09 July 2006

The British Landscape

Here is an excerpt of a review in Open Democracy by Ken Worpole of a new book by photographer John Davies entitled The British Landscape (Chris Boot, 2006).

"Davies focuses on the industrial occupation of the landscape – particularly around Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield and south Wales – in the last days of British industrial muscle-power. These portray a period of decline, regeneration, and in some cases the complete levelling of the former factories and houses, followed by a process of landscaping to produce an effect as if nothing had ever existed before.

This complete eradication of all evidence of human industry, culture and community, produces some of the most disturbing images, as Davies' photographs raise the complex issue of how we preserve the public memory and experience of our industrial past, while adapting to new ways of living and inhabiting the landscape. Too many regeneration schemes, these photographs suggest, are based on the wholesale eradication of public history and memory, producing an ersatz sense of modernity, a mixture of system-built housing, ring roads, theme pubs and retail parks."

I unfortunately have not been to the parts of Britain that Davies documents since the late 1970s. Tellingly, Worpole especially stresss the erasure from the public landscape of the history and culture of laboring classes in Britain. He rightly notes that we ought to guard against undue nostalgia for working communities which often are marked by extreme hardship. But he wonders why the ancient past often is preserved with great care while features of the human landscape of less remote origins are simply razed.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The photographs you draw attention to here are very interesting. One that is featured in Worpole's review is of Agecroft Power Station near Salford. You get a sense of the scale of the industrial landscape, and working class life if you look at the foreground of the picture. There, barely visible, unless the shot is enlarged, is a set of soccer games being played in the shadow of the stacks.

Though England's national team were recently eradicted from soccer's World Cup, it seems that soccer cannot be eradicted - like the industrial landscape - from association with working class life. A recent debate in the British press centred on questions of whether the English team would be improved if it drew players from higher social classes. Unlike in this country where "middle class" children play soccer, the game in the UK is the domain of the "lower class". The workers, according to critics, offer a limited pool of talent. And the games close affinity with the working class depresses participation from the aspiring classes.

Relating soccer, photography and the press. A new collection of photographs from the world cup is being released to raise money for the group Reporters without Borders. I believe you have a link to their site here.

09 July, 2006 21:39  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Thanks for the comment. You have a keen eye; I'd not noticed the soccer players in the foreground of the cooling towers.

Your remarks about the class base of soccer in the UK are also interesting. In the US things are quite different and perhaps more complicated with the issues being race as well as class. (Not that race is unimportant in the UK as well; it does remain more salient in the US, I think.)

10 July, 2006 10:19  

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