National Landscape

Cottam power station and swans

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB) used to be areas of landscape so designated and protected by Natural England, for conservation “due to their significant landscape value”, whatever that means? On 22 November 2023 the AONBs in England and Wales were re-designated, “National Landscapes”.

The change to National Landscapes was probably a good move semantically and I suspect the name change, in part at least, was due to the fact that very little of the English landscape is actually ‘natural’ or beautiful, from the mythologised perspective of olde England. Naturally, England should mostly be forest and scrub-land. Agriculture, industry and general human habitation has tainted all of England’s natural landscape.

As with all things we tend to mythologise the landscape. I have dedicated this project to prick the natural landscape bubble. A landscape can still be beautiful even when dominated by industry. Photographically this is not a new idea, many photographers1, writers and artists have trod this path before me. I took to this idea a few years back when walking The Viking Way through the Lincolnshire Wolds. The Viking Way itself is full of mythology created by our misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of history. Even the way-markers featuring a ‘horned’ Viking helmet show this. When I originally walked the Viking Way, the Wolds was designated an AONB. So, how much of this was/is a ‘natural’ landscape? I could not find a square inch of the Wolds that was not influenced by human activity. Agriculture has fenced it off, ploughed it, grazed it, built on it, dumped on it and industrialised it. It can still be beautiful and we can live with nature but, don’t mythologise the idea of a natural landscape anywhere in England.

Looking back at the first landscape project I did as a student 33 years ago about the surrounding area of Llanwern steelworks and comparing it to my current endeavors I see a link. Reiterating what Keith Arnatt said to me during a crit that the images were “pictorial – akin to romantic landscape painting”. So, looking at the most famous Lincolnshire landscape artist of that era, Peter de Wint, off I trotted to the Usher Gallery for some inspiration. Even his romantic view was concerned with human interaction in the landscape. Today we nostalgically look back to the days of windmills and manual farm labour but fail to see the beauty of a wind turbine or power station.

To separate the landscape and ourselves as a entity within it ignores the fact that our very presence influences our perception of it. Nature has no aesthetic, we ascribe beauty in our own individual way. This project is about the pictorial Lincolnshire landscape that I grew up in and have lived in most of my life, call it anything but please don’t call it natural.

  1. See: Jeff Wall, Fay Godwin, Joseph Koudelka, Sebastiao Selgado etc.

More images coming soon…