Sunday, 13 March 2016
The Lark Ascending
More backfiles action, searching for overlooked book-sequence candidates, this time looking at Twyford Down. I love high, rolling chalk downland; it's the countryside I grew up in, and I'm sure part of the appeal to me of the St. Catherine's / Twyford project has been simply to have a reason to walk these hills as often as possible, in any weather, in all seasons.
In southern Britain downland occurs in various bands, where the geological syncline and anticline that ripples up from the south coast, down under the London basin and up again in the Chilterns has eroded away to expose the thick band of Cretaceous chalk that lies between softer layers of clays and sands. These lengths of high, dry upland form natural highways, and routes such as the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way were established in prehistoric times and used until reliable, year-round roads could be laid in the valley bottoms.
Like so much in this little corner of England south-east of Winchester, there is a watchful, slightly haunted air of abandonment. Something strange happens to the light up here. These hills are not particularly high – about 460 feet at their highest point – but on a clear day you get that intense awareness of the thin blue end of the spectrum you get in mountainous regions, and the high warbling of skylarks in summer is its aural equivalent. Cue Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending...
I am trying to keep a sense of that watchfulness and that weirdness in this sequence. The main danger in landscape photography, I think, is to succumb to uncomplicated beauty; this is the royal road to "me too" work, the sort of pretty but signature-less imagery that (as I complained in an earlier post, Bye, Bye Landscape Photography, Dear) gets given away anonymously as illustrative material. It's not an easy pitfall to avoid, however aware of it you may be in principle, but it helps if your sensibility is a little skewed, and you generally prefer to take the road less travelled. How far I will have succeeded on this score, I suppose, is not for me to judge. After all, in a quote from Don DeLillo I read recently, "we're all one beat away from becoming elevator music".