Tag Archives: photography

Rea Brook valley

5 Sep

How quickly the Summer slides into Autumn.  Whilst there is plenty of warmth in the sunshine, you know that as soon as you move into shadow, the air is thin and chilly.  This is a great time of the year, and I shall be planning some walks for the next few months as time allows.

Back during the midst of the heatwave, at the beginning of July, I did an early morning walk along the Rea Brook in Shrewsbury from Meole Brace into the centre.  I had been reading various books and writings of Richard Jefferies, Edward Thomas, Richard Mabey and Robert Macfarlane, and so their detailed noticing of the landscape and nature were fresh in my mind as I made this meditative wander alongside the river.

Shropshire Council owns most of the land and manages the meadow, wetland and woodland habitats as a nature reserve.  This green sliver connects right into the heart of Shrewsbury, but it was hard to ignore the tightening encroachment of housing all the way out to the outskirts of town.  There are some 8,000 new dwellings to be built in the town by 2036, and the pressure is being felt on all the undeveloped green spaces.

There is plenty of edginess to this edgeland landscape with graffiti covered bridges, corrugated tunnels and patches of tangled woodland.

I was early enough so that I saw only a few dog walkers and a couple of runners.  I shared the walk mostly with the birds, and I stopped on the bend in the river by a rope swing and listened to their conversations, the buzzing of insects and the gentle rippling sounds of the water.

I have seen a kingfisher along the brook before, but not today.  Today, I noticed how many houses had been built on the bank from Sutton Farm – lacking distinctiveness, confidence or any sense of their place in Shropshire in the 21st Century.

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Back in the studio, I made a series of about 10 little paintings in just under 2 weeks.  Unlike my more recent large and expressive paintings, these were more finely detailed and representational.  I tried to capture the early morning light that I had enjoyed.  Four of the paintings were in acrylic on wood panels (23cm x 19cm):

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The other paintings were acrylic skins made by painting in reverse layers onto glass, then peeling off the skins once dry for mounting in frames.

Three of these paintings were selected by curator Mel Evans for the Lawn and Meadow exhibition at Participate Contemporary Artspace in Shrewsbury (24th July to 11th August 2018).

 

 

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Whixall Moss Wandering

2 Apr

Following my previous posts about the walk to Bettisfield Moss, I revisited Whixall Moss on Friday 23rd March with a group of fellow artists/writers: Ted Eames, Ursula Troche, Ruth Gibson and Adele Mills.  We met up with Mike Crawshaw of Natural England who guided us on an excellent walk around both Whixall Moss and Fenn’s Moss taking in a section of the Llangollen Canal, Furber’s Scrapyard and Fenn’s Old Works.

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EU funded

It was interesting to hear about the BogLIFE work that the Natural England project team are managing to restore this special peatbog.  This includes tree removal and drainage/water management to ensure that only rainwater enters the area and is retained as much as possible in order to encourage growth of sphagnum moss in pools which will begin the long process to create peat.  We could see where the moss is thriving and natural peatbog is rejuvenating.  There is great biodiversity here, and the site invites the wanderer to look ever closer at the little details.

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Long grasses sing high

Beyond the reach of human ears

Silent ditches flow 

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Sounds disappear in

a breezy expanse of sky

Sun glistens in pools

One of the most fascinating aspects of this landscape for me, is the wealth of evidence of human impact.  It is easy to view the area as a wild and natural landscape and, at this time of year, it is quite a bleak, almost monochromatic place.  But it is also easy to see that it has been industrialised until very recent times.

The Furber’s scrapyard is slowly being cleared.  Most of the cars are gone, and since my last visit, most of the huge mounds of tyres have gone too.  But there is still much to do, and the ground is thick with fragments of wrecked vehicles.

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Tanker carcass smashed

In birch and bramble thicket

Blackbird finds Spring voice

The skeletal remains of Fenn’s Old Works stand stark against the sky.  It was built after a fire in 1938, and holds the last 110 hp National diesel engine left in situ in Britain.  This powered milling and baling machinery which can still be seen.

Peat was dug from the Moss from early medieval times until 1992.  The large scale drainage caused the collapse of the raised bog, and from 1968 there was a peat cutting machine which increased extraction. Commercial extraction initially used the Llangollen Canal which was cut across the Mosses from 1801 to 1804.  There are signs of the old narrow gauge railway which took peat to the works for processing before being loaded onto trains on the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway, part of the Cambrian Railway.  This line was closed in 1963 by the Beeching cuts.

The Mosses have also had links with the military, having had 10 rifle ranges in the area dating back before World War I.  During the Second World War there was a practice incendiary bombing range, and a strategic “starfish” decoy site intended to divert German bombers from Liverpool.  Here’s one of the shelters used by those manning the site.

The theme of boundaries and borders drew me to return to Whixall Moss as this is a theme that Ursula Troche and I have been thinking about.  The Anglo-Welsh border crosses the area in straight lines following ditch courses and running within a few metres of the Natural England Manor House base.

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How wide is a border?

There are many aspects of borders (which might be viewed as permeable zones) and boundaries (which might be viewed as limits or binary divisions) which can be considered beyond the physical markers, although there are plenty of interesting boundaries visible around the Moss.

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The woodlands surrounding the Mosses have a distinctly calm, peaceful atmosphere compared with the open heathland where wind ruffles through the grasses, and sound seems to be swept away up into the sky.  Many of the trees, especially silver birches, which are on the Moss itself will be removed due to their uptake of groundwater.

Since returning from the walk, I have had a little studio time to experiment with markmaking using small samples of peat and sphagnum moss, and handmade birch brush.

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We hope to do further art walks in the future.  Please get in touch if you are interested.

 

Ref: Daniels Dr JL,  “Fenn’s Whixall & Bettisfield Mosses Natural Nature Reserve.”, English Nature, 2002

It’s a sign

30 Oct

To quote from Cool Hand Luke: 

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”

Signs Copyright 2017 All rights reserved, Andrew Howe

Your Perfect High Street

15 Sep

As part of last weekend’s Heritage Open Day events, I was delighted to be invited to run a workshop at the Unitarian Church on Shrewsbury’s High Street.  According to the inscription on its frontage,  the Unitarian Church was built in 1662 and was where Charles Darwin came to worship.  And I had a beautiful old room with stained glass windows above the street to work in.

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The suggested theme was designing a perfect High Street.  Arguably, Shrewsbury already has one, and so in preparation for the event I began to explore by taking a series of photos of details along the street.  Details that may go unnoticed unless you really slow down and look.

Participants helped create a collage of my photos as a grid during the workshop, and then people added their own thoughts, ideas and memories on sticky notes within the grid:

 

 

 

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My preparations also included a pen drawing of the elevations of both sides of the street, which became quite addictive.  I completed it in about three days, although certainly can’t vouch for its accuracy of detail.  It was interesting to see the differences in scale of the buildings and see them without the dominating colours and branding of the retailers. The Unitarian Church, which can seem quite an impressively large facade from street level, actually appears to be one of the smallest buildings along the whole street.

 

The workshop was aimed primarily at families with children aged 8 and over, but many adults dropped in and got involved too.  There were around 35 participants over the course of 3 hours.  Besides the photo collage, the activities began with thinking about the kind of activities that might take place in the High Street and which are more important.

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I made a few initial suggestions, and quickly realised just how many different activities already go on in our High Street.  Participants then added their own ideas, moved activities between “important” and “not important” and voted with red dots for the ideas they agreed with.  I deliberately missed out quite a few activities like shopping and gambling to see if there was any reaction, and surprisingly only one person added “ice cream shop”… and this was in the “not important” zone.  Someone else added “independent businesses” as important.  Hear hear!

The activities ranked in the highest zone of importance/votes were (approximately):

  • Homes for living,
  • green space,
  • learning,
  • seating,
  • street art,
  • a litter free environment,
  • having a strong community,
  • independent businesses,
  • walking/strolling/wandering,
  • healthcare,
  • theatre/street performance,
  • exercising democratic rights local political issues and public debates.

I think we can guess at the kind of social-demographic I was dealing with.  Other suggestions I really liked included:

  • Temporary closure of streets to create play/community areas,
  • interacting and co-operating,
  • installations and performance platform for local artists (obviously).

Most of the workshop activity revolved around building a scale model of a High Street using card boxes and hand drawn frontages.  Participants could use my pen drawings and a montage of architectural design considerations as inspiration.  There were some really lovely buildings.

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Finally, as an activity to take away, I produced a sheet of some of the architectural details to go and find somewhere in the High Street.  You can download a copy and have a go yourself by clicking this link:  Look Closely

look closely

 

Motor Plantation

26 Feb

Thoughts and images from a recent walk in woodland below the local hills – not quite an Edwardian picnic:

The gleaming beauty that was yearned for
Striving to earn more
Slumps here amidst the trees
Silent and dull

The industrious and hopeful
Relieved the weary world of its burden
With the cogs and the pipes and the cables
They built a time machine
To explore the future
And looping back to these relics
Catch a glimpse of star dust
As the Earth reclaims its bounty

Now, diverted by brighter lights and shinier stuff
They rise up and glide away
into the gentle breeze
While others far below cling to the ground
against an icy wind

The View on the Street

15 Jul

Further to my earlier announcement about the Loitering with Intent exhibition at the People’s History Museum, in Manchester, featuring a special edition of STEPZ zine, here is my article as published:

The View on the Street

The full text is reproduced below:

On considering the whereabouts of the People’s History Museum, I did what anyone these days would do, I checked Google Maps. I soon found myself roaming around Salford on Street View, looking through the “eyes of the Pegman”.
In the silent, frozen time of Street View, my mind created its own soundscape. Seeing the railway arches of the viaduct into Salford, I was transported back to Attercliffe, Sheffield, 1983. I am walking to British Rail’s permanent way maintenance depot. Beyond the viaduct on Furnival Road, there are glimpses through huge metal doors into the steelworks. Molten steel glows orange. I feel the subterranean boom and clangs of machinery. There is a sulphurous smell of coal.

I click on the white chevron…

Since it appeared in 2007, Google Street View has gone beyond mere novelty, and established itself as a near essential tool to many practitioners in urban design, environmental study and other site-related professions. With Street View it is possible to do preliminary reconnaissance or even avoid site visits altogether.
Street View has created the opportunity to explore more locations across the world than any individual could physically reach in a lifetime. On the face of it, this can be done safely, free from intimidation, and it is open equally to all. Or at least it is if you have internet access.

It would be nonsense to suggest that, in its current guise, it can in any way replace the experience of walking. However, as technological developments continue to advance, the virtual reality foreseen by William Gibson appears ever closer.

With Trekker busy tramping around national parks and pedestrian areas, Street View allows the user to veer off road. There are Street View-based web-tours in which users trigger recorded sounds. Google Cardboard and Photosphere can provide virtual 360o 3D experiences. People already insert their own images into Google Map. It is not a huge leap to incorporate video, sounds, physical sensations or real-time CCTV.

As Google makes more frequent updates, it offers the ability in some places to go back and review previous views and witness how the landscape has changed. This is akin to time travel. Street View becomes ever more synchronous with the present, and if viewing into the past becomes more universally available, then our disconnection from time and space will be complete.

Rebecca Solnit proclaimed that “walking is how the body measures itself against the world.”1 Rhythms of walking, ambient sounds, chance human encounters, and relating time and distance are integral to the pedestrian experience, which cannot be easily replicated. By contrast, Street View is like sensory deprivation, and any urge to meander off down an alleyway or over a fence is curtailed.

How will people approach the real world as Street View becomes a more pervasive everyday experience? Some people may become more sensitized to the visceral chaos of the city, while others navigate purely by series of images, headphones on, oblivious to the feel of the air on skin.

There are more sinister implications to Street View and its impact on public/private space. Many people find Street View an invasion of privacy. If Street View makes some places more easily accessible, could it also be used to make other places disappear? Perhaps so for those with sufficient power to maintain their privacy from Google’s cameras. What will become of public spaces if people retreat from them into a virtual world?

Businesses advertise and promote information on Google Maps. Street View facilitates further commercialisation of space, virtually, and by extension, in the real world. Google has appropriated editorial control, and all our movements within Street View can be tracked. People appear to have lost the battle for virtual space without realising it was there to be won.

Continuing my virtual dérive, I found this poem within the images of Street View:

Welcome you are now in Salford
Rome
No Stopping except taxis at any time
Controlled zone
We’re demolishing this structure to create an opportunity for a modern gateway building
Spin factory
Sounds from the other city
The Fall
The courage of one will change the world
Road Closed
Diversion
£3 real deal
Earn it
For timetables and bookings download the app
We lead others follow
Ahead only
Road ahead closed
A fresh perspective
Warning CCTV cameras in operation on these premises 24 hour surveillance
Luxury city centre apartments for sale and to rent
Garden Lane
Danger
Keep out
“My four-year-old could’ve done that”
Zone ends

1 Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust. A History of Walking, 2001.

A couple of montages that accompanied my original draft are here (all images courtesy of Google):

Here are all the images from Google Street View as seen on my virtual derive through Salford.

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STEPZ II – Between the Rollerama and the Junkyard

1 Jul

Earlier this year in February, I was invited by Tina Richardson, (writer/academic/psychogeographer) and Ally Standing (artist/psychgeographer) to contribute to a special edition of the zine STEPZ.  The zine will feature, along with supporting artwork, in an upcoming exhibition at The People’s History Museum in Manchester, Loitering With Intent. The exhibition runs from 23 July to 13 October 2016.

Inspired by the lyrics of the Mancunian punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, this STEPZ II edition of the zine is Manchester and The North influenced, in particular looking at themes across urban space. The zine combines written pieces with visual elements such as photography, illustration and collage.

My written piece considers the impact of Google Street View on our perception of urban space.  Taking a virtual dérive from the People’s History Museum around Salford and Manchester, it is immediately apparent how, in its current form, Street View can only be a pale imitation of the experience of walking.  Yet Street View has created the opportunity to explore more locations across the world than it would be physically possible to travel to in a lifetime, safely and, arguably, equitably to all with internet access.

I reflect on how increasing use and applications of Street View may influence how we approach walking in the real world in the context of future technological developments.  For example, will we become more or less sensitive to the sensory and psychological affect of the urban environment?  What will become of public spaces if people increasingly retreat from them into a virtual world?

It concludes with a short poem created from imagery and found text recorded during the virtual dérive.

I’ll post a copy of my article and provide links to the zine nearer the date of the exhibition.

The zine was produced at by Rope Press on a Risograph with a traditional “low production style” zine aesthetic in two colours.

STEPZ II in production, image courtesy of Tina Richardson

STEPZ II in production, image courtesy of Tina Richardson

Tina has published a taster blog at:

http://particulations.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/announcement-stepz-ii-between-rollerama.html

And here’s a blog to advertise the zine:

http://particulations.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/between-rollerama-and-junk-yard.html

The exhibition and associated events at the People’s History Museum are organised by The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement), a Manchester based collective interested in psychogeography, public space and uncovering the secret stories of the city.  Since 2006 they have been organising public walks, dérives (drifts), games and spectacles offering new ways to explore the streets.