The following is a full extract from my initial attempt to write the Assignment. I found in the end that I was getting too bogged down in the subject and that it was turning out to be less of a critical essay and more of a narrative essay. I then changed the subject idea after coming to the conclusion that I was just getting nowhere. Subsequent Assignment 4 submission here
Assignment 4 Memory of a Photograph.
Write a critical essay based on one of the subjects so far encountered.
For me, the memory of a photograph exercise arrived at a synchronous point of time as I had just been handed an A4 folder full of pieces and paper and photographs which were taken during holidays as a child.
For me, this was a return to a landscape from childhood, a holiday of confusing and conflicting images. The three main memories of the holiday were chickenpox, tanks and freezing on Hadrian’s wall. Were these memories supported by a set of as yet unseen photographs?
The photographs are all Polaroid, a gift from my father to my mother, and an exciting new way of seeing images to us. No longer did we have to wait until we returned from holidays to review our experiences, these could be viewed instantly as long as you waited the requisite one minute while fanning the air with the print. I never really did see my father hold a camera, he was rarely behind the lens, rather he stood off to one side calling guidance, preferring to gaffer and not be seen.
My memories of Warcop are of a small village, reminiscent of C.Henry Warrens idea of the typical British village, whitewashed cottages with all roads leading to the village green where benches sit and towering behind the village church with its wooden lychgate. Small shops selling fresh fruit and local vegetables, with the general hardware store somewhere in the middle of a row. A review of google maps shows me a completely different landscape, a small group of houses and a parish hall. What is it I remember; what landscape is etched on my mind?
The small blue shutter cottage looks at me out of a photograph, I faintly remember the building, sitting on the edge of a lane; which lead off into the Warcop Training grounds in the Dales, where the Army demonstrated their firepower, technical superiority and might by having Chieftan tanks hurl high explosives at shattered targets. The boom from the tank’s cannons rattling the large window where we sat at eat. Usually, these practices were undertaken in the morning and we would later walk up those hills when it was safe, clambering over punctured metal and tossed earth. A treeless flat landscape filled with grass, mud, bog torn up by tank tracks and tires. I never considered until today the possible dangers of climbing on these targets; had the army been using Depleted Uranium rounds, what considerations were taken to the environment and to any visitors to the land? All I can remember is the landscape in every direction was MOD land and that when the red flag was up, the whole landscape was forbidden and dangerous, I could only walk it accompanied.
The photographs continue to tumble out, they were once stuck by a single sellotape strip to gridded paper, the adhesion on the tape has like some of my holiday memories long gone. Almost certainly the collection that I have is selective, no doubt some are lost having fallen from the collection or mixed into another pile yet undiscovered. These memories show a forgotten landscape, a waterfall, a riverside path worn through dry brown grass, a castle, the handwritten notes beside the spaces tell me of things I cannot remember, I appear to be there in the image, but I cannot recall the place.
I can recall the long drive through the dales, where my father driving in the wrong direction tried to head for Durham, we ended up sitting roadside at a stream, I recall we did that a lot, during spring weekends and damp autumns. Always a stream bank and always the car tiled slightly off-road, a tartan rug laid on the grass.
I recall the wind and the scratchy woolen jumper my mother had knitted and presented to me as a Christmas present. Chickenpox itch and woolen scratches as I stood directionless on Harridans wall. I could not tell why side of this historic barrier I was on, once side grass, then a stone strip and then a small cliff dropping thirty or forty feet. To my ten-year-old mind, I somehow could not imagine the immense diving barrier these stones represented. I stared out over farmland to distant hills, the wind driving through me. To me Hadrian’s wall was just like the border, an invisible line so easy to cross and pass. I had never considered the work and power required to divide a landscape and have the power to say “this is mine. Not yours”
There are more empty spaces than there are polaroid’s, what am I missing, what parts of the holiday can I not remember, what did I see that I cannot recall. I have no postcards, no other photographs, only vague memories. What exists beyond what I have forgotten, where are the owners? I have a faint recollection, but not enough. I have a memory of sitting in a taxi drivers café under a large soot covered viaduct, the post-industrial landscape of buildings beginning their fall from grace into dereliction, was this the same holiday or another time. I cannot trust what I remember to fully create the land I holidayed in. I feel the sadness at the loss of industry in that town as we were undergoing that at home, I still do feel sad, looking up at the grand viaduct knowing that people would pass over this town and it would fall further into disrepair.
Another photo represents abbey ruins. What was their importance, obviously owned by heritage or church? Then I remember, like Scotland, large parts of the landscape are in private ownership. Thirty percent of the land has lain in the hands of the gentry of generations. High amongst that ownership is the Duke of Buccleuch. The church of England has just point five percent ownership. Where during these times on holidays did, we set foot on land which was not owned by someone and which was free and unclaimed.
Perhaps, some of the memories are idealistic, forged from the media of the time, television showed the pastoral landscapes of “Last of the Summer Wine” and “All creatures great and small”, some harking back to a gentler pre-war time of Britain and the other a village out of time, untouched by poverty, pollution or punk. Certainly, both were used to present the picture of a calm countryside and mill towns much like Constable with the Hay Wain, both hiding from the reality of poverty, rioting, and deprivation.
Even now the paintings of the Yorkshire Dales are Turneresque, Paul Butterworth in Yorkshire Dales produces a version of the Dales where it is green hills, fields separated by stone dikes glowing under a golden sun, or it is as in Simon Anthony Wilsons Scorched Moor a foggy, barren scape of yellow gorse under grey-blue smoke and mist. Towns and villages and people are missing, a return to the people less landscapes of Georgian times, again the landscape painting is there as a power symbol. Art as a possession and the power of the view.
Much like the power of selection shown by my mother who produced the photographs and my own power of selection by what memories I can and cannot recall, whether these memories are real or stitched together from memories of a selection of TV programmes.