PHO705 Week 1: Entropias

I am starting a new project for my FMP. My old project Silent City – Oxford after dark – has served me well for a year but current lockdown restrictions make it impossible to pursue. I will take it up again later when the pandemic has abated, but for now, time for a change.

Entropias is about the impact of man on the land, specifically on the small parcel of nine or ten square miles in Oxfordshire where I live (see Fig. 1 below).

My project is a blend of geography, autobiography and metaphor in the terms used by the photographer Robert Adams (Adams 1981: 14). An analogue would be landscape, longing and desire (Bate 2016: 134).

This area has a long history. The Romano-British built a villa here. All four settlements on my patch were already established agricultural communities at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086. Hampton Gay had a much larger population two hundred years ago than it does today (Page et al 1907: vol. 6, 152–159). Medieval village fields of ridge-and-furrow strips are still in evidence, as is their pasture. Sanfoin, for fodder, was grown here hundreds of years ago. The same fields today are home to an organic, grass-fed beef farm, although many hedgerows date from the enclosures of 1750–1850.

Google Maps Screenshot
Fig. 1: Google Maps 2021. Kidlington, Hampton Poyle, Hampton Gay and Thrupp, Oxfordshire. The area is about three miles across and is bisected by the River Cherwell and (on the left) the Oxford Canal

However, the centuries have come with huge differences all of which mean that the land here is under pressure as never before. The primary causes are the vast growth in human population and in the waste and detritus this produces, the introduction of chemically dependent ‘agribusiness’ farming which depletes the soil and drives out wildlife, invasive pests like ash dieback and Dutch elm diseases, and a sea change in our cultural lenses.

We no longer see land as home and part of a whole of which we are only one element. What we see is a commodity, a consumable, a scene. We are all tourists and consumers now.

The essential contrast and tension here is between the culturally conditioned conceptions about place and nature we all have and the sometimes tough day-to-day reality of lived life in a man-made environment. A good recent example in book form is Small Town Inertia (Mortram 2017), though that is portraiture whereas my focus is environment. It is the difference between what we actually experience and nature as spectacle in an Attenborough TV programme or the ‘Automotive Sublime’ beloved of the advertising industry.

I am at an early, experimental stage with this project and still feeling my way into it. But I am excited!

References

ADAMS, Robert. 1981. Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values. New York, NY: Aperture.

BATE, David. 2016. Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

MORTRAM, J. A. 2017. Small Town Inertia. Liverpool, UK: Bluecoat Press.

PAGE, William, L. F. SALZMAN, H. E. SALTER, M. D. LOBEL, Alan CROSSLEY and Simon TOWNLEY. 1907. The Victoria History of the County of Oxford. London: Archibald Constable: Published for University of London Institute of Historical Research by Oxford University Press. Available at: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/search/series/vch–oxon [accessed: 16 Jan 2021].

Figures

Figure 1. GOOGLE MAPS. 2021. Kidlington, Hampton Poyle, Hampton Gay and Thrupp, Oxfordshire. The area is about three miles across and is bisected by the River Cherwell and (on the left) the Oxford Canal. From: Google Maps. 2021. Avaialble at: https://www.google.co.uk/ maps/@51.836753,-1.2927486,2431m/data=!3m1!1e3 [accessed 16 Jan 2021].