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.
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.
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.
Bram Stoker was inspired by Whitby Abbey to write the story of Count Dracula. Had he visited Ely in the dark Winter months he would have found similar inspiration for a macabre Gothic novel. When glimpsed through the trees from the march on the opposite bank of the river there are few elements of 21st Century life to break the spell. A web of branches and ivy veils the tower, like a child looking in trepidation through half-open fingers.
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.