Burnt and Other Fens


The Fens are a large area of drained wetlands from the Norfolk Coast to Cambridge some of it below current sea level. Its distinctive flat landscape where sky meets land in a straight line edge, punctuated by lines of marching pylons contains some of the richest agricultural land crucial to food production for the UK. But it is also highly environmentally vulnerable, with soils exhausted and bio-diversity decimated by intensive agriculture and protected only by dykes from rising sea levels caused by climate change. It has long been known – including in children’s stories – that by 2050 the whole area could be under water unless changes are made. But it is also an area where innovation is happening by farmers as well as environmental organisations to make the landscape and agriculture more sustainable, recreate areas of peat wetland as a means of carbon capture as well as increasing biodiversity.

This is a new body of photography-based work inspired by Mark Fisher and other hauntological discussions of ‘the weird’ and ‘the eerie’ linked to past, present and future social and environmental issues around:

  • the ways in which towns and villages in Fenland use images of past, present ands future to promote themselves to outsiders for tourism and investment income, focusing on Littleport and the Littleport Society, but also other towns and villages.
  • role of historic and continuing inequalities in shaping the economic and political landscape of the area, and implication for potential futures.
  • reclamation of areas of fenland by environmental organisations for public access and for wildlife. Linked to engagement with development of the Fen Edge Trail, eventually linking walks through Fenland across Cambridgeshire and beyond. This is working with landowners and environmental organisations to reclaim and improve land for wetland wildlife. See http://www.fenedgetrail.org and http://www.fenedgetrail.org/overview/walks

I had originally intended to do some documentary projects, but it is unlikely that this will now be possible until 2023 because of continuing uncertainty around Covid Restrictions and time constraints to complete work on other projects. I envisage two main experimental outputs in 2022 based on exploratory walks with the family and short stays with my daughter in Littleport:

  • ‘Lost in Littleport’ iPhone photo/video and Sketchbook derive walks through Littleport to start to understand the town and how things look for local people.
  • ‘Burnt and Other Fens’ photo essays of documentary landscape images of fenland agricultural and wildlife conservation, continuing my interest in creative monochrome and colour styles to provoke questions about tensions between economic, social and environmental aims and some of the ways forward currently being proposed.
  • ‘In Praise of Littlefolk’ experimental illustrations in Photoshop art styles that will form part of a future small illustrated book of selected and rewritten Fenland tales of rebellion and resistance.

The precise form these projects take will depend on winter weather and how far the Covid pandemic affects access – many of the nature reserves etc have facilities that are currently closed, and possibly staying with my daughter in Littleport will not be possible till Spring 2022 onwards. But they will provide a stimulus to interesting weekend walks, and days in Littleport when my daughter is at work. They will lay an important relaxed basis for sustained in-depth work for local as well as wider audiences in the longer term.

Fenland Edges: Interactive animated maps

In order to get a clear and accessible overview of Fenland history and current and future developments I will summarise available information (see preliminary padlets below) on one or more interactive and animated maps. Starting with cardcut backgrounds and icons, these will be brought together in Stop Motion, After Effects and InDesign.

Made with Padlet

Made with Padlet

Burnt and Other Fens: Photo Essays

‘Burnt and Other Fens’ photo essays of documentary landscape images of fenland agricultural and wildlife conservation to provoke questions about tensions between economic, social and environmental aims and some of the ways forward currently being proposed.

The photo essays will continue my interest in creative photography and application of creative prompts through developing new skills in Photoshop – including integration of NikFX and Topaz filters. They will go beyond the dramatic abstract black and white images of many currently successful professional landscape photographers to experiment with a range of styles from the early ‘nostalgia’ of P R Emerson to the hyper-real moody colour flash images of Fen life by Justyn Partyka.

Road to Parson Drove: South Holland
Great Fen
Welney
Burnt Fen

Photos of Burnt Fen near Littleport. To the right of the first image is the invisible site of the lowest trig point in England – details on-line and marked on the map, but given the density of signs, they obviously don’t want outsiders to see it!

‘Lost in Littleport’: derive iPhone documentary and sketches

Littleport on the River Great Ouse is on the large Fenland plain within the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire. It is the largest village in East Cambridgeshire by area and third largest after Ely and Soham by population. Much of the surrounding rich agricultural fenland area is below sea-level and dependent on drainage systems. The lowest trig point in Britain is near Little Ouse; it sits at 3 ft (1m) below sea level. The whole area as far as Ely is under threat of flooding from rising sea levels as a result of climate change.

The village in parts is very picturesque, with its old library building, churches and village hall. The area has been inhabited since at least mesolithic times, and Littleport itself is said to have been founded by King Canute. Historically it is famous for the Littleport riots of 1816 that influenced the passage of the Vagrancy Act in 1824. There are also many green spaces. But a quick car tour around the village and its outskirts also found very large differences in income levels between very affluent large houses, increasing in number through development. And large older housing estates where people are obviously much less affluent. Several large out of town shopping centres, Indian take aways and burger shops…..

‘Lost in Littleport’ iPhone photo/video and Sketchbook derive walks through Littleport to start to understand the town and how things look for local people.

‘In Praise of Littlefolk’: Fenland Tales

‘In Praise of Littlefolk’ experimental illustrations in Photoshop art styles that will form part of a future small illustrated book of selected and rewritten Fenland tales of rebellion and resistance.

Drawing on the work of M.R.James and hyperreal Fenland photography of Justyn Partyka, images and storyboards will be drafted for tales of the Littleport Riots, draining of Whittelsey Mere and reports of ‘Black Shuck’, murders and smuggling and drowning in the Fen mists etc.

Wicken Fen

Wicken Fen is the first National Trust property and early centre of the coprolite industry for fertiliser that fuelled the economic boom of East Anglia in the nineteen hundreds.

Permits are required for photography (not art treatments) if I want to publish commercially.

Sustaining My Practice: Future Plans

  • Fenland Edges: Animated Cardcut Maps of alternative histories and current ‘features of interest’ based on ‘derive’ sketches, exploration through Google satellite maps and other available print and on-line/local information.
  • Lost in Littleport
  • ‘Burnt and Other Fens’ a themed photobook of documentary landscape images of fenland agricultural and wildlife conservation, provoking questions about tensions between economic, social and environmental aims and some of the ways forward currently being proposed.
  • ‘In Praise of Littlefolk’ small illustrated book of selected and rewritten fenland tales of rebellion and resistance with linocut or scraperboard images based on the photographs and/or pencil sketches.