In 2019 I walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall, from west to east, taking photographs as I went along. It was a great experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone with a basic level of fitness and some good walking shoes. In lockdown in the first half of this year I turned my photographs into a little hand-made artist’s book, and from there printed this softback book with a short piece of writing about the experience. It’s available for just £6 from my photography website.
This year was to be a year of exhibitions, projects, books, and workshops; it has turned out rather differently. Over the past weeks and months I have instead been concentrating on writing and printing. In particular I have been cyanotype printing, using negatives made from some of my photographs, but also, as with the work above, photograms made from pressed flowers. These three prints, made on a delicate hand-made paper from Bhutan, are mounted together on an A3-sized board to form a one-of-a-kind artwork. I’m selling this work, and other cyanotypes, over at my photography website (there are books and other prints for sale there too). Selling prints has been a great source of encouragement this Spring, so thank-you to everyone who has helped support me and other artists this way.
Over the years I seem to have found myself organising several marathon readings of novels, in which people come together to read together, chapter by chapter. The first of these was a marathon reading of Moby Dick, which took place in Liverpool in 2013 (more information is here); it was the first marathon reading of Melville’s great novel in the UK. Since then, I’ve collaborated with Eileen Jones on two more, rather shorter marathon readings, of the Arthur Ransome novels Swallows and Amazons and Pigeon Post, in 2017 and 2019 respectively. We staged those two in the Lake District, near to where they are set.
And now there is a third, created under Covid-19 rules: a reading of The Picts and the Martyrs, Ransome’s “lockdown” novel. You can listen to the book read by 31 readers, all reading in their own homes, on our website If Not Duffers. I hope you enjoy it.
On Tuesday December 10th I went to the British Library in London to receive the 2019 Michael Marks Award for illustration of a poetry pamphlet. I’ve written a bit more about this over on my photography website chrisroutledge.pictures, but the short version is that this was for the photographs in Carousel, my collaboration with poet Rebecca Goss, published by Guillemot Press.
Receiving the award was a wonderful way to end 2019, which has been quite a big year for my photography. Back in October I had my first solo exhibition, at the Heaton Cooper Studio Archive Gallery in Grasmere (there are still some copies of the accompanying limited edition book available). I also exhibited at the Liverpool Art Fair, and I have two limited edition prints in the dot-art gallery’s Liverpool Collection, which you can see (and buy from there) until January 18th. The two prints are best seen in person, but if you want to take a look they are Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (Mann Island) and Futurist.
It’s been quite a while since I posted anything here. There are several reasons for that, but the main one is because 2019 has been a year of photography, and I post about that over at chrisroutledge.pictures. Since deciding to concentrate more of my time on visual art late in 2018, around the time of Carousel, I’ve had several projects on the go.
Firstly, I have work at the Liverpool Art Fair, which is being held this year at Liverpool’s Metquarter shopping mall, a space with remarkably good light for looking at pictures. The five pieces I have on show are all Liverpool based, and four of them come from my ongoing “Reflections on Liverpool” series. The fifth is the popular “Futurist” print shown here. I was interviewed recently for a short Q&A on the perennial subject of ‘photography as art’ over at the Liverpool Art Fair website.
There is a huge variety of interesting work on show at the art fair, all of which is for sale, and I highly recommend having a wander over to the Metquarter if you have some time to spare in Liverpool this summer (the show closes on September 1st).
Indeterminate Land. Heaton Cooper Studio Archive Gallery, Grasmere, October 9th-November 3rd.
My main project for the autumn is “Indeterminate Land,” a solo exhibition and book exploring our relationship with the landscape of the Lake District through the aftermath of ‘Storm Desmond’, a violent and destructive storm that struck Northern England and Southern Scotland in December 2015. I began photographing a short section of the river Rothay, near the village of Rydal during the storm, and in the months that followed, and the exhibition will include around 30 pieces of work looking at changes made to the landscape by the storm, and severe flooding. Working with various approaches to image making, including pinhole photography, I have also tried to explore the feelings of shock, and to some extent trauma, that followed from the storm, and to think about how the much mythologised landscape of the Romantic poets and painters manages to defy myth making. More information about Indeterminate Land is here. A signed and numbered limited edition book based on the project is now available to pre-order.
Indeterminate Land runs from 9th October to 3rd November 2019 at the Heaton Cooper Studio Archive Gallery, Grasmere.
I’m excited to announce that my collaborative book with poet Rebecca Goss is available from Guillemot Press today. It’s in a limited edition of 200, and like all Guillemot books is beautifully made and presented. This project has been simmering for over eight years, and we are delighted with the way it turned out. You can buy the book from Guillemot Press here.
More information is on the Open Eye gallery website.
A quick plug for The Arctic Whaling Year, an exhibition of the work of my friend Caroline Hack, an artist who works with textiles to create images and objects relating to whales and whaling from historic Arctic whaling, mostly from around the turn of the nineteenth century. Caroline spends a lot of her time in archives and museums gathering information and recording objects that go into her work in the form of printed or stitched textiles. The result is a series of beautiful pieces including “Calling at Shetland” (above). I particularly like the way the brutality of whaling is juxtaposed with the vibrant colours and soft textures of the print and fabrics.
In Northumberland, the huts in the dunes at Low Newton are a well-known landmark. From their vantage point overlooking Embleton Bay the view is spectacular: yellow sand, a big sky, and the ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to stay in one for a weekend with some old school friends. The huts were built in the 1930s on land belonging to the owner of the nearby golf course (the land is now owned by the National Trust), and still have a chirpy mid-twentieth century atmosphere about them. While they have running water, and most are comfortable enough even for extended stays, they are not habitable year-round. In any case, the water supply is turned off for half the year, there is no vehicle access, and no mains electricity. The lack of electricity probably didn’t matter much to most people in the 1930s, and it is surprising, when it is not available, how little it matters even now. It wouldn’t be in the spirit of things anyway. Supplies are carried in over the dunes by wheelbarrow, and rubbish carried out the same way. It makes you think hard about what you need, and what you don’t, and reminds you that, for a while at least, you don’t actually need very much at all.
It is the beginning of September, and all of a sudden, at first light, the birds are back. They have been almost silent through the summer, and reticent too. This is not the dawn chorus jamboree of Springtime though, with the promise of nests to build and young to rear; at this time of year, birdsong is serious, end of summer talk. And this is still very much the end of summer, not Autumn proper. Most of the school holiday tourists have gone now, so there are fewer oversized cars parked obstructively in narrow lanes, but although there is still a feeling of a few more weeks of warm weather, change is coming. There are ducks rooting around the riverbank, but until today no sign of the Dippers, which seem to have been driven away when the river was made threadbare by the heatwave. We watched them raising young back in May, the adult birds racing off downstream to get food, while the young squabbled on tree roots, or practised diving among the big stones. I’d also quite like to know how June’s Goosander chicks have done; the original brood of eleven was down to just seven in July. Of course the leaves are still on the trees, and despite the drought of early summer, everything is green. But the river isn’t right until there is a white bib dipping, and a little black bird flashing past at high speed, just above the water.
I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing about whales for some time now. And as I make slow, stately, and somewhat distracted progress through my project on the whaler and scientist William Scoresby Jr., I’ve been thinking more about how whales appear to us now, and how they appeared 200 years ago. The obvious difference of course is that, apart from a few dishonourable exceptions, most countries–and most people–now think killing whales is a bad idea. But it is the idea of whales that interests me: how do we look at them, what do we see, and what do they mean to us?
Most whales are of course, very large, and it is this aspect of the whale that dominates our view of them. But there is more than a trace here of an old-fashioned Western view of otherness in which that which is not of us is necessarily mysterious and strange. The whale skeletons in places like the Natural History Museum in London certainly provide a spectacle, and their size, emphasised by their room-filling juxtaposition with the large gallery spaces used to display them, is akin to the marvellous size of a Saturn rocket, or some vast Gothic cathedral. But of course in their context none of these things is large or powerful at all. Saturn rockets may have helped transport a few men to the Moon, but they were sacrificed in so doing; the vastness of a cathedral may hint at the glory of heaven, but it is a weak effort in the face of a divine power that notionally created the universe.
And so it is with whales: in the museum, or more poignantly, stranded on a beach, their bulk is a spectacle, and a logistics problem. But out at sea, perhaps thousands of kilometres from land, they are, if not small, then to scale. The vastness of the whale skeleton, like the surprising girth of a fallen tree, is a puzzle: how can something so large and extraordinary exist alongside us? But here, in their family group, Sperm whales rest at the surface, as ordinary as birds on a lawn.