Edgelands - the back story

This project began as my final degree project in the Autumn semester of 2013. It began as a working title of AONB as an homage to Keith Arnatt's body of work that opened my eyes to the routine and vernacular aspects of life in designated areas of outstanding natural beauty. The image of the bins out for collection is one that resonated with me. However, AONB it might have been and I was also driven by the fact that our home is in an area of Special Conservation Interest with all sorts of impositions as to what we can do to the facade whereas a few yards away anything goes. I began by exploring the route down Shotley peninsula where the AONB of Suffolk Coast and Heaths was on the left side of the road but no such designations existed on the right side yet the landscape was the same if you exclude the River Orwell. This canvas had been shaped by the last Ice Age but since then the scraping and shaping had been done by humankind and their ways with agriculture and building - none of these features being natural as it where. I found myself down at Cattawade where the Essex and Suffolk borders meet and by chance between two AONB designations; Suffolk Coast and Heaths and Dedham Vale otherwise known as Constable Country. I was in an oasis of detritus and it was beautiful. Beauty does lie in the eyes of the beholder and my preference for golden hour image making really did exploit the light.

The Corrugated Hut

What I discovered at Cattawade was a Stephen Shore type landscape of overhead power lines and the remnants of an industrial landscape teetering upon extinction with nature taking back control. I was fixated on this rusting corrugated shed and arrived an hour before daylight to set up the large format camera - this image is a medium format one made later. It was only after the sun had got up and I descended my stepladder to discover a plethora of material at my feet and I began to look closely at foreground material along with the big picture. The second image of the verbascum in the next grid was used as the feature image for both a book of the series and a solo exhibition at the Museum of East Anglian Life.


Returning to the location

One of the habits that I nurture as a photographer is to return to the location where previous images have been made to make more that show the relentless progress of change and illuminate the fact that all images made are historical artefacts. Photography as far as I am aware is nothing more than a recording method of historical presence. I obviously influence my narrative by being deliberately selective of favourable light and composition.

These two images reflect that but also introduce an element of human frailty in that the position they were made from is not the same but more or less in the same ball park. This used to be a car park for a factory long since made redundant and the tarmac and degrading gravel was often found to display the hallmarks of boy racers and joyriders but it was also the location of choice for groups of walkers and fishermen to park up. The littering, I presume, was made by motoring louts but a subsequent visit saw most of it cleared away presumably by some civil-minded citizens. I doubt very much it was performed by street cleansing people. The car park is now (2021) part of a building site and I cannot gain access to it.

Other locations

These are just a few of the other locations that ranged to the east of Ipswich and just outside Orford, all displaying my take on Edgelands. I researched the book by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts whilst making this series. It resonated with me and 'gave me permission' to make the images and challenge conventional notions of beauty.

Large format images

The first image in this post was made at Sproughton whilst on my way back from an earlier shoot. As is my practice with shooting on a field camera, I place the camera about 2.4m above the ground to make the image. This gives the perspective one might get fro the cab of a lorry or a bus for example and does play a little with the observer in a gallery as these images are printed at 5x4 feet.