Personal work; it’s where the best ideas take seed and why, as a photographer, it’s so important to keep doing this type of work. This act of “doing” allows you to explore ideas without expectations or constraints of a brief. Some ideas are clear from the beginning, others are a gut feeling that starts you on a journey and a process of discovery. It’s only over time, through nurturing and experimentation, that these nuggets of ideas reveal themselves and develop into something more meaningful.
As I’ve got older I’ve learnt to trust my instinct more and it’s why I ventured to Northern France last weekend looking for something in the muddy landscape of the Somme which was still undefined. Exploring landscapes is where I feel most at ease photographically. I am drawn to a sense of place and man’s role in the physical landscape. It’s a point of reference in much of my work.
The Somme region is steeped in history and suffering, and it’s no coincidence that one of the hardest races in the cycling calendar, Paris-Roubaix traverses its fields and network of cobbled farm tracks. It’s a brutal race, which shakes every last drop of energy from the riders and can quickly turn to a quagmire if it rains. The granite setts, which make up these “roads” are invariably dislodged creating chasms for wheels to sink into or, worse still, muddy pools of water which disguise the dangers beneath. Crashes and punctures are inevitable and the attrition rate makes finishing the race and achievement in itself.
Like the Mountains project there seemed to be a synergy between the physical state of the roads with the unique type of racing they have helped create. Drawn to explore this notion a little further, what I invariably found was a stark division where the smooth modern tarmac road ended abruptly, giving way to a muddy field reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting where black crows and the withered stalks of maze paint a scene unchanged over hundreds of years. It’s where the old and the new worlds meet. Standing there on the junction, it doesn’t take much imagination to envisage the Somme during WW1 or a scene from Émile Zola’s depiction of miners in his French masterpiece, Germinal.
These first few photographs are a starting point, a place to begin constructing more resolved ideas. Whether they amount to anything more than a short sortie into a foreign field, they remain invaluable to me and a reminder of why personal work is so important. They have certainly helped me build my own picture of what form my photography should take. Certainly, I’m aware that my aesthetic gets simpler every year and I tend to look to the physical landscape for answers and meaning.