Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Land and Home

While I still have Pat Barker's book in my mind, I thought I would elucidate a little on another thread of visual imagery her writing inspired in me. There are certain British writers who are able to capture the essence of English life to the tea......I don't mean the twee cream teas and scones, Miss Marple vision of England, more that through their descriptions, and dialogue they give the reader (at least this particular reader) a real sense of almost being there yourself. I can smell the quality of air, feel it wrap about me, feel the dampness or the clarity of the day as a character steps forward through woodland lanes, or takes a day trip to the coast on a cold blustery day.  I am not able to explain it really, except to say that it all seems to be about the evocation of the unique atmosphere a country has. When I read these writings, my heart longs to be there, a strong response that is emotional and physical, revealing an unseverable connection to my homeland. It conjures memories, and wistful longing.

There are a couple of British photographers who came to mind immediately as I read certain passages: Fay Godwin, who died in 2005 aged 74, photographed the British landscape, capturing quintissential Britishness, both in the land and the characters who lived and worked on it. They are beautiful and mysterious, illustrating the sometimes bleak and barren topography of the UK. 

Beadnell Bay, Northumberland 1991

Path and Reservoir, Lumbutts, Yorkshire, 1977

Top Withens, Calder Valley, 1977

Social Security Office, Yorkshire, 1971

Between 1993 & 1996, Magnum photographer, Mark Power set out to make a series of images based on the locations of the Shipping Forecast, broadcast for seafaring folk four times daily on BBC Radio 4. The names of these remote lands, such as Viking, Cromerty, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, create imaginings of enigmatic and romantic landscapes. The Shipping Forecast suits the notions of an Island Nation. Although many of these places aren't located off the coast of the UK, but other European nations like France, Germany and Iceland, in the images below of the northeast English coast, Mark Power has managed to capture that atmosphere I have been attempting to explain. 

Sunday 25th July 1993
West or southwest 3 0r 4 increasing 5 or 6. Showers. Good.

Sunday 25th July 1993
West or southwest 3 or 4 increasing 5 or 6. Showers. Good.

All this talk of my homeland has had me thinking about what it means to shift your roots from one country to another.  More than ever before, people are on the move, either by choice or necessity. Does your birthplace define you, in some way, and if that is the case, then does the nature of who you are change when you no longer live there?  It's an interesting thought, and one that I return to every now and again as I live my life away from my birth place, and my family, in a country full of immigrants. Jhumpa Lahiri, in my opinion a brilliant American author of Bengali descent, delves deeply into this subject in all three of her books, the most famous one being 'The Namesake', but 'Unaccustomed Earth' is well worth a read too. Her characters have usually emmigrated from India to America. This essentially seems to make for a melancholy life attempting to embrace American Culture as their own, and most often in the case of their children, who are commonly born in the USA, the struggle to connect with their Indian heritage and find their rightful place in America. Ultimately they can never disconnect with their roots, begging the question, where do you belong? There is a sense of neither here or there perhaps. I am fascinated my these ideas, and it has inspired the desire to explore further in visual terms this notion of belonging. 

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