In 2021 I was commissioned to make two short films (the first appeared on this blog back in December 2021) about Dorothy Wordsworth to celebrate her 250th birthday on Christmas Day 2021. These films are based on talks by experts on her work, and in this second short film, Dr. Penny Bradshaw, Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University of Cumbria, explores Dorothy Wordsworth’s creative partnership with her famous brother William, her illness in later life, and her deep connection with the natural world.
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.
Back in 2009 I noted a collection of photographs by Chris Jordan showing dead albatross chicks filled with plastic. Back then it was quite shocking to see these birds killed by our waste. But that was nine years ago, and only now is the issue of plastic in the environment becoming a major public issue. Plastic has been around for just over 100 years, but it is only in the last 50 that it has become widely used. It’s worth making the point that of those 50 or so years we have known about the damage plastic is doing to our environment for at least a decade. And yet we throw away more plastic now than ever.
Anyway, Jordan has been working for the past few years on a feature-length film called Albatross, which has been funded by donations, and is available for free to watch via Vimeo, or download in various formats.
Here’s the trailer:
I don’t often get angry enough to write letters, but I wrote one today to the planners at the Lake District National Park Authority, registering my objection to a proposal to open an “Activity Hub” including eight zip wires, across Thirlmere, in the Lake District. If approved, would damage an important part of one of the most beautiful areas of England.
If you agree, I urge you to sign the petition here:
Please also write a letter to the planners. Information about how to do that is here:
You can send your letter in the form of an email to: email@example.com
The main part of my own objection letter is below.
My objection is principally that the application is in conflict with both the spirit of the National Park’s foundation, and the statutory purpose of the Lake District National Park Authority, which is to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural heritage of the Lake District National Park”.
The Lake District National Park has many special qualities, but it is defined by the beauty of its landscape. Although visitors have a wide range of activities available to them in the National Park (including three excellent, low impact zip wire attractions) it is for the landscape that most of them visit: they climb the hills, swim, sail, and paddle the lakes, or just look at the view. These activities are available to almost everyone, and have a universal value. They offer spiritual renewal, and require a personal engagement with the landscape, its wildlife, and its history that are part of the reason for the Park’s existence. Almost all require some level of fitness and adventurousness, but have a manageable impact on the landscape itself.
By contrast, the proposed zip wires and their associated infrastructure will permanently degrade the appearance and tranquility of the Thirlmere valley for everyone, while offering a short thrill ride for a relatively small number of visitors. Riding a zip wire is an almost entirely passive activity, similar to riding a roller coaster at a theme park. It does nothing to enhance the unique and special qualities of the Lake District, but on the contrary reduces it to the level of an Alton Towers or Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It will bring with it traffic, noise, damage to habitats, and will do nothing to foster the idea that the landscape needs to be conserved, looked after, and improved. In this regard it is anathema to everything the National Parks stand for.
In 1935, JB Priestley, wrote “It is still too often assumed that any enterprising fellow after quick profits has a perfect right to destroy a loveliness that is the heritage of the whole community.” I hope that the LDNPA will reject this application, and demonstrate that we have made progress since then.
One of the things I find most fascinating about the process of trying to understand the past is the extent to which we forget collectively about things that no longer seem to matter. How things that were once an acceptable or at least tolerable part of life become almost inconceivable. What we call progress is not simply a matter of overcoming problems and sidestepping obstacles, but of denying they exist. The Icelandic volcano that has disrupted air travel across Europe in the past month has been a reminder of just how dependent we are on a stable and predictable environment. We want our transport to be reliable and nothing less than a volcanic eruption can stand in our way. But even so the idea of being delayed in our travels round the globe because of a volcano seems faintly ridiculous. Volcanos are so prehistoric and passenger jets are so, well, shiny and modern. But what if transport, industry, and commerce could be disrupted by something as mundane as the wind blowing in the wrong direction?
In March 1822 William Scoresby and his crew of fifty men were preparing to sail from Liverpool to the whale fishery off Greenland in the ship, Baffin. Unfortunately the voyage was delayed for about a week because a westerly wind prevented them from leaving the dock. This would no doubt have caused problems for Captain Scoresby, since not only would the men have to be retained on the ship (as it happens two of the crew deserted during the delay) but the loss of a week from the short Arctic hunting season was expensive. Scoresby finally managed to begin his voyage north on March 27th when the wind shifted a little southward, but his ship was almost alone when it left the Mersey. Here’s how he describes it:
[We] were prevented from sailing by strong westerly winds, which prevailed for several days … At this time, nearly 500 ships were lying in the different docks wind-bound; but scarcely any of them attempted to put to sea on this occasion as the wind was not suitable for the South Channel, the outlet most suitable for the voyages to which the principal part of the fleet was destined.
Scoresby’s troubles should be seen in a wider context: around forty percent of world trade was conducted through Liverpool in the early nineteenth century. Delays had a significant effect not only on individual ships but on the economy of Britain as a whole. Far more significant, no doubt, than the restrictions on European flights are today. It is also worth noting that the prevailing wind in Liverpool is from the West.
The Long Arctic Night is a fictionalised account of William Barents’ third voyage to the Arctic in search of the Northeast Passage, a voyage from which he did not return. I credit this book with turning me into a reader. It wasn’t the first ‘chapter’ book I read for myself, but it is the one I remember most clearly. I was a bit worried that reading it again would be a disappointment but it is every bit as clear and well paced as I remember.
Barents set out on May 6, 1596, from Amsterdam, only for his ship to become trapped in the ice, forcing the crew to overwinter in a tiny wooden hut they built on Nova Zembla:
Meanwhile we had made good progress with the building of our hut, and the four walls were almost completed, so that everyone could see there were to be three doors, one facing east, one south, and one west. The north wall, however, was entirely solid, as the rawest and coldest winds generally blow from that direction; and Piet, well aware of that, had, with foresight, provided for it in his construction plan. … On the following day we added the slanting roof, which sloped at an oblique angle from north to south, and covered it thickly with mud paste, which froze as usual the instant it was applied.
The men encounter bears, live on seal meat and develop scurvy. When the ice finally melts the following Spring they find the ship has been crushed, forcing them to sail back to the mainland in two small boats.
Amazingly the hut itself was rediscovered almost 300 years later, in 1871; many artefacts were recovered and are kept at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The photograph shows how it looked in 1881, but the site is now marked by a memorial and is visited by arctic cruise ships. In recent years, as global warming melts the ice, the Northeast Passage has become passable to shipping, shaving around 3000 miles from the journey between the Netherlands and South Korea.
The photograph below was taken by Chris Jordan, a photographer whose work I have just discovered. The pictures speak for themselves, but it’s worth quoting Jordan himself: “not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries.” If anyone you know is in any doubt that we are screwing things up in ways that won’t work out well, show them this (the whole gallery is here):
Chris Jordan’s web gallery is well worth a visit.