The Swanscombe Project is an encounter between a heterogeneous group of photographers and the processes of redevelopment at the urban periphery.
The idea of the project grew from a concern at the disappearance of industrial heritage, the lack of value put on this essential, formative part of our history, an acute instance of cultural amnesia, and, following debates at the 2012 Brighton Photo Biennale, speculation as to what photography can or can’t show of the workings of capital in the making and unmaking of an environment. The result has been a band of sixteen photographers working over a year to document their own reactions to a post-industrial landscape.
The landscape is Swanscombe Marsh, a peninsula pointing north within a loop of the Thames below Greenhithe. To the south it is bounded by cliffs left after two centuries of chalk quarrying. The flat lands, once marsh grazing and saltings, have been transformed since the beginning of the nineteenth century by the cement and paper industries to the south, by riverside industrial development to the east and by successive waves of landfill including the reclamation of the saltings in the early twentieth century and the dumping of polluting flue ash from the cement works. Remains are scattered over the site, electricity pylons dominate parts and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link emerges to the south. Still, some of the grazing land survives, along with reed beds, moorings and tracts of surprising quiet beauty.
Acknowledging that as photographers we can’t directly show the workings of capital, we have researched the history of the marsh – how it comes to be as it is, and the futures recently proposed for it – not least the theme park development which, if approved, will obliterate most of this landscape. We hope that this at least hints at the workings of capital in the formation of this landscape. A recent showing at Greenhithe has brought us greater awareness of local feelings including a determination to be thought of as somewhere, not just a development opportunity, a candidate for the (re)generation industry.
At the time of writing we are looking forward to a major showing of our work at Goldsmiths College in New Cross in April 2014. The photographs are not yet chosen but we are confident that between us we will have shown that Swanscombe Marsh is far from the wasteland that commercial rhetoric would have us believe.
Text by Peter Luck.