Transitions, assignment six of the landscape module, is a project that runs throughout the whole course. The terms of reference are to create a series of images that respond to the idea of transitions within the landscape, recording changes that a part of the landscape undergoes over an extended period of time. (1: p.178)
As previously discussed the British landscape is one of the most engineered in Europe:
“A landscape moulded and exploited by human hand as an industrial resource. When we look out upon Britain from the train or motorway we are seeing a manufactured landscape, every field has been carved from ancient forest; woodland preserved and modified to produce building materials, firewood, charcoal, pit props or hunting parks for the ruling classes; streams dammed to form ponds for fish farms; rivers narrowed and channelled, deepened and rerouted to irrigate water meadows or mills; great pits, some now recycled as recreational lakes, where once we quarried stone, sand, clay, lime and gravel to build everything from castles to council houses. There are no great wildernesses here, even the flora and fauna of our moors and highlands have been modified by man and their livestock.” (2).
This perspective still feels relevant but there is perhaps an inference that the start point is always virgin, natural land that has been modified by man to attain its current status. In practice since the end of the last ice age (i), Britain’s land has been profoundly transformed; the underlying direction of travel was a natural metamorphosis from tundra to forest (i) but from as early as the Mesolithic, and long before farming was introduced to Britain, humans began to manage their immediate surroundings (ii) in ways that subverted its natural state. With the advent of farming, urbanisation and industrialisation these changes became significantly more impactful and far reaching until we reach the point where, as discussed above, little or none of the land not only untouched by human hand but has been successively modified to meet new requirements.
The underlying natural changes have progressed slowly across the millennia whilst man’s impact started slowly and then accelerated as new technologies were introduced and populations grew. Against a backdrop of these metamorphic changes the seasons have continued to perform an annual cycle of transition with winter frosts and spring flooding eroding and moulding the land.
The land we view on a daily basis has multiple pasts, a current status, is changing now and will change in the future.
My concept was to identify a tract of land where the past and present are visible but where plans are in place to significantly transform the landscape again over the course of the next year. This is not primarily a study of seasonal transitions but the visible effects of the unrelenting cycle of weather patterns, changes in light and the response of vegetation will inevitably be captured.
The very fact that the chosen location will be in the process of significant transformation dictates that the investigation will be a broad response to macro changes over a wide area rather than a study of a specific place or an element within the landscape.
In November and December 2016 I researched and visited a number of locations where large scale development projects were planned or underway. These ranged from urban redevelopment, village in-fill and the creation of a new town on a mixed brown and green field site. I narrowed the choice down to two potential projects.
In the very centre of Farnham in Surrey there is an area of land that has been scheduled for redevelopment for two decades. Currently a mixture of disused amenities, retail space and open land it has planning approval as the site of new town centre with amenities, retail premises and housing. (iii) (4)
Because the existing buildings and open spaces on the site have such varied current or historic uses there will be interesting transitions taking place once the project starts but despite planning permission having finally been approved in 2016 it is now the subject of a Judical Review which suggests further delays that suggest it is not a viable subject for this project.
I carried out an initial shoot on the site in December to explore the location for photography and whilst there is real scope in regards to the urban re-development of the area, including elevated viewpoints outside of the site, I sense that once work commences it will quickly become a homogenous building site that destroys all the existing vegetation and hides the underlying land.
The subject I have chosen is the redevelopment of the old British Army camp or garrison at Bordon that is part of a much wider scheme to build a new town on, what was, Ministry of Defence land at Whitehill and Bordon in Hampshire (5). This development is part of the Government’s “Eco Towns” project as announced in July 2009 (6) and will eventually include the construction of 2,400 “sustainable” new homes, a new town centre, retail space, light industrial areas, offices, two new schools, a relief road and recreational facilities.
The site is vast, 500 acres, and to document the overall transition would be a major project so from the outset I will narrow my focus to three specific transitions.
Military to Civilian: Between the time the War Office purchased the Broxhead Estate in 1902 and when the military left in 2015 the “camp” at Bordon had become a significant garrison with the full array of headquarters buildings, sports facilities, barracks, married quarters, shops, restaurants and messes that one would normally associate with a military base. Some of these buildings, (too few in my view), are being retained and repurposed and I am especially interested in the Victorian military structures that surround the parade ground at the top of the camp that will become the site of the new town centre.
Military Training to Public Amenity: The camp is surrounded by heath land and conifer forest where soldiers have trained for over a century. Most recently this has been used as a testing and exercise area for armoured and other heavy vehicles. Hogmoor, a discrete 130 acre site adjoining the military camp, is being transformed from a tank testing ground to a forest-based public space, and thereby represents a transition from “damaged” military land, to a recreational amenity.
Forest to Road (v): To the South of the site there is a relief road being constructed to bypass the existing high streets of both Bordon and adjoining Whitehill. This road is being cut through forested land between the camp and the Hogmoor enclosure.
These are three quite different transitions and the scope may yet prove to be too broad but this can be modified as I progress with the shoots.
A Variety of Edgelands
In particular I am interested in the spaces between the different types of development; the points where residential meets amenity or recreational meets natural land; these points are transitional spaces, edgelands that might change in interesting ways as the development project progresses.
The development project raises social questions. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s Planning Statement declares:
“DIO believes that its proposals will result in a scheme of the highest quality which will deliver urgently needed market/affordable homes and strategic infrastructure in the District, as well as making the best use of a large area of vacant public sector land to contribute to the regeneration objectives for the town.” (7: p.3)
Further into this weighty document it states that a total of 360 (15%) of the new builds will be “affordable”, these range from one bedroom apartments to four bedroom houses. The same document admits that this falls short of the 35% “target” (their parenthesis) as set by the East Hampshire District in their 2014 policy statement (8: p.45) but this level is declared as “not viable”; however, Shelter appears to continue to believe that 40% the homes constructed during the redevelopment of the Bordon Garrison will be affordable (9: p.3) so there appears to be a lack of clarity on this subject, a major corner stone of the whole project.
The debate over how many of these homes will be classified as “affordable” rather ignores the key question of what is affordable to the rural population of East Hampshire. I have no wish to jump to conclusions but to date the lowest cost property I have found on this development is priced at £315,000 or £252,000 with “Help to Buy”.
The second question in my mind is why so many, apparently viable buildings, are being demolished to make way for the redevelopment and why the service families’ homes at St. Lucia Park on the edge of the development appear to be mostly empty, if not abandoned.
The advantage of working on these three different transitions is that only the transformation of the garrison buildings is inside the fenced and secured development site. Hogsmore is open to the public and the relief road runs through an accessible area between the camp and Hogsmore.
I have obtained permission from the overall development company to gain accompanied access to the development site and, in the company of a security guard, have since conducted one shoot inside the old camp. My plan is to revisit this part of the camp on a monthly basis and to visit the areas outside of the secure development site on a bi-monthly basis.
Initial Context and References to Research
At this stage my contextual references are not fully established but there are a number of practitioners whose work is either in similar areas or whose approach to landscape in general is relevant.
Colin Shaw completed a project on the impact of the construction of the M40 through Warwickshire (10) in 1986 to 1988. This is perhaps a little too social documentary focussed for this landscape project but I have always found his work highly relevant.
Gina Lundy, my current tutor, explored the impact of the Government’s housing policies in a project on the Aylesbury Estate, West Hendon in 2015. Her approach to landscape documentary is interesting in that she simultaneously explores the wider landscape, details within that landscape including interior shots and considers the people impacted by relocation to make way for new development. (11) & (12) The emphasis of her project on the failure of social housing policies is of particular relevance.
John Darwell is another British documentary photography who exhibits a particularly personal perspective on landscape with an emphasis on social and industrial change. His practice has a number of relevant reference points but I am initially interested in looking at his Legacy series which explores the abandoned landscape inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone (13). Whilst the reasons for this landscape being depopulated are significantly different to the site at Bordon I am interested in how he approaches a huge site and extracts a compact but evocative series. I could select two or three of his other projects for research at this point and aside from Legacy I am interested in his study of abandoned industrial buildings around Sheffield. (14)
Joel Sternfeld is perhaps best known for his studies of people but his pure landscape work is equally compelling. On This Site (15), a “late photography” study of sites where large and small atrocities occurred is a moving and personal perspective on American history. Walking The High Line (16) explores a historic but abandoned railway in Manhattan. Both these books are relevant in terms of their subject matter but also because of Sternfeld’s treatment of colour; whilst Stephen Shore’s or Alexander Gronsky’s muted palettes are both highly appealing and contemporary I take great pleasure in looking at the work of Sternfeld who revels in rich tones and saturated colour contrasts.
Studies of a particular place are not uncommon subjects so there are many other photographers who come to mind. I feel that I have been poring over maps a lot recently so perhaps Mark Power is an appropriate reference point and in studies of the wider landscape of a place neither Stephen Shore nor Paul Strand can be ignored. For an interest in the mundane aspects of the land Hans Van Der Meer is of interest as is Wim Wenders ability to find and photograph strange objects and buildings.
This list will wax and wane as the project progresses but I know that I will return on several occasions to the work of a non photographer, Francis Pyror, who is perhaps the most eloquent writer on how the British landscape has evolved.
Notes on Text
(i) The last ice age or Pleistocene ended 11,600 years ago. The Mesolithic, which follows, runs until about 4,000 BC or 6,000 years ago and the start of the Neolithic. The traditional view is that the Mesolithic humans were nomadic hunter gatherers who had little or no impact on the landscape but this idea is now being challenged based on the archeological evidence at, the admittedly rare, Mesolithic sites excavated in Britain. Francis Pryor (3) suggests that the Mesolithic hunters may have established seasonal encampments or even longer term settlements and that they would have probably managed the local woodland to attract game and to make it easier to hunt and were quite likely to have been cultivating plants like hazel. Recognisable forms of farming were introduced to Britain in about 4,000 BC and the population becomes less mobile and more linked to permanent settlements. The domestication of cattle, sheep and pigs and the cultivation of barley, wheat and pulses led to more significant levels of land modification and management.
(ii) As the ice withdrew the climate quickly warmed so tundra was replaced by woodland; the first tree to return was juniper and this was quickly followed by birch, hazel, pine, willow and alder. The great greenwood trees like oak and elm followed in the lowlands, whereas in the uplands pine and birch were more common. This heavily wooded landscape was home to bear, wolves, deer, wild cattle, boar and a wide variety of small mammals that supported the Mesolithic hunters that followed the retreating ice across Europe and populated Britain and Ireland.
(iii) This area was once the site of the Regal Cinema, that was demolished in 1987, the Redgrave Theatre that closed in 1997, an eighteenth century House which has had several uses since being acquired by the council in 1919 and that is currently semi derelict, abandoned tennis courts and a large open space that was once “pleasure gardens”. The current development plans also call for the demolition of a pub, several shops and various other buildings.
(iv) Over time the War Office and then the MOD purchased over 1,500 acres of land in the Bordon area. Some of this has been sold off over time and 500 is contained within the Whitehill and Bordon development scheme. At this stage of my research I am unclear whether the MOD still owns the heath land on the Farnham side of the camp.
(v) I am wary of describing this as a transformation of natural forest to public road as the conifers are not indigenous to this area and are probably the remains of commercially planted woodland. Further research will hopefully identify whether this was previously heath land or mixed forest.
(1) Alexander, J.A.P (ND) Landscape. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts
(3) Pryor, Francis (2010) The Making of the British Landscape. London: Penguin
(11) Lundy, Gina (2015) Fantastic New Community Zine. London: Gina Lundy with support from Street Level Photoworks
(13) Darwell, John (2001) Legacy. Stockport: Dewi Lewis
(14) Darwell, John (2014) Sheffield: the Remains of Some Buildings Around the Don Valley. Southport: Café Royal Books
(15) Sternfeld, Joel (2012) On This Site. Göttingen: Steidl
(16) Sternfeld, Joel (2012) Walking The High Line. Göttingen: Steidl
(2) Middlehurst, Steve (2016) A5: Research Colin Shaw (accessed at the author’s Identity and Place blog) – https://stevemiddlehurstidentityandplace.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/a5-research-farmwork-colin-shaw/
(4) Waverley Council (ND) Brightwells Farnham Regeneration Scheme (accessed at Waverley Council 3.2.17) – http://www.waverley.gov.uk/info/200349/view_and_comment/516/brightwells_farnham_regeneration_scheme
(5) Whitehill and Bordon (ND) Master Plan (accessed at Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration 3.2.17) – http://www.whitehillbordonregeneration.co.uk/master-plan
(6) BBC News (2009) Four Sites to Become Eco Towns (accessed at BBC News 3.2.17) – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8152985.stm
(7) Defence Infrastructure Organisation (2014) Bordon Garrison Redevelopment: Planning Statement (accessed at Whitehill Bordon Regeneration 7.2.17) – http://www.whitehillbordonregeneration.co.uk/application/files/5414/3507/3573/04_HPA_Planning_Statement.pdf
(8) East Hampshire District (2014) Local plan: Joint Core Strategy (accessed at Southdowns Government 7.2.17) – https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/EHCC-Joint-Core-Strategy.pdf
(9) Shelter (ND) Whitehill Bordon: Eco-Town the Facts (accessed as England Shelter 7.2.17) – http://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/132610/Borden.pdf
(10) Shaw, Colin (1986 -1988) M40 Warwickshire (accessed at the photographer’s website 7.2.17) – https://www.colinshaw.co.uk/projects/m40/
(12) Lundy, Gina (2015) A Fantastic New Community (accessed at the photographer’s website 7.2.17) – http://www.ginalundy.co.uk/fantastic-new-community/