Land Journal

‘a search of time and place’- guiding principles

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The Hill of Dreams

Place is where an event is deemed to have occurred and time is when the event transpired. The search the photographer is engaged upon is the why. Both elements of time and place must be explored equally.

It is important to distinguish between the inherent qualities of a place, where the purpose is ascribed – or space which awaits its meaning – and site which remains open to the imagination.

 

Fragments4
The Old Straight Track

It is autobiographical as the search is conducted over sites with personal significance, a known landscape – where research and knowledge are applied to amplify its presence and distinguish its position.

The chosen space, place or site has meaning that can be described. Why this place was chosen, and what is the legacy? It contains the three tenets of Landscape Photography as proposed by Robert Adams; Geography, Autobiography and Metaphor.

 

Ritual in the Henge
Ritual at the Henge

It is established in lore, and often transient; potentially a story but all that remains is a clue. It is an investigation of our presence, our existence, our actions and ultimately our legacy. The location (place) and meaning (time) must have some bearing on the intended audience.

To visit and capture is not enough, a sense of place is something you can feel, with observations leading to insights often acquired over time. To correctly construct and compose these constraints reflects an understanding of what is being observed.

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The challenges ahead . . . .

“It’s like moving house without having seen the new house. We have made an agreement to exchange, but we don’t yet know the terms of Brexit, we don’t know the costs and the consequences.”

Tony Blair

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Half British

 

The vote to leave the EU has been made; fostering a political climate laced with hesitancy, oscillation and absent chairs. The population, albeit only 37%, voted for something where the implications are not widely understood, although some evidence was available for the diligent.

Many incongruous positions demand satisfaction, often unrealistic given our nations ‘temporary post brexit’ decline in wealth. Some patently ridiculous ideas and others outright sinister have emerged, attempting to assume a new found plausibility.

Land Skipping

Our Land and Environmental management is under pinned with thirty years of legislation agreed by the UK government but often originating in the EU. This will present some challenges, threats and opportunities if it is to be replaced. The current developing approaches to a more sympathetic, plural land management could be threatened, where well financed self interest could dominate.

The issue of flood management being a prime example. Land owners and farmers loudly and aggressively strove to dominate the debate demanding the dredging of rivers, which inevitably increased the flow and damage further down stream. Their campaign managed to remove or silence many capable people who saw both sides of a contentious debate.

Within this journal entry I am collating the thought of others, a good way to collate thoughtful comments, but also as a reference point – a launching pad – for future photographic work and projects

The Agricultural Issues

Ian Hodge – Professor of Rural Economy at the University of Cambridge:

“it does seem quite likely that at least some of those environmental gains could be lost as a consequence of Brexit”

The Daily Telegraph:

In total, “55 per cent of UK total income from farming comes from CAP support”.

Land Workers Alliance:

“What is more clear is that the world of the 1950s and 60s has gone and it is not coming back.”

Campaign to Protect Rural England:

recommendations to increase the diversity, sustainability and resilience of the farming sector

The Scotsman

“Farmers need to make the case for keeping subsidies”

The Independent

“many farmers had voted “without understanding the consequences” and were now in dismay over news they may not receive the same level of payouts made under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy”


Roots in the Rubble – a cautious opportunity

“So yes, despair and rage and curse: there are reasons enough to do so. But then raise your eyes to where hope lies.”

So Much For Sovereignty

“What does it mean to love your country? What does it mean to defend its sovereignty? For some of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, it means reducing the United Kingdom to a franchise of corporate capital, governed from head offices overseas. They will take us out of Europe to deliver us into the arms of other powers.”

Environmental law implications

Brexit will have a far-reaching and complex effect on our environmental legislation, and that long-term uncertainty does not encourage green investment.

The Definitive Map 2026; a questionable law?

The Definitive Map 2026; a questionable law?

For people with an interest in walking, or more specifically our right to be able to walk where we have in the past, January 2026 is an important date. To someone like myself, an ambling ‘hedge poker’ along arcane byways, tracks and green lanes, the Definitive Map legislation could stop some of this activity.

The Definitive map is being created by all local authorities as a legal record of all public rights of way in their specified area. The collation and recording of these routes are the responsibility of the local authority, but it relies on the public to inform them of their existence if originally missed off. Full details can be found here.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/414670/definitive-map-guide.pdf

So when 2026 rolls along, if a route you have used all your life is not registered on the Definitive Map it will be lost; maybe it’s that ginnel or snicket you cut through to the shop or pub, or the shortcut to the football pitch that your father showed you, or the 3000-year-old lane, in legal terms still a highway, slowly disappearing under the plough. Your right to use them will be lost, and you could face a civil prosecution if you carry on traversing them, although in all likelihood at some point after 2026 the landowner will block them.

A complete mess but…

It is not the intention of this article to discuss the actions to be taken – see the links further down this article if interested – although taking photographs of paths and byways might one day help,. I want to question the principle of going through with this legislation in the first place.

I suspect this legislation was greeted with enthusiasm in some quarters – and not just the landowners – as some people thought that finally we would get it clear where we could walk and no one would stop us.

‘muddied’ thinking

The imposed artificial cutoff date, 2026, (it was 2016), is drawing closer with little resources available to it, or the general public having been alerted to it. It might seem a long way away, but it can take many years to complete the legal procedures to get a route finally accepted by all parties. (Nothing like having a good idea (?) and setting a date for its completion without thinking through the scale of the operation). Local authorities had to allocate scarce resources – in a time of reducing budgets – to work on the project, which they did. We now find that the latest round of staff cuts have reduced those limited resources available for an ever increasing backlog of cases.

http://www.ramblers.org.uk/news/walk-magazine/current-issue/2013/march/spring-2013/confronting-the-cuts.aspx

‘once a highway always a highway’

Enshrined in planning law, case law and many other statutes, ‘once a highway’ sets out our rights, something we have that cannot be taken away without an agreement. Can this fundamental principle be eradicated by statute? and if it is, should we not have a full and supported discussion, like for example, the current leave or remain EU debate. Remember it is for the public to find these routes and register them, but if the public is not aware of the legislation, how can they possibly be expected to do it.

Does the law support the ‘once a highway’ principle? Or has something else eroded it which is far more important, the right to quiet enjoyment of your private property? A quick walk around an area with a map and history book will reveal how many highways no longer exist, having disappeared under ancient or dubious circumstances. In truth, this principle was probably lost many years ago, ignored by the powerful and oblivious to the many. It seems likely that the Definitive Map will travel the same route, it will reduce rights and not add to them.

Land Rights

The history of the countryside has a storyline of continually restricting access, be it the Enclosure Acts over many centuries, the 1836 and 1936 Tithe Act, or the Public Rights of Way Act 1932 to name but a few. The legislation was about establishing boundaries, creating taxation values and establishing private ownership, the by-product was where we could walk, and by implication, it identified where we could not walk.

The Definitive Map is at the very least taking away some hope that one day we will be able to access the countryside as in the past, beyond the narrowly confined strips on the edges. European countries have a different perspective on land access;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_to_roam

Economics

Why do we want to list all the public rights of way or more likely remove ones that are unclear, when the net ‘benefit’ is to simply enhance land prices. If a piece of land has a public footpath on it, or potentially a right of way, it is worth less. Land has become an asset; the field is no longer judged by what income can be generated from farming, but by its long term asset value and the gain attached to it. The removal of future claims for public rights of way across the land will improve the balance sheet.

Therefore what benefit do the public get from assisting in the escalation of land prices? None. Surely far better to direct energies towards getting landowners to accept the values of a modern plural society, rather than allowing them to continually attempt to exert their manorial rights. Land ownership in this country is highly subsidised by the taxpayer, yet we get little in return.

Future generations

As an inhabited country, we have roamed this land for at least 10000 years. The current epoch that has severely restricted our access to the countryside is only 400 hundred years old . The Definitive Map legislation states that there is no going back – therefore we are creating something that will impact on all subsequent generations. Will we be held responsible for not protecting their rights and heritage through either this complacency or greed?

Interestingly no group is yet demanding the obvious; stop the Definitive Map coming into existence. All ‘conservation’, and countryside ‘access’ groups are trying to get the public’s attention to help get the definitive map completed. This has ability to turn into a shambles – something that might have had a noble sentiment originally will probably do the opposite. When the first group declares its total opposition will be a day to celebrate; if only for the fact that we will have a genuine debate, and the powers that be will be forced to dedicate more resources, and a clearer head, to the problem.

For further information visit the following;

http://www.ramblers.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/dont-lose-your-way.aspx

http://www.bhs.org.uk/access-and-bridleways/2026

http://www.oss.org.uk/what-we-do/rights-of-way/what-we-dorestoring-the-recordfind-our-way/

A few photographs of routes I use; not on the Definitive Map, or subject to a current lengthy process to get them on.

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Sylvan Discoveries – Part II

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Part of my photographic routine is to visit a nearby flood plain. In winter, the river breaks its banks and overwhelms the area, water, and wind combine in a powerful torrent that alters the landscape. The waters force is abated as it encounters the willows, and damage is avoided further downstream. Debris is moved around, and deposited silt provided the conditions for this years growth. Areas are exposed or covered, new arrangements are created, fences are broken, then rebuilt, shape and form dominate the appearance as exploration becomes paramount.

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According to local folklore, two centuries ago, this was home to a community of willow platters. They would supply the nearby towns via the river with willow length or finished baskets. The trees were coppiced or manipulated to access suitable growth, and the foundations of their buildings and connecting water channel still exist. The old name of the area was Willow Garth, which has now disappeared from use.
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The place is special; few people enter this domain, and I suspect I want to keep it like this.

Part of landscape photography is translating how we perceive the land. Certainly trees represent an economic resource and increasingly an environmental benefit, but could they possibly offer more, comfort, protection, reflection and even resolution. Are they the ‘wealth’ – the well-being of our nation, not just an accumulated resource.

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A small extract from the poem The Battle of the Trees (Cad Goddeu) to reflect on;

I have been in a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I will believe when it is apparent.
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.
I have been the light of lanterns,
A year and a half.
I have been a continuing bridge,
Over three score Abers.*

  • Aber means river mouth in Welsh.

The growing collection of images of this special place can be found here.

Sylvan discoveries – Part I

Aldwark 2016-5

A few years ago I read the back column of a photography magazine, where the guest writer said he was tired of seeing photographs of trees. A valid comment when followed by an appeal for a broader subject matter, but it was not, it was a comment on how boring and inanimate they were. So I avoided one of the oldest living species on our planet.

I started to have doubts about my ‘approach’ when I came across an exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, ‘Remarkable Trees’ features images taken by George Paxton. An amateur Victorian Photographer and Botanist producing beautiful images; where photography was the medium, and plant inquiry and investigation the purpose. I realised that photography to me was what I had discovered, not what I aimed to construct.

As a Land Photographer, you assess every new piece of land by the trees and hedges, its current origins, its history, and its future. Their presence, or absence, indicates the owners land management practice. I cannot image the world without trees, although at their current rate of extinction, it will be possible to extrapolate the date it will occur.

Aldwark 2016-6

A wooded landscape

Writers down the years have celebrated trees and the wooded landscape1, often in verse and story using anthropomorphic language. We name landscape locations after trees and many of our streets and houses. The wooded landscape tells us the type of soil underneath them, and they determine the air quality above. Historians can plot settlement and old fields subdivisions by them, and attractive treen objects fill our homes.

The Medieval mind was unsure about the woods, seeing the benefits but very aware of the dangers. This has translated down the years to ‘a fear of’ – Tolkiens Myrkviðr, a ‘dark murky wood’, as an example. This is an extract from Bartholomew the Englishman from the 13th Century,

“Woods are wild places, waste and desolate, that many trees growin without fruit, and also few having fruit. In these woods there are often wild beasts and fowl; herbs, grass, leas and pastures grow here and medicinal herbs are found in woods. In summer woods are beautied with boughs and branches, with herbs and grass. But woods are also places of deceit and hunting, for wild beasts are hunted here, and watches and deceits are ordained and set of hounds and hunters. They are also places of hiding and lurking, for often thieves hide here and lay wait for men to pass, whom they rob and often kill.” 2

Aldwark 2016-4

The Battle of the Trees

Whereas the Celtic mind, recognising the danger, but also the power contained within the woods. They celebrated these places in songs and verse; sometimes as practical but often mystical. The Battle of the Trees (Cad Goddeu) is contained within the Books of Taliesin, which were first published in the 14th Century in the Cumbric language, originating orally from the 6th Century. Debate continues as to whether this allegorical poem represents a historical event, a description of the fears and magical powers of the tree, or encoded druidic knowledge. The discussions have revealed various translations and interpretations over the years, but whichever approach is taken it still retains an elegance in its symbolism.

When the trees were enchanted,
In the expectation of not being trees,
The trees uttered their voices
From strings of harmony,
The disputes ceased.

Like many who have discovered this poem, the puzzle continues to attract. Maybe not in the wisdom it has to reveal, but in its descriptive prose of something so beautiful as a tree. The full text of the translation by W F Skene can be found here.

Aldwark 2016-2

Kipling’s A Tree Song, from Puck of Pook’s Hill, enters the same territory, and in folk circle became the Oak, Ash and Thorn, with the latest incarnation by the Unthanks. The positioning of the words is best described by John Roberts and Tony Barrand’s sleeve notes to their 1977 album, Dark Ships in the Forest.

“Rudyard Kipling’s A Tree Song sets the scene for the stories and poems of Puck of Pook’s Hill. This setting is by the late Peter Bellamy, to his own tune. We also use the song as a scene setter, a “calling-on song.” The magic of trees lies deep in the roots of Druidic religion and mythology, and the oak, ash and thorn are central characters of the bardic tree-alphabets. Much of this tree lore has survived in folk tales, in English as well as in Celtic tradition.”

The following are the 1st two verses, the full poem can be found here.

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old Engerland to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer’s morn)!
Surely we sing of no little thing,
In Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever Aeneas began;
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
When Brut was an outlaw man;
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak and Ash and Thorn!

A ‘wooded landscape’ is used by Landscape Historians to describe an area of land covered with growing trees. Forest originated as a legal entity, the King’s hunting ground, which might or might not have be wooded. Forest is now used to describe a conifer plantation.

2  Medieval Lore , ed. R. Steele (London), 1983), pp. 91-92

Accepting Responsibility

For a while I have been deliberating on why landscape photography concentrates on the comfortable, rarely deviating from the grand and dramatic. We have a long history of photographing the majestic places people no longer live, or not anymore. Jesse Alexander covers aspects of this, and offers alternative views in his book Perspectives on Place, which I recommend.

However in considering these questions I am still restless over something that rarely gets touched upon, the contention of land ownership itself – and should the photographer accept some responsibility for the content and approach they take in documenting this muted quagmire.

Photographing Albion

To the diligent observer, (which every photographer should be), everything we see is a product of our human activity. It is misguided to believe that anywhere exists that has not been impacted by our presence. The arcadian idyll is a popular myth or a political deception, depending on your viewpoint; but it is within this environment that landscape photography has to operate. It is understanding our output that photographers need to deliberate on, not only why we recorded a particular situation, but also, what are we capturing, and importantly who or what does it represent.

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Crisis or continuum?

We capture what we are

Simon Schama in Landscape & Memory (p9) stated: “Even the landscapes we suppose to be most free of our culture may turn out on closer inspection, to be its product.” Developing this statement for the photographer – even the landscapes we choose to capture are the product of our culture, not just the view but how we present it.

For example ‘natural’ moorland and abandoned farmsteads, forever associated with nostalgia – where a past freedom to roam is formed in our memory, but only recently granted – has become an attractive tax investment and ecological disaster combined. This land is depleted of diverse wildlife, increasingly covered by invasive species – where ‘grouse beating’ has become the only employment. The land has been exploited, (and managed to the point of low fertility), but it still has the ability to recover. Are we as photographers capturing its potential or its continuing demise, as metamorphosis creates a desert.

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Tax investment and ecological disaster?

Power and Politics

The landscape is a longstanding political terrain, where owners compete with the dispossessed to control its benefit. The writings of George Monbiot cover many aspects of the power and politics behind land management, and I recommend bookmarking his site. He easily exposes the contradiction and corruption emanating from the ‘guardians of our environment’. Where scientific and environmental knowledge is blindly discarded for ‘homespun’ remedies and manorial rights. He recognises the ‘custodians’ whose purpose is to ensure the status quo in land ownership; alongside developing schemes to further increase grants and incentives – to the largest subsided industry we possess, Agriculture. Many recognise the problems agriculture face, but few are prepared to challenge its current stewardship, a notable exception being the current Scottish government.

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A Personal Perspective

The politics beyond the frame will always dominate, but their influence within the frame is enormous. When photographers capture, then enhance areas of outstanding natural beauty, do we become responsible for validating that our land is in good hands. The continual provision of reassuring images surely sustain a belief that a ‘natural beauty’ can be accessed somehow, somewhere, but maybe not around here. What suppresses our innate curiosity to seek out an understanding of what we see? Thereby, can we conclude that the ‘traditional’ landscape photographer is guilty of aiding and abetting forces that primarily seek landscape exploitation over increasing calls for environmental harmony?

As Professor Paul Hill stated, “In my opinion, the majority of Landscape Photographs I see rarely challenge or surprise. They are predictable and formulaic and pose few philosophical or visual questions. They often appear to be conservative artefacts celebrating the status quo.”

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Environmental harmony?

Therefore do practitioners of Landscape Photography needs to take responsibility for the images it creates; while seeking the enhanced picturesque might provide some limited income, in doing so, do we become complicit agents in widespread land abuse and destruction.

Understanding Landscapes: It’s in the (autobiographical) detail.

The Tradition

The majority of landscape photography documents the play of light on a known landscape – a ‘wide angle’ capture of the terrains principle features. This style of imagery is an opening, a doorway, a location pointer, to be read like a map. These images are technically competent but emotionally slight, and they never reveal, or provide insight to the inquiring mind. They are a product of the copyists paradigm that landscape photography practitioners struggle to leave behind.

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The Vale of York © Ken Harrison

The images offer a window to observe, but never an invite to ingress. This type of photography rarely deliberates or reflects on the qualities of the subject. The photographer is often only interested in how the light falls on the scene – certainly creating something unique but within the confines of a recognisable and common viewpoint. ‘Planting the flag’ becomes the challenge, not the journey ‘through’ the mountain. 1

The Emotional Landscape

The land can reveal information about itself; its history and its condition – it also helps us reflect on ourselves and our psyche. The academic study of the landscape has grown in recent years, reflected in the writings of J.Thirsk, F.Pryor, A Raistrick and W.G. Hoskins; but our emotional relationship with the landscape is also subject to a rapid overhaul. Topophilia, the love of place, asks important questions about our relationship with a specific topography. Where a place is occupied or unoccupied, and can be real or perceived, it is the lands benefit or drawbacks which are logged within our mental map.2

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Approaching Whitestone Cliffs © Ken Harrison

It is through the practice of Psychogeography, where its many practitioners take different approaches, but all are concerned with the perceived detail of the place. Peter Ackroyd introduced the personality of an individual area; what we understand to be the persistent spiritual temperament of the site. Documenting this understanding, Nick Papadimitriou describes his activity as deep topology; the absorption and capture in the memory of the detail, to the point where an impression emerges. Will Self recognised that many would see these ‘discoverers’ as amateur historians with an attitude problem3, but recognising his own search for identity he extracted a key element in the land, the autobiographical nature of its attraction and discovery. The need to understand ourselves is present in our digestion and interpretation of place.

Hedge Poking

Accessing the land can only be achieved through walking4, all other approaches are responsible for removing the critical senses which help us absorb the experience. It is a heuristic approach to landscape photography, where observation and reflection take place within the site, not at an observable distance. It is not about technical finesse, the perfect shot – it is about being there, where the senses guide the capture. As C S Lewis described, when the senses are exposed it brings back fleeting glimpses of a past, often we know not from where.

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Pre History Dyke © Ken Harrison

Walking can be the challenge of surmounting the great vistas, but it can be as John Folwes described it, ‘hedge-poking’…. “never more than a field or one hillside, and usually much smaller still”5. For an active mind, the vistas might beckon, but the country lane also provides plenty of detail to be resolved. It becomes the perfect opportunity for the photographer to combine the forensic technique of discovery with a lyrical style of interpretation.

1  Nan Shepherd (2011). The Living Mountain. : Canons Imprint Re-issue edition . A different way of exploring a mountain.

The notion that place is capable of imparting its qualities to people may sound a little fanciful, so let me say, first, something that is merely common sense, namely, good soil yields good crops, bad soil poor crops”.Dr Yi-Fu Tuan. (2014). Space, Place, and Nature: The Farewell Lecture. Available: http://www.yifutuan.org/dear_colleague.htm. Last accessed 20th April 2015.

3  “in so doing, I hope to suture up one of my wounds in my own, divided psyche: to sew together my american and my english flesh” Will Self (2007). Psychogeography. London: Bloomsbury. p12-13.

 

4   “The manner in which the contemporary world warps the relationship between psyche and place, the ways in which we go about the task, are various”.Will Self (2007). Psychogeography. London: Bloomsbury. p11.

Fay Godwin (1985). Land. London: William Heinemann Ltd. p ix. Essay by John Fowles.