This is a cross post from the INSIDE blog, documenting a project I’ve been commissioned to make with Antonia Attwood. The intention is to create new work relating to themes of mental wellbeing and safe spaces. The commission is a collaboration between QUAD and D-Lab in partnership with LEVEL and Junction Arts, supported by funding from DASH. Click here to read other posts related to this project.
Though we had lots of initial ideas that were inspired from the research questionnaires we received, it was clear that nature was a very strong theme throughout ideas of safety and sanctuary. We decided to explore the local area of Derbyshire — known for its natural beauty — to begin our shooting and start think about how to bring natural elements into the project and subsequently into a gallery setting.
Getting up at 4.30am, before the sun rose, we began at Kings Cross and made our way up to Sheffield and beyond to a small and silent village in the Peak District. Physically leaving London always signals, for me, a change in the pace of life. As we traversed the countryside I could feel the pressure of various work projects, to do lists and life decisions simmer down as my thoughts became a little more spaced out. Life slowed down. My eyes excitedly watched the sun rise in its colour-shifting splendour and I longed to connect with nature, to order my thoughts and become absorbed in the unknown landscape before us.
After we dropped off our bags we began our first jaunt. Surrounded by lush green hills I was struck simply by the colour contrast of the city versus the countryside. Back home concrete envelops me. Here, it was greens and browns and yellows as summer began to turn to autumn, my favourite time of the year. With camera in hand it wasn’t long before I began to be drawn to miniscule details that emphasise the beauty of slowing down and really being present. I studied the dew on blades of grass, bubbles of light trapped in mini water worlds. Photography for me is a very mindful practice. This notion of really looking, beyond how we usually navigate the world.
We had come to our first stop which was a hidden away waterfall. As we made our way down a steep and muddy ravine I began to feel a little disappointed. If there was a waterfall we’d hear water, I kept saying. Yet as we got lower and lower, slipping and sliding over slimy roots, the sound of crashing water echoed throughout the space that we entered. It was a beautiful sight that instantly felt magical and secluded. Setting up our cameras we spent hours engrossed in the rushing but soothing sound of the water falling from above us. At times there was a great silence between us and during those periods I thought more about my relationship to water.
Although I am a huge fan of water and its sounds the actual feeling of being in water can be terrifying for me. After I went scuba diving at the age of 12 the enormity of the oceans and seas left me with a huge fear of what lies beyond that which my eyes can (and can’t) see. Now, when I’m in the sea, all it takes is a small thought of how small and inconsequential I am versus how huge and powerful water is, to make me want to escape immediately. Yet watching large bodies of water instills a calm in me like no other. In my last suicide attempt in 2008 I attempted to drown myself in the sea. I expect during a moment of madness it was a way of bringing together both the chaos and violence of the uncontrollable seas and the peace it may have brought to my mind at the time. Having such a history with water, both positive and negative, feels paradoxical at times. It is curious how a natural element can simultaneously provide both sanctuary and sadness.
After a few hours spent reflecting at the waterfall we moved on to our second location of the day. Beginning in the vast open space of the Peak District, we looked out over sandy coloured fields that reflected the autumnal weather. I marvelled at the simplistic beauty of ferns blowing in the wind and the distant sound of water trickling through the nearby gorge, elements that both of us continued to stop, photograph and film. There was something about the colour of the burnt orange landscape ahead of me that I really took to. I began to think about how important walking is in my therapeutic photographic practice: to walk within the landscape and how my eyes are drawn to colours: those that stand out, those that contrast each other. Some people find walking an exercise in clearing their mind of thoughts. I find walking, as an artist, an exercise in really seeing and being, it is an opportunity to become hyperaware within the landscape and seek the details which excite me. Some of these I captured on our walk.
As we continued to follow the water the light began to fade. We caught the last few glimpses of light, filtering in through the trees and illuminating the intense greenery of the landscape around us. I always think there is something exciting about both dusk and dawn, the way that light is in flux and the day transforms from night to day and back again. With that we made our way back to the village, waiting for what tomorrow had in store for us.