In Autumn, the tide of bracken on the fells recedes, revealing a scattered Atlantis of forgotten walls, enclosures, and tumbledown buildings from long ago. Over there is a wall built by a landowner to protect his investment in Larch, never realised; here the remains of a small hut, perhaps for a shepherd, caught out at nightfall. In Summer, when the holidaymakers arrive in numbers, and the bracken grows tall, these modest ruins are submerged again. Only the sheep and deer venture into the green shallows. (The bracken is unpleasant against human skin, and besides, is infested with ticks.) I imagine the men who built these walls sleeping out on the fells; their backs stooped, hands toughened by the coarse stones that declare someone else’s ownership. Now these old structures have become sunken reefs, soft with moss, daubed with lichen; alive with birds, insects, delicate lizards. Returning from the stand of pines where I have been taking photographs, I follow a track from a badger sett to where it joins the path that is on the map. The track is strewn with hidden stones from ancient boundary lines. I stumble down the slope to the surface of the world.
Autumn, 2018. Sometimes a landscape can be on a small scale.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the effects of erosion—by water and feet—on the landscape, and have been paying attention to the residual signs left behind. In the case of this photograph, taken near Ambleside after storm “Callum” in October, rapidly flowing flood waters have pressed the grass flat, almost tearing it up by the roots. Of course these effects are short-lived—the grass will soon stand up again—but they are a record of immense force.
I’ve been working on a project about the River Rothay in the Lake District for a few years now, and it’s gradually taking shape. More information is here.
It is only when you walk around arable land a lot that you really see how industrialised and unnatural much of the countryside has become; there isn’t much room for nature here. This land is very wet, so there are deep drainage ditches and square ponds like this one dotted around among the fields. I took this picture in early October 2018, just as the leaves were starting to fall from the trees. The farmer had recently dredged this pond, and cleared the ditch that drains into it, chopping down, or grubbing out, many small trees in the process. For some reason, this dead tree was left untouched.
Most people who grew up before the age of the selfie will have some memory of family group portraits taken using the self-timer function on somebody’s camera. Most film cameras had a prominent lever or an obvious button somewhere, to trigger a clockwork mechanism or an electronic delay. The camera would be positioned on a chair or table, while the group arranged itself, leaving space for the photographer whose job it was to frame the image, set the timer, and run to take up position and say “cheese”. Timers always took longer than you imagined, and you never quite knew when they would stop. The photographer, trying to avoid becoming a blur in the photograph, would arrive in the group flustered, yet by the time the shutter clicked, everyone’s smile would have been held a little bit too long. This photograph was taken with an Ondu pinhole camera on the beach at Low Newton in Northumberland. There is no timer on the camera, but the twelve second exposure gave me time to open the shutter, run to join my three friends, hold still for five or six seconds, then run back to close the shutter again. I like the effect long exposures create of being there, but not there; this is a record not of a moment, but of time passing, visibly.