A Year In The Country is a set of year long journeys; cyclical explorations of an otherly pastoralism, a wandering amongst subculture that draws from the undergrowth of the land – the patterns beneath the plough, pylons and amongst the edgelands.
Those wanderings take in the beauty and escape of rural pastures, intertwined with a search for expressions of an underlying unsettledness to the bucolic countryside dream.
Why that unsettledness? Well you may well need to read about my discoveries regarding Two Brown Bakelite Boxes below.
The Cyclical Nature Of Things
A Year In The Country is growing into a number of spins around the sun… regulated, inspired and broadcast according to the passing of the days, weeks, months and years.
Index and Gallery
The Long About Version:
After visiting a small part of England that felt like a secret garden, I semi-consciously realised that I nolonger wanted to or enjoyed living in dense urban environments and was moving away from the accompanying dizzying cultural stories. I wanted a bit of calm, thought and reflection.
And so now I live in the countryside, in a small cottage on the side of a hill.
Prior to upping sticks and moving I had found myself increasingly drawn to the further flung corners of English folk music and what has been labelled hauntology; searching for some kind of expression of an underlying unsettledness to the English bucolic countryside dream and A Year In The Country is part of that search…
But why that search? Well, that leads me to…
Two Brown Bakelite Boxes and The End Of The World
When I was about ten, towards the end of the seventies, I lived in the countryside for a year. It was a Famous Five, English idyll existence of building dams in rivers, rolling down hillsides and biking down the one street in the village.
At the same time I discovered about the end of the world.
“Pardon?” I may hear you say. “You were ten and discovered about the end of the world?”
Yes, while my family were playing Monopoly I watched a TV documentary about nuclear conflict and it’s effects. Probably a Panorama or World In Action, one of the weekly programs from the time.
(Around the same time I became aware of the government’s Protect and Survive guidance films/booklets, which the images from this section are from; in hindsite these are sad, comically tragic and insulting; how to protect you and your family from an explosion with more power than several suns by whitewashing your windows and putting an old mattress up against a wall to hide under in your house).
Anyway, it kind of all blew my ten year old mind. I became obsessed with the end of the world via nuclear war, took to stocking up on torch batteries, trying to work out if the stone walls of our house would protect us if the nearest city took a direct hit from a nuclear missile (I’m still not sure if they would) and so on.
This was further complicated by two smallish brown boxes in my life; my dad was one of the local village bobbies and we lived in a police authority owned house with a small police office in our forecourt. In that office, sat on the side, was a nuclear air raid siren.
Yep, you read that right. A nuclear air raid siren.
Now, you probably think of such things as being large devices atop steel towers but this was about the size of a portable TV back then (ie a microwave oven now). Curiously old fashioned looking even then, Bakelite is a phrase that comes to mind.
Now, for a ten year old who is obsessed by nuclear war, that’s probably not the thing to have around in your life. But this was complicated by the second box.
A close friend lived in a nearby house, which was attached to the local tourist information centre. In his front room was another of these brown boxes.
So, I would go around to play and discuss the latest science fiction that was occupying our young minds, while sat on his front room windowsill was a box that at any time could announce the end of the world.
This one I remember more clearly. Perhaps because I saw it more often, perhaps because it was more incongruous in a slightly bohemian living space.
So, in the corner of rooms set in fields which shall forever be England, these two boxes sat, waiting for the signal to announce that the missiles would soon be falling.
Curiously Dystopian Childhood Fiction and Duality Regarding English Secret Gardens
At the same time I seemed to begin discovering apocalyptic or dystopian future fictions; John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (aka Village Of The Damned in flickering celluloid form), John Christopher’s Tripods series, Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass, snatches of a children’s TV series where Britain was suffering from hyper inflation and food shortages, all of which took root and intrigued my mind for many years to come.
In part A Year In The Country has grown out of and is an expression of the resulting duality of my own childhood relationship with the countryside, hence its sometimes subtitle An English Idyll, A Midnight Sun (the second half of that phrase being one which has been used to describe nuclear attacks/explosions).
The intention is not for the resulting work to be all doom and gloom, although some kind of Gothic Albion or Dark Britannica seems to creep unbidden into it, I also want it to express the beauty of the world that now surrounds me. It will be a bit of all these things I expect.
Light Catching/Imagery Inspirations and Inclinations:
In the early days of heading towards A Year In The Country I read an introduction to a photography book written by photographer Paul Hill, where he commented on a recent exhibition/book which was intended as an overview of British photography; in his text he noted how landscape and nature photography was almost completely ignored.
For some reason that put my back up and I thought “I’m not having that”.
From that thought, I realised that I wanted to try and create a new language of nature/landscape photography, one which would (hopefully) make sense to an urban and/or subcultural sensibility; which is my own background in many ways – for a fair few years I lived in city environments, working in what I suppose could be called counter-culture or left-of-centre oddball pop culture.
More On The First Spin Round The Sun Of A Year In The Country’s Light Catchery
Matching my childhood time spent living in the countryside, I spent a year taking photographs; starting on the first day I moved to the countryside and on the final day of that year returning to the village of my childhood with a camera slung over my shoulder*.
Over that year of shutterbugging I just wanted to capture the photographs I took without editing, perusing and browsing them as I went along. So it was a suprise and a journey to see what fell from my digital daguerreotype boxes over the next year…
And what wanders was used to create the images that make up A Year In The Country.
Trails and Influences
Along the way there have been an awful lot of cultural reference points which have inspired, influenced and intrigued me (the three i’s as it were).
Part of A Year In The Country will be dropping a trail of breadcrumbs that start off with those three i’s and may well lead you good folk elsewhere.
*Curiously and unplanned for, on that final day Nigel Kneale’s classic 1972 TV program The Stone Tape was showing at a cinema in a city I would pass through. I thought that was maybe fate throwing something my way. So on the way back I stopped off for a little cathode ray seance, rounding the circle as it were.