THIS PLACE HAS BEEN TORTURED
Most of us admire the sublime beauty of natural landscape. But there is no real wilderness. Nearly all of the landscape of our islands has been formed in some way by human activity. Until around two hundred years ago, the vast majority of this activity was agricultural. Forests were exploited for timber and fields were partitioned for crops and livestock. Then, along with the industrial revolution, the eighteenth and nineteenth century middle classes, poets and artists invented the myth of bucolic landscape, perhaps as an escape from the filth of industry. What is authentic landscape now in the twenty first century? The change, the damage that humanity has wrought upon it is ever more evident. We are living in the Anthropocene age. We have altered the shape of our landscape permanently, as well as climate and every other aspect of earthly existence. Therefore, what we visualise in art must acknowledge and embrace that. Everything else is escapism. Whereas traditional landscape celebrates a bucolic idyll that was largely fictional anyway, I try to find moments of beauty in the brutality and decay of industry. There is always a yin and yan.
Most of these photographs were made with a film camera along the 'black path', which is now a part of the Teesdale Way. Much of it follows the Middlesbrough to Saltburn railway, so it was familiar to me already from a different perspective. It passes the iconic Dorman Long tower, and the old coking ovens which are now in the process of demolition, and the monstrous edifice of the BOS plant (Basic Oxygen Steelmaking), before passing the BOC oxygen works and other industrial plant, emerging just outside Redcar.
The route is defined by sculptural spaghettis of pipework, forbidding fences, the industrial edifices previously mentioned, and the losing fight of abandoned man-made structure against the reclaiming invasion of overgrowth. It is not a pretty place like the heather carpeted moors of Yorkshire in August, but it does have its own tortured beauty.