Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Ridiculously, I'm still struggling to make a book out of the photographs I've been taking in the past few years at Hockley Viaduct, Twyford Down, and St. Catherine's Hill, including the M3 motorway and the Itchen Navigation canal for good measure.  It ought to be a project that makes itself, dictated simply by the geography.  If you look, say, at Google Maps, you'll see how these all cluster in a few square miles south-east of Winchester, in a tight clinch of transport networks within and around the ancient and modern landscape.

I think one problem is that I've been too "programmatic", in the musical sense.  As well as the obvious topographical aspects, there are many stories to be told and historical links to be made – to take just one at random, this is where Keats took the walk in 1819 that resulted in his "Ode to Autumn" – but it's proving to be more difficult than I had thought to present them in a primarily visual book.  I should probably set aside some time to review what I've got (which is rather a lot) and let a book sequence emerge, rather than impose a narrative.  In fact, what I really need to do is to go back to my old technique of playing games of Patience with actual 5" x 7" prints, instead of fiddling around with hundreds of postage-stamp sized renderings on a screen.

The other problem is that we are still regularly tramping over those fields and paths, and every time we go out I seem to come back with something new and different that changes everything, even if only slightly.  Somehow the sky and in particular clouds have recently become more significant elements in the game, for example.  More subtly, I've also become a better photographer in the four or five years since I first ventured between the arches of the viaduct, and crossed over the motorway footbridge to Twyford Down.  The temptation is always to revisit old successes, and make them even better.

Will it never stop?  I had thought the "restoration" of the viaduct would mark a natural conclusion, but it seems not.  Have I embarked on a project with no end?  I need to remind myself of that useful adage, that the best is the enemy of the good.   The "obvious" may be what is needed.  And perhaps we should simply find somewhere else to go at weekends...


Zouk Delors said...

Since you're a very good writer (as clearly evidenced by this blog, if nowhere else yet) as well as photographer, why not produce a book with manuscript accompaniments to a selection of the best?

Mike C. said...


Yes, that will almost certainly happen, but it's a tricky balance to strike, especially as I don't want to shift it towards "a book about Twyford Down, etc., with illustrations", and I *especially* don't want to have to do the necessary research... Things like the road protests of the mid-80s, the competing London-Southampton railway lines, Keats, St. Cross Hospital and the Black Death, the Itchen Navigation and the watermeadow system, etc., etc. -- these are all fascinating topics about which I know very little, and their actual evidence in the actual contemporary landscape are subtle, to say the least. It's a bit deciding to photograph "battlefields of the English Civil War"... Interesting topic, but not a lot to see, now. This is what I mean by "programmatic".

I suppose I could always write some little prose poems... (And did those feet, in 1819, walk upon Twyford's green and pleasant land?).


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

sounds familiar to me, I experienced the same when I did my "Subsidence" project. In the end, it took me four years to complete it. I ended up throwing out almost all pictures from the first two years, because the pictures changed so much over time that they just didn't work together with the later pictures. It was a fascinating proof for the theory that everything in this world constantly changes - the photographer, the pictures, the landscape ... Curiously, on a particular visit at the location, I felt that it was over; a feeling of melancholy but also relief - I knew that I wasn't going to take any more pictures there.

With regard to the editing problem: It helped me to paint a wall in my studio with "magnetic paint", i.e. wall paint which contains iron filings. Prints can be attached to the wall using neodymium magnets, even when they are printed on thick paper. So it is possible to assess how the pictures work together.

If you have too many pictures or if you feel that they are not focused enough - why not spin off sub-projects? Maybe the mentioned topographic project, another one which deals with the history of the place ...

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...


That is very funny -- I originally had a fantasy paragraph in my post about painting an entire room with magnetic paint, but -- given the price of the stuff -- thought it might be cheaper to have it panelled with stainless steel sheets. In the past I have (in reality) used large whiteboards to good effect.

Yes, I've had that "the thrill is gone" feeling with previous projects ("it's not you, it's me.."), but not yet with this one. You may be right -- too many strands that only feel connected because of the geography but actually aren't. We'll see...