Inside this issue
A Northern Connection
These are part of the first trickle of images from one of my ongoing personal projects started in November 2012. This particular one revolves around the M62. The trans-Pennine motorway.
The M62 had been on my mind long before this project started, and I've been photographing it as part of the make-up of the landscape on and off for years. In fact my current best selling framed image is a night shot, a long exposure on 5x4 black and white film looking down at the rivers of light surrounding Stott hall farm , one of the UK's more famous houses - the house in the middle of the motorway on the moors.
It puzzles me why an image of a motorway is liked this way at all, is it the genuine romance and mystery of an open road heading over the hills?, because to most people the M62 means go-slow, big lorries, lots of traffic, city commuters and frequent accidents.
Where I live in West Yorkshire the building of the M62 came as a massive relief to all the towns and villages along all the trans-Pennine routes. As a kid, I remember the nearest main road to where I live now – the A62 Leeds to Manchester 'trunk' road, being always choked with lorries, very dirty, and very dangerous. So in 1971 when the first stretch of the M62 opened, a little north of the Colne valley, well away from civilisation high up at Pole moor, it pointed towards much better times. Also, along that quite spectacular stretch we had the famous Stott hall farm, the Cow and Calf bridge (worlds longest non-suspension bridge at the time) a big new dam opened by the Queen – Scammonden, and the summit of the highest motorway in England a couple of miles away at Windy hill.
There is I think, an attractive heroism to much of this road from end to end as it links east to west, coast to coast, Lancashire to Yorkshire, and it heads very purposefully up and over the challenging, peaty South Pennines – a wild looking landscape at the best of times.
As a photographic project I'm continually wondering if I've bitten off more than I can chew with this one, not least because of the scale of the thing – 107 miles long. I can see me having to do return visits to most locations (as us photographers do), and even though this is made easier living in the Huddersfield area – in the middle of the road so to speak, I've planned on the whole thing taking a few years to 'finish'.
I do understand this project (possibly true of any project) could go on indefinitely, so I use the word finish with trepidation because as a single subject a motorway might have the bonus of wonderful transportation, but geographically is as extensive and involving as a mountain range - and that's before I start to want to photograph the people who use the road, the staff in service stations, gritter men, etc, etc.
The more I think about it, the more I'm sure I could take the M62 on for ever. Some projects don't seem to require much time and effort to get results. For example I'm on with another at the moment based on the last fully working textile mill up the Colne valley in West Yorkshire (an area once known for it's mills). I know I can spend a morning there and come away with plenty of workable images. The motorway on the other hand is not as giving. I'm going over maps, planning whole days away, weather watching, and forcing myself to be always developing the idea of making essentially landscape photographs to suit a more documentary criteria that can initially be visually challenging. This thing I'm photographing is (as I keep reminding myself) a motorway, and not a mountain range, it's the M62, and I want the images to say M62 and not any old motorway. A good deal of these photographs will I hope reflect the idea that as much as we depend and value these massive man made structures, we also accept they can be glaringly utilitarian, un-loved, and ugly in a very modern way. I've found I have had to become quite dispassionate towards the subject even though it appears all too often like a shining example of how we as guardians of the planet are getting it a bit wrong.
A large impetus for me in nailing down this photographic project was the idea of change, and more importantly a level of change that transforms totally. Not an altogether new idea I know, but one that can be a very inspirational in almost any landscape where humans have been actively shaping things for centuries. There's a little ruined farm complex at Windy hill (the highest point of the M62) that was built in 1686. Back then this was the very last building before the hills, the last farm in a series (now gone) up a valley ending at the high moorland expanse that would have seemed massive, empty and open, pitch black at night, and silent. Now this ruin is about 200 yards away from the slowest uphill part of the 4 lane climb out of Lancashire, and there is continual noise, the smell of engines and rubber and light all night all year round.
I know this sort of change takes place every where, it's a sort of 'from one thing to another' transformation, sometimes good, sometimes traumatic, very human, and a movement we are all involved with, and one I certainly enjoy trying to photograph.
The M62 is a northern road, and 40 years on sits well in the landscape area I'm very familiar with, even though in the past my focus on this landscape has been the more timeless, static components of it, and although it's pure coincidence the M62 is part of that landscape, I'm a firm believer in the advice L.S.Lowry gave a student when asked what subject should a student start with, and old L.S replied 'the one you know best'. My take on this is like his in as much as the landscape that I've been photographing over the many years really does keep offering a different version of itself, a different reality if you like, but in all honesty, its exactly the same place.