Place-based Experiences: Returning Home


Many experiences in and around my home town of Castleford in West Yorkshire have contributed to making me the person I am today. So, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks exploring this place-based connection through three sets of images which will inform my first trip to the darkroom to produce some photograms. The countryside surrounding the Aire and Calder Navigation was my favourite childhood playground and one landmark en route that has always fascinated me is the weir next to the flour mill. The River Calder joins the River Aire just to the North of Castleford and since the early 12th Century there have been references to mills downstream of this confluence. Queen’s Mill dates from around 1822 and was the largest flour mill of its type - originally powered by a 20ft waterwheel. The adjacent weir pool is huge since the river at this point is somewhere in the region of 130 metres across.

 

My childhood memory of this section of river is of a bizarre, gigantic bubble bath … but not one you’d be eager to pamper yourself in! The water was heavily polluted by industrial effluent and gave off a distinctive, astringent smell as scouring agents from upstream textile manufacturing were churned into monstrous soapsuds by the weir. These suds regularly spilled over to carpet the lower reaches of the town in ‘snow’ and, when the wind was in the right direction, they would even appear in the garden of our home on the other side of town! The water today still carries undertones of that characteristic smell, yet much has been done in recent years to clean the river up and restore its former wildlife. Also, thanks to Kevin McCloud’s Big Town Plan, the river is now spanned by Renato Benedetti’s spectacular footbridge which opened to the public in July 2008. The contemporary design of the bridge follows the S-shaped contours of the weir and the resulting structure is a fine addition to the landscape. Judging by the number of locals who stopped to talk to me, the residents are proud of their footbridge and what it means to them in terms of investment and regeneration.

 

The footbridge allowed me my first ever opportunity to get up really close and personal with the river as it crosses the weir. It’s one thing to view it from the banks. It’s an entirely different experience to stand over the top of this torrent and watch/hear/feel it flow beneath your feet. There are many photographs of the bridge already out there and so I didn’t want to create more of the same. Instead, I have chosen to characterise the many experiences of the day through a series of multiple-image, multi-layered montages. After experiments with colour and monochrome effects, I have mainly used black and white images as these best convey the linear qualities of the bridge contrasted against the textural qualities of immediate landscape. The river rises fairly rapidly in response to rainfall in its upper catchment and water crossing the weir at the time of the photoshoot was relatively deep and fast-flowing. What these images cannot convey is the sheer speed and power of this river and its relentless, deep roar as it flows downstream. This is perhaps something I need to think about as a possible further development of ideas.

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