The sixteen photographers involved in the Swanscombe Project are also part of the Crossing Lines group at Goldsmiths’ Centre for Urban and Community Research and/or London Independent Photography. Each has approached the project with their own specific interest and intention, the details of which are in the personal statements below.
Lesley Brew: One year ago I became part of the Swanscombe Group of photographers. I have visited this strangely majestic place on and off in all seasons. At first I really felt the bleakness of the place. With many electric pylons criss-crossing the land, it all felt rather forsaken. One day a large black crow followed me all over the mound, as I was looking for good angles to take my photographs from. It kept squawking and really felt rather sinister. It wasnʼt till I left the high ground that the crow tuned back and flew to the high pylon it kept guard from. As a result of spending a little time in the tranquillity of the area, my feelings have grown fond and now I see all the beauty in this quiet remote place where only the odd dogwalker ventures. Itʼs as if the land has been given back to nature. Now I dread the thought of the bulldozers coming and devastating the harmony that has been established. The rare jumping spider habitat, the variety of birds hiding in the bullrushes, not to mention the humans who live simply and cheaply in the run down marina create this unique and distinctive habitat, a blend of run down human industry surrounded by nature. The destruction of such a natural habitat, with its delicate balance, affects us all, as does the extinction of bees; if the proposed development goes ahead, then it is a great loss for all of us.
In one of Mervyn Peakeʼs poems, he highlights how important it is for us to be empathetic with our surroundings:
If trees gushed blood when they were felled
By meddling man, and crimson welled
From every gash his axe could give
Would he forbear and let them live?
Chris Burke: On my first visit to Swanscombe Marsh I observed the general landscape from the exterior: the steep steps from the railway platform at the bottom of a deep cutting; the church transformed into flats; the dusty road; the narrow footpath strewn with detritus. In the interior, behind the metal barriers, I was met with pylons (constructed like great giants to reach across the Thames); a lake; a landfill; a shore with boats; evidence of human presence; chairs and tables; and old workings (so much admired by Constable et al). On subsequent visits I began to look at the details that reflected the materiality (and the history) of the site: stressed metal objects; the stressed paintwork on an old boat; pieces of metal as if standing in their own right as pieces of sculpture (objets trouvés); abandoned cabling curved and tense; a girl’s pants; plastic bags caught in bushes; a drinks bottle that a child had filled with sweet wrappings… My last visit was in February of this year, after the weeks of heavy rain. As I slowly splashed my way with my wellington boots through the pools of water, I noticed how the water was reflecting the changing mood of the sky as the light altered. I stared at the pools of water and then up at the sky and back: which was which? There was a material relationship between water, sky and landscape – which included myself. As Cezanne said:
“Objects interpenetrate each other. They never cease to live. Imperceptibly they spread intimate reflections around them.” (quoted by Peter Berger in his Understanding a Photograph)
Trevor Crone: Transient, temporary landscapes hold a fascination for me. They are often places of quietude allowing one time to reflect on what may become of such places, how they may be transformed. Bereft of the formality of parks and gardens they have a ‘beauty’ of ordinariness worthy of our attention.
Keith Ellis: Each time I visited the marsh was an adventure. Over the year I made five visits and on each visit I tried to explore a little more. Though much of the peninsular has been ravaged by industry, little evidence of those industries remains. Throughout the year, the seasons and weather varied but the overall sense of nature fighting back did not.
Denis Galvin: My photographs are intended to capture some of the ambience of the wider Swanscombe area. The built up areas around the marsh have a sense of abandonment and decline, without too many indications of what might be coming by way of regeneration. The main access road, Galley Hill, has man made cliffs either side of it as a result of the quarrying. The road verges are very narrow, made up in part of a thin strip of vegetation or a single row of houses. It is as if much of Swanscome has fallen away from the road that connects it to its neighbours. As a result, the approaches to the marsh have a bleak and sombre aspect. My photographs are intended to capture some aspects of this.
Simon Head and Nick Scammell: This work consists of two split-temporal views of Swanscombe Marsh made according to consultation with the I-Ching (Book of Changes). Coins thrown in response to the question ‘Why are we here?’ yielded hexagrams whose shapes determined the form of Simon Head’s images, and whose accompanying text formed the basis for Nick Scammell’s poems. The bottle-top rainbow was collected from the shoreline – an additional chance offering gladly accepted.
John Levett: ‘Nowhere Boy’ & the Estuary
:: standing on the sea wall at sunset on monday 8th april 2013 at greenhithe looking east & trying to understand what it is that i am looking at & how to respond
:: returning home & flicking to film4 to catch closing of ‘nowhere boy’ of john lennon before john lennon
:: ‘estuary’ as transit metaphor + temporary + transitional + defining
:: relating to the estuaries of the mersey & the humber + the beatles & philip larkin [‘i feel like john lennon or hitler’]
:: the ‘tailoring’ of a landscape to fit a narrative
:: incorporating estuary in a created narrative
:: ‘in hull i fell amongst poets’ :: ‘in liverpool i fell amongst poets’ :: in london not = i have nothing with which to associate :: too amorphous :: not england
:: i create a story & association :: 1963 :: 1949 :: 1959
there is something that is not here :: an indication that I can live within the present & experience it as being present :: samuel beckett believed that there is no time other than the present moment :: my interior monologue situates me in no time that is the present moment. :: is there any piece that i can make that places me ‘wholly present’? :: in this past year, when I walk through swanscombe marsh, as I have done, & beyond & i photograph that which is of its present moment [in its still decaying state or of its new creation] am I wholly present? :: i am not :: i am in 1948 :: i am in 1963 :: i am in 1982 how may i be present?
i subscribe to walking practice as an art form :: the images that I create whilst walking constitute the aide-memoire of the detour :: the detour forms the unique space within which a memory resides and which memory is now made manifest in the artefact [image-of or made-of-image] :: nothing else beyond this art piece is necessary to make it such :: the detour is a performative art piece.
Peter Luck: I have been photographing at Swanscombe off and on since 2005 but there remain many corners not photographed or even not visited and there are weather conditions not met (and I’ve almost certainly missed the chance for deep snow this time round), times of day not seen, so there is a lot left to do. My eventual aim is a complete coverage, more or less objective. Technically, I shall do what I know how: take B&W photos on film on standard 35mm and Xpan (panoramic) formats.
Peter wrote the statement, above, on 1st March 2013 and then re-visited it on 1st March 2014, below:
Certain things have assumed a priority which I didn’t foresee a year ago: the Xpan format has almost taken over the entire project; I have returned over and over to the reed beds and the environs of the little polluted lake. I have probably walked everywhere that I can but coverage remains uneven and somehow I have failed to be there at dawn or, very effectively, at dusk. The landscape has, though, taken up residence in my mind – very likely permanent: the end of the project will not be the last it sees of me.
Ingrid Newton: At times windswept and wild, at other times peaceful and undisturbed, the mood of the marsh changes with the light, weather and seasons. My photographs, taken over the course of a year, show its wide open spaces and big skies as well as its quiet, melancholy beauty and traces of human activity. Although documentary in appearance, the images also serve as a record of my personal response to this marginal and threatened landscape.
Anthony Palmer: Stumbling across the moorings at Broadness Creek is like entering another world with its ramshackle mix of boats, jetties, sheds and temporary buildings. There is a feeling of place and a social presence quite unlike other parts of Swanscombe Marsh. In making these photographs, I am continuing my interest in seeing social fabric through its material presence in the landscape.
Jennifer Roberts: On my first visit there was a grey, cold wind coming from the east. I spent about an hour and a half attempting to penetrate the peninsula but found it hidden, closed off and hostile to entry. Although on later, sunnier visits I made images in a different mood, and immersed myself in the edgeland beauty of the place, the feeling of unease never quite left. For me, it is a bleak and transitory landscape that is eerily redolent of a series of pasts, including my own.
Mike Seaborne: I have long been interested in post-industrial landscapes. For me, places such as Swanscombe Marsh are like archaeological sites containing fragmentary evidence of human activities from the past. Although little remains of what was once one of the largest cement works in the country, the area is still littered with physical clues as to its former use. My photography is concerned with documenting these fragments as they appear within the context of the site as a whole.
Sabes Sugunasabesan: My starting point to photograph Swanscombe peninsula was my state of mind on the first visit. The invitation by Peter to a group of us was to document Swanscombe in anticipation of the change of use of this space.
On that morning I received a message from Malaysia that my cousin passed away. Although he was ill and I saw him a month before, we hoped that he would live a bit longer. I received the message of his death on the in the train on the way to the briefing.
I guess that land on the first visit with the group and on the second visit on my own, acted as a place for contemplation. I decided to point the camera down to photography the land/earth. To my knowledge two things preoccupied my mind. Documenting the earth to discover the marsh earth and passing of my cousin. I found the space to be tranquil. At least that was my experience.
John Whitfield: Beaches or foreshores, that place between the land and the water. Submerged twice a day, exposed to the wind and ploughed by the tides. They become a repository, a storehouse of random artefacts washed up by the waves and blown by the wind.
My initial response to the Marsh was to record and interpret its gloomy isolation, its ravaged landscape and its emptiness. But an idea I had been harbouring for sometime resurfaced. Could I define the Marsh by found objects. Would the foreshore reveal its character in the flotsam and jetsam recovered from the beaches of the estuary.
It was a simple task. One morning in October I ventured down to Swanscombe to a small beach I had seen on earlier visits. I carried three plastic bags. Making my way slowly over the beach I picked up any thing that caught my eye. My only criteria were the size. They had to be placed together so I didn’t want anything too big. Within half an hour I had filled my bags. Walking back to the car I picked some vegetation to complete my quest.
It was another two months before I began to make the images. I think I was fearful that the idea would not work. That just by laying out a bag of random beach litter I could make any sort of statement or indeed a pleasing image. Using daylight and a piece of white card I laid my finds on a paper background. I quickly became absorbed in the task. The images came together easily, only needing slight adjustments from my initial arrangement.
Looking at the images now I see that as the process of selection was quick the laying out also had to be done swiftly. The objects had little connection and it seemed important that they should reflect the arbitrary, organic nature of the fores