Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Itchen Navigation

I've been trying to crank myself up to get on with the long-postponed task of editing my photographs from the Hockley Viaduct, St. Catherine's Hill, and Twyford Down.  I've been visiting that tight little triangle of landscape most weeks since 2010, so there are quite a few of them.  At the end of the editing process, of course, there will probably prove to be just about fifty that are both excellent images in their own right, and which will work in concert with the others in a sequenced series.  On the other hand, I will undoubtedly discover some overlooked gems.

The thing that is easily missed -- here and throughout England -- is the extent to which ours is a thoroughly man-made landscape, and one which has been continually made and re-made over several thousand years.  Take these two views of the River Itchen.  Or, rather, the Itchen Navigation, a canalised waterway developed in the 18th century to bring goods from the docks at Southampton to Winchester.  The "natural" Itchen itself threads its way through multiple, non-navigable channels in the nearby meadows, although these are not "natural", either.  Those meadows are water-meadows, full of carefully-planned "carrier" channels and sluices, designed to irrigate the fields and ensure an early and continuing grass supply for livestock.

I took both of these photographs this weekend.  The first view looks rather bucolic, but in reality it shows a canal running beneath a railway viaduct.  What's more, to take it, I stood beside the roaring M3 flyover at Hockley, so it's practically an industrial landscape.  The second view is less than fifty yards from the first, on the other side of the M3 flyover.  It looks much more like the canal it is but, far from being a toxic sump full of supermarket trolleys, fat trout swim in its clear water, and swallows dart back and forth above it; they actually nest under the flyover.  A little further down herons and the occasional kingfisher haunt the banks.

This mix of pastoral, infrastructural and industrial elements is what makes the area so fascinating, and it's a quality I intend to bring out (and use thematically) in the edit.  Like almost anywhere in Britain, it's a place of thousands of years of layered, compacted history, but which also happens to be a transport bottleneck beside King Alfred's Saxon capital, and at the western edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty.


Chrisb said...

I to have long been drawn to post industrial locations, probably due to my early roots in the West Midlands and influences of the likes of the New Topographic's and Edwin Smith. I have been documenting Langstone Harbour near Portsmouth for the last ten years or so, a strange lonely place full of ghosts.

Mike C. said...


Sounds interesting -- do you have a website? As I was explaining to a visitor the other week, Portsmouth is a very different place to Southampton, and there is a mysterious force field that prevents casual travel from one to the other...


Chrisb said...

Alas no website, something I have been meaning to organise. I am a deciple of the view camera so still spend time doing it the hard way under a sackcloth with darkness and chemicals. I showed a small selection of prints from the work a couple of years ago in a small gallery here in Petersfield but I would like to exhibit the work closer to where it was made. Suitable gallery space is rare in that neck of the woods.