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Posts Tagged ‘durham’

It’s been so nice to have a real summer this year. Big chunks of blue sky, sunshine and even some heat to some of the days – a rare thing on Stainmore. Summers like this don’t happen too often, so I’ve made a point of getting out and taking advantage of it when I can.

Slate Quarry moss

A couple of weeks ago my Sunday afternoon walk took me up to Slate Quarry Moss. Anywhere with the word ‘Moss’ or ‘Bog’ is usually out of bounds on Stainmore and a real cert to getting wet feet. Knees and waist too most of the time. However, with this dry spell I thought it worth a punt. At least it would be quiet – no one goes walking on Stainmore! The Slate Quarry on Slate Quarry Moss isn’t really a slate quarry. There’s no slate up here. It’s a little sandstone seam that yielded nice clean flat flags that were used on all the buildings on this bleak moor – ordinary slates just blow away. How they ever managed to cart them away across the bog by horse and cart I have no idea! Still, it was good to see where bits of my house came from. The walk back took me further across the bog towards Iron Bland – a hill so entrenched in bog that few have ever managed, or bothered to get to it. It’s pretty bleak and featureless up there.

Boundary Stone, Cumbria

Yet, running across this vast nothingness was the Cumbria / County Durham border. Miles upon miles of unbroken post and wire fence in a dead straight line. There’s no mucking about. This is a real border. Like your back garden fence. You’re in no doubt that it’s the marking of a territory. As if that wasn’t enough, set every furlong (about 200 metres) there was a numbered stone marker. This is a very old border. Back in 1972 it was the Westmorland / Yorkshire border, but over the centuries, the names may have changed, but the border hasn’t.

Just down the road in the wonderful Bowes Museum, there’s currently an exhibition about the local astronomer and cartographer – Jeremiah Dixon. Just a bloke from the village up the road, but he became the Dixon in the Mason-Dixon line. A border between Pensylvania and Maryland in the US, his task was to plot a perfect line along the 39°43′ N lattitude for 5° longitude – or 244 miles, west from the Delaware River.

Mason Dixon Line

“A Plan of the West Line or Parallel of Latitude” by Charles Mason, 1768 via wikipedia

Like the Durham / Cumbria border, the line was marked with border stones known as ‘Crown Stones’ – each one shipped from England. Most of those stones survive today. Dixon and his team plotted 233 miles of the dead straight line before they hit land owned by the Lenape tribes and refused to cross. The line was completed by another team some years later.

Crown Stone

‘Crown Stone’ – Thompson, Morris M. Maps for America. Third edition. United States Geological Survey, Page 77. via wikipedia

The Mason-Dixon line wasn’t determined by natural boundaries, geology or even culture, but was just a nominal line on a map decided by two ‘landowners’. That the line is purely artificial adds a certain poignancy to its historical significance in later years – a defining point in the abolishment of slavery. It also gives us the term ‘Dixieland’, which is great for a bloke from the small village of Cockfield.

Borders are funny things. They’re really little more than lines on a map yet they’re a reminder of how rigourously people define and protect their property. The implications can be far wider reaching. Cultures, laws, communications, finance and transport are all bound by these simple lines on a map.

Here’s a part of a piece I did back in 2006 all along the eastern Cumbria borders.

here be dragons dragons5

It was a piece I did for the annual FRED festival (I’ll do a blog about that someday – promise!).  In 2008 an artists collective in Carlisle wondered if the city would be culturally better off if it were the other side of the Scottish border (a mere 7 miles away) and placed a (rather provocative) border sign some seven miles south of the city on the M6.

Unfortunately on that occasion the debate rarely elevated above tabloid racism in the local media and the sign was eventually destroyed – the supportive farmer whose land it was on was appalled that it had been cut down, exclaiming she was a “victim of knife crime!”

In a few weeks time I’m doing a project in Sweden that looks at the way forests are defined. On a map they have a definite line, but in reality the edge is often so blurred it’s hard to see how that line could have been drawn in the first place. Forests are unruly creatures – they are constantly trying to assimilate everything they come across and refuse to be tamed for any period of time. The project will in particular look at how communities which appear to be delineated from the forest actually exist as part of it. How forests create symbiotic relationships with anything they encounter.

Borders may be lines on maps, but imagination and innovation start when you colour over the lines.

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The tree is up in the living room, there’s a fire roaring in the grate and strictly come dancing is on the telly. It must be that time of year again. There’s something reasurring about a big holiday festival this time of year. There’s nothing like it for slowing down and taking stock of the past year (more of that next time). It’s also the time of year I like to give a big thankyou to all those people who have supported me in their various ways throughout the past year, and look forward to forging new partnerships in the coming year.

Every year I do a crimbo card for the select few just for this purpose. Each year I try to do something while not blatantly Christmassy but seasonal, and frequently echoes something I particularly enjoyed doing over the past year. Back in 1997 the Independent ran a 3/4 page article on some of my cards (I remember underneath was a preview of a show by an up-coming artist called Martin Creed – I wonder what became of him?…).

It’s not a new idea and certainly not an original one. I’m not sure where I first got the idea from to do an annual piece, but plenty of artists and designers do their own every year. There was a section in Thomas Heatherwick’s V&A show this year all about his own cards – each a thing of beauty.

Christmas Card by Thomas Heatherwick

Christmas Card by Thomas Heatherwick

For the first dozen or so years’ my cards were hand-printed in the darkroom and either hand-coloured, chemically toned or printed on liquid photographic emulsion on random paper.

objectweb

this one speaks for itself – again this was done in a wet darkroom and not in photoshop.

More recent images have been more colourful:

red-lantern-2010web

The year before was red too – shot just outside my back door one January.

3-ships2web

It’s not always snow – this one on a frosty sunbiggin tarn in the Eden Valley

sproutsweb

This one a montage in the Yorkshire Dales (again, done the hard way without photoshop).

This year I had been looking forward to doing something large and spectacular for the cards, however as the year moved on I still hadn’t got the technology working how I wanted it to, so that idea will have to wait another year. So at the last minute, after doing some frantic head scratching I figured I could do something white.

We’d had a bit of snow early on in December, but that had largely caught me out and I spent most of it working out how best to get up my track and get work done, than thinking creatively with it. With a change n the weather, there was forecast a couple of freezing nights with some early mist or fog. What I was hoping for was that wonderful thing when the overnight moisture freezes on every surface turning the landscape a cryslaine white. I would then create a piece made from hundreds of white balloons – much like the red piece I’d done earlier in Sweden, and shoot it low with a disappearing perspective in the background – maybe a track or even a sheep path. Something quite still and quiet. Maybe a little surreal, like a Storm Thorgerson album cover type thing.

A quick trip over to Darlington netted a hundred or so balloons – I’m sorry if you were after any that day, but I bought the last from every shop and market stall that had any. As the planned shot would be done at first light, and I’d have to move fast as the frost can melt quickly if the sun comes out, I spent the night before blowing up all the balloons. It wasn’t until the morning that I realised I couldn’t fit them all in the car, so had to make do with a much smaller piece.

testwhite

However, despite all my planning and preparation, the weather didn’t do what I’d hoped it would, instead there was a light frost up i the hills above an inversion cloud just below. Ordinarily this would be quite stunning, but the cloud was rising fast and the inversion wasn’t stable enough.

My only hope was to get a nice bit of atmospheric moorland disappearing into the murk and cloud so I headed up to the Cumbria / Durham border in Teesdale.

The North Pennines are a severe border. The western side influenced by the wet Atlantic weather fronts, to the east the much drier but colder north sea systems. And so right on top of the border on the Teesdale side, the snow was still lying thick and white over large swathes of wilderness landscape. Where the rain had thawed and washed the snow away in Cumbria days before, the eastern side had remained dry and cold, the snow now frozen solid and the sky as clear as a bell and bright blue.

xmaspreview

I must have spent a good couple of hours walking across that frozen wasteland shooting hundreds of pictures. The snow was so solid in parts I could position everything with ease as I left no footprints.

And so, here it is.

A study in white.

xmas2012web

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