#Washlands #Open Project - Part 1

January 11, 2018  •  2 Comments

#Washlands 1#Washlands 1SRWT Woodhouse Washlands southern extent looking south towards Crown Works.

#Washlands #OpenProject - Introduction 


As a photographer, be it classified as a landscape, outdoor or whatever photographer 'label' people choose to attribute, I have always favoured an approach to working in image series or projects. Often when I explore ideas with my photography even if something isn't destined to be a full scale project I will work in series rather than single images. This for me is a personal choice and by no means the only way of working, I am certainly not averse to the concept of 'the single image' and do sometimes work this way.

I do feel though, for me and my way of working, the series or project allows me to explore and idea, concept or location to  greater extent and depth..... it allows me to explore a narrative that the single image, for me at least, doesn't fulfill.

Projects are something I have always explored, either in the personal work I shoot entirely for my own fascination and which often doesn't make the web site and will make fleeting appearances in social media or my Behance portfolio as I share ideas or thought processes..... or in the work I undertake again for personal exploration but which I feel represents me as an artist photographer and is thus featured on the web site.

#DarkVisions my last project meandered and developed over around five and half years before I reflected, drew it together and curated it into the body of work that ultimately made the exhibitions at Patchings Art Centre in the Midlands and the esteemed Joe Cornish Gallery in North Yorkshire.

I have recently completed the image making phase of my most recent ongoing project 'Unknown | Known' which has been an incredible journey of self discovery over the last two years and I'm now curating this and handing it over to my co-conspirators or collaborators a group of musicians led by the talented Shaun Byrne who'll interpret and imagine the images as songs also incorporating some of the many hours of field recordings I have collected over the two years of exploring the project. In 2019 we will bring this altogether with an exhibition, hand made book including the musical compositions pressed to vinyl record and a launch event featuring live performance, printed image and multi media projection........ keep a look out for news as this project nears final realisation.



So with my previous project moved on I found myself ready to head out and explore a new avenue of creativity. I've always been a person who keeps notebooks and scrapbooks to help me make sense of my ideas and when a project idea comes to mind I tend to drop it into my project ideas list in my notebook. This list tends to grow with some regularity although there's times when I'll reflect back on and idea and cross it from the list.......although this doesn't happen very often as I do like to have chance to delve into an idea first and see where it takes me before dismissing it or consigning it to the 'maybe another time' list.

My project ideas notebook is only small and always has a pen or pencil attached to it, the notebook accompanies me pretty much wherever I go; to the office, on dog walks, on family walks, holidays, work trips and even on photoshoots. Why? I hear you ask? well you never know when an idea will present itself! often when we aren't looking for ideas I find my mind is clearest and most receptive to ideation and inspiration. I actually find that ideas will often come to me in the middle of the night in bouts of insomnia or deep sleep and on waking if  don't write it down I'm more likely to forget about it completely. Maybe this is informed by our psychological subconscious or in part caused by the chaotic lives we lead where we have that much bouncing around inside our heads it's difficult to make sense of the ideas or draw something to the conscious? who knows? this is one for the psychologists to answer.

What I do know is that we need to find a method of capturing our ideas, cultivating the head space for ideas and having the freedom the think that works for each of us individually. We're al different and finding that methodology that gives us the freedom to cultivate creative ideas is something we all find differing way to do. Explore your own method and ask yourself where do your best ideas come from? when do they come? what conditions do you need to be productive in terms of ideation? if you can identify this set of circumstances you can aim to work this kind of time / space into your life somewhere. But, and importantly don't put too much pressure on yourself to generate ideas.......... when they strike grasp them and explore them but if they don't come readily don't panic just move on and allow them to come naturally when the time is right.

My current list of potential project ideas stretches to circa fourteen possible projects all listed on a single page in a small notebook, I mark them as in progress if I have started to explore their potential, usually in the first instance with the iPhone as a means to scrapbook and bring the idea together a little in an aim to try and understand my initial motivation and thought process, the potential and context for the story. As you can see below from the quick jot down I have had of all my current project ideas listed in my small notebook (please not if I were more organised I'd know exactly where my small notebook was right now and not have to recall from memory what was in said list and notebook! grrrrr!) I've started to explore at a cursory level a number and this is often my way of working until the 'one' that feels right for the time and circumstances identifies itself.

Certainly on reflection there's enough to keep me going for years here, maybe some wont event make it anywhere or I'll just always find something I'd rather work on next? who knows? but it really doesn't matter in all honesty as it's our own ideas list and our own choice about how we progress them.


So why am I sharing all this?

About six or seven months ago now I'd been involved in some interesting discussions on Twitter around the concept of 'projects' and although it seemed like such a natural process to me and many others to some it was alien or something they struggled to get off the ground and develop over time. As an educator and creative it seemed logical for me to consider the idea and value of sharing my next project right from the ideation stage warts and all to it's conclusion whatever that may be.

So I set about another chat on Twitter and posted a simple question 'would it be of value / interest if I shared my whole process from end to end on a new project...... including failures and successes?' it seemed a simple question but as with everything social media you ask yourself is this really a good idea, will people be truly interested or am I deluding myself? We all know how superficial social media can be at times........ but hey I thought what the hell lets float the idea and even if only a small handful of people are interested then at least I can help or make some kind of positive impact for them.

To my surprise when I floated the idea I was inundated with positive responses even from photographers who I perceived as being comfortable in their own workflows and certainly very competent. The answer it seemed was a resounding yes so now I just needed to make a start. Well roll forward around four months and the inevitable procrastination and trepidation and I am now finally making that start.


So what will I be doing exactly?

In essence I will be doing exactly what I asked in that first question; sharing from the initial ideation process a photography and mixed media project via this blog and a series of accompanying vlogs (you may have seen the first on YouTube earlier this week? if not it'll be embedded towards the end of this first blog.

You will get to see everything, from choosing the idea from my project list, defining the project, exploring the location or theme within context of the project, notebook entries, vlog reflections on progress, ideas, initial exploratory shoots, scrapbook print outs and scribbled notes on and around these images, developing shoot plans, capturing contextual video and audio to support the project, research into my chosen location to inform my context and story, the actual project image making, meanders, dead ends, reflections on what worked and what didn't plus why, curation of the final images, written contextual narrative to help shape the project output, defining how I'll present the 'project output', when, any collaboration or associated people I work with as part of bringing the final output to realisation what ever that may be? 

Hey who knows the project may start off as #Washlands as it has but through natural course develop into a whole different direction..... who knows? all I know is I will be guided as I am on my project work by my findings and feelings. I have my initial idea and where I think this is going so let's see.


#Washlands -  What is it all about?

Close to where I live in Sheffield, there is a piece of land I have driven past hundred and thousands of times. Indeed with the re-routing and bye-pass of the A57 around the villages of Aston, Beighton, Woodhouse and Orgreave there are many thousands of people who pass this same patch of land daily or less frequently but importantly never ever give it a thought as the raised carriageway of the A57 traverses them away from the washlands along this particular portion of the river Rother and in all honesty why would they give it a thought it's a fairly unremarkable piece of scrub land that looks unkempt, unloved and unimportant. As the passing motorists slide from suburban Sheffield to the city centre or retail outlets at Crystal Peaks the washlands exists quietly with no draw to modem life other than the perambulation of local walkers, dog walkers and the wildlife that know of and appreciate it's quiet place in the suburban edgelands of the Sheffield / Rotherham metropolitan conurbation. 

Bounded and bordered on all sides by human intervention; rail, road, channelled river, industry, and housing I have always felt a draw to this piece of land...... it has always made me ponder and ask questions and want to know more. Maybe it's the geographer in me by education, but I am fascinated by the overlooked complexities of this environment. I want to know more about it's history, it's heritage, the geology, the topography, the hydrology, the biodiversity, but importantly it's future and it's context. What stories can I find, what stories can I tell?

(Image annotated from Google Maps)

Thus in a way, my choice was made for me for this project.......... it is local and accessible yet unremarkable and complex at the same time. From that brief jotted note in my project notebook 'washlands' and one visit way back in January 2017 to explore the potential I knew this was to be the theme for the #OpenProject.


#Washlands - Mind Map

Now I had my project at its highest level I needed to throw some ideas down and make sense of them, try and draw some connections to understand what might be involved in the project and how complex it really would be.......

As you'll note from the mind map where I have thrown some of my initial thoughts down and linked them together to generate some themes and questions it is undoubtedly complex....... this doesn't surprise me if I approach it with the mindset as a geographer and an artist / photographer but it does tell me as well as being inspired by and reactive to the essence and feeling of the place to photograph it I do need to put in the leg work first and enable this later creative freedom by doing some planning to at least make my job of photographing and capturing the essence of this special place a little easier and more expressive by not being overwhelmed or bogged down by the sheer size of the task I have set myself.

Indeed, in doing a little more reading and research just last night I have come to realise that the expanse of the Washlands I am focusing on is actually much larger than I first thought and as we head into the next part of the blog over the coming days I shall explain more and produce some more maps to show more of the true scale.

This did lead me to my first important questions and point of reflection.............

  1. Should I focus on just my original area identified?
  2. Would I be satisfied with limiting myself and not exploring the context fuller?
  3. What are the implications in terms of time and scale if I do explore the full context and extent of 'Washlands'?
  4. Is this realistic and manageable?

When we embark on a project it is hugely important to allow ourselves regular intervals to reflect and to answer the questions that are thrown up before we proceed blindly and back ourselves into a corner where we run the risk of not seeing our project through because we never addressed the early questions or issues.

So with this in mind I knew I had to address these questions before progressing on:

  1. I personally feel given the context and complexity of Washlands as a location that if I restrict myself to only the area originally identified (as highlighted on the above map) that I will not do justice to the location nor will I be able to explore the full narrative with my images. It would somehow feel like unfinished business! So onwards we go then ;-)
  2. Well I think I answered that myself as part of the first question....... a resounding NO! so if I am going to do this I should do it well and to the best of my ability and energy.
  3. Oh it's big and it will take time! but, actually it's my project and I'm not bound by brief or restrictions given to me on a commercial shoot. Again if I am going to do this then I do it well and my way ;-)
  4. See above, do I have to complete this in two months? no not really! do I have to complete this in two years? not if I don't want to and it doesn't need to be. Hey my #DarkVisions project ran for almost 6 years so I know I can commit myself to this long term. I only have to recall the inspiring words and dedication to his art that Paul Kenny talked about at #ConnectedTEN when he recalled photographing a single dry stone wall for 5 years. We are masters of our own destiny and as Paul proved with passion, skill, dedication and a desire to follow his vison and path this is where creativity and expression are. Not that I am in anyway shape or form as talented or creative as Paul...... but he shows us the lesson of time and desire to explore our chosen path. So to summarise the original question of course it's realistic and manageable as long as I allow it the time to develop and give it the time it deserves.


Onwards....... what next?

As you'll see from this first blog we have only really scratched the surface of getting into the project, in the next blog we will start to explore the geography of the #Washlands and look at how I am going to approach exploring and capturing the essence of the location to then start to define my context and story enabling me to start with the continued visits and immersion in the location to truly understand it and find the images which tell my story and narrative.

For now I shall leave you with a selection of images captured on my very first visit to #Washlands back in January 2017, these have had very little processing undertaken on them and at present serve as visual sign posts to my deeper exploration. There are a number of images from this visit when I first felt the essence and connection to the landscape there that I am really pleased with and who knows they may form part of the developing portfolio. To follow on from this I shall end this blog post with my first vlog live from #Washlands as it were the other day after a visit I made to capture some aerial footage for the context of the project. Thanks so much for taking an interest and sticking with this first blog, see you again for the next post in a few days.


First images made at #Washlands - Janaury 2017








#Washlands 1#Washlands 1SRWT Woodhouse Washlands southern extent looking south towards Crown Works.








#Washlands VLOG - Part 1




#Wshlands #OpenProject - Vlog 1 - IntroWelcome to the #Washlands #OpenProject with a brief overview of the location / area of study for the project and some initial background.

















Christopher Pattison(non-registered)
Fascinating Rob. Thanks for all of this. There is a strip of land not dissimilar to this under the A19 flyover on Teesside. I have been drawn to it and explored it, but it never turned into a project. Good luck! I will be coming back too see how it's going.
Alastair Ross(non-registered)
Thanks for sharing this Rob. I've always struggled with projects -where I haven't its only "clicked" (pardon the pun) twice, where from the start I just knew what I was going to do. Right now I seem to be doing only single images, but when looking at my work from last year in retrospect I start to see glimmers of a project or at least a theme - I need to make a conscious effort to find the time and have the mindfulness to explore the themes in more detail.
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