
‘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.’
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.
In the Fenlands, a house is a mute record, a repository of thoughts, memories, and lives lived. Inside, random collections of discarded objects lounge in neglected corners, like careless tenants. Torn curtains in upstairs windows, become props in a witness protection program, scanning the horizon for potential interlopers. A polyurethane oil tank cements the incongruity as the telegraph poles transmit on forgotten frequencies.
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.