A change of path

Recent tutorials on A5 of CS and A2 of BoW and the post-lockdown move back to outdoor image making have prompted me to rethink the direction of this project. A2 BoW was a restart after my time away and it focussed on the idea of showing the overlooked banal in the context of the popular picturesque. This was a response to the contested narratives of the canal explored in CS and how the dominant story can push others to the margin. I now realise it doesn’t translate well into visual representation and my BoW tutor has encouraged me to have a rethink, with some suggested ways of thinking.

Putting to the back of my mind the conceptual research and study of the canal’s narratives in CS, what attracts me personally and enthuses me about the canal? I talk about experience on my local canal rather than the very different experiences that are to be had elsewhere in the country or the world, which others inevitably bring to bear when discussing the project. Firstly, it is the quiet and a sense of being outside of time – the slowness of the water and the movement on the water is a counterpoint to a modern quest for efficiency and speed. The calming, reassuring presence of the water’s materiality adds to this experience. It is the search for this kind of more considered experience that has led to the slow food and slow city movement (Cittaslow), so I’m not alone in this interest. Secondly, it is the unforeseen beauty in relics of industry along the canal, whether preserved or falling into disuse and ruin. There is also often something of the kitsch in the repurposing of the canal. For example, the faux wharf housing or objects of domesticity brought to permanent moorings. All of this not only has a visual appeal but pricks a sense of wonder about what happened in and to those places. This links to the range of narratives unlocked during my CS research.

From now, the work will focus on conveying my sense of slow pace, and intrigue for the stories of places along the canal. Exactly, how will be worked at over the next few weeks, but I’m making a couple of significant changes to my approach. Firstly, I’ll no longer focus just on the 29 mile stretch of canal between Skipton and Leeds, but expand it to anywhere on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal or Rochdale Canal (both within striking distance) that takes my interest. I’ve realised the constraint is unhelpfully self-imposing geographical limits, when there are other places I’m drawn to visit. For example Ted Hughes’ Mytholmroyd, which is referenced in his poem Stubbing Wharf. Secondly, I’m going to put effort into engaging with people along the canal to include portraits in my series and uncover their narratives for the canal, with a view to including text with images. Adding to sense of ‘tales’ in my work.

The words of poet Ian McMillan, quoted in my dissertation, come close to reflecting my personal experience of the canal. I realise the work needs to recentered to be genuine, otherwise it risks reading like a disinterested theoretical exercise:

The canal tells you stories
The canal sings you songs
They hand in that space
Between memory and water.

From Canal Life, Ian McMillan