So, if you’ve been out and about earlier this month, before winter showed its face again, you might have spotted an artist wearing a silly hat and a 1990s puffer. That’ll be me then. No more dressing up for the cameras at the BBC (still on iplayer until Friday!)
I’m back on my mission to capture the alluring remains of mining in the Lake District landscape. And they are everywhere, these mines; off major fells such as Helvellyn, Blencathra, Old Man of Coniston, Cat Bells...you name it. Yet before this project, they had been invisible to me.
The Romantic idea of man humbled by nature, whereas, has always had me in its sway. Here’s my top 8 random stories of adventures into the landscape. Scientists, climbers, botanists, pilgrims and artists, all on some unholy or holy quest into the unknown:
1 Shackleton by Roland Huntford (book)
2 Flower Hunters by Mary and John Gribbin (book) -
3 The Dawn Wall directed by Peter Mortimer and Josh Lowell (film)
4 Shackleton’s Forgotten Men - The Untold Tragedy of the Endurance Epic by Lennard Bickel (book)
5 The Northern Lights by Lucy Jago (book)
6 Paths to the Soul directed by Zhang Yang (film)
7 The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of JMW Turner by Franny Moyle (book)
8 A complete inventory of drawings in the Turner bequest by A J Finberg 1909 (2 volumes)
The final one on the list, is just that. A list. Of 19,000 drawings and watercolours, of the Lake District, Yorkshire, Scotland, and The French Alps amongst other (flatter) places. Yes, 19,000 entries, and no pictures! What a boring document!! I hear you cry. But hang on reader… When you see this list, set out in two crusty volumes, you appreciate how much time this fellow Turner committed to travelling through the mountains. Day after day, month after month. Every time France and England were playing nicely again, he’d be off up those Alps as fast as you could say laudanam.
The funny thing about this bequest to the nation, is that Turner didn’t want any of these sketches included in it. lol. He just wanted a specific set of oil paintings put on public display. So that was taken on board. Not. Neither was his request for a chunk of his estate to be used to provide dwellings for hard-up artists. I’m not saying anything.
Shackleton. The dude. I was once giving an exposition on a new healthcare system to revolutionise the NHS. I was waffling on with great passion and intensity, declaring, “It’s all in the book, Shackleton”...Then I seemed to lose it a bit. The registrar, who was carrying out a delicate procedure on me at the time (I’d lost a lot of blood), took it upon herself to pull away my gas and air. “Come on, finish what you were saying…” She looked like she was about to collar me for a pen drive with my slides on. Well of course, without my nitrous oxide, the whole idea went up in smoke and away slipped my place in history.
I think, in all the stories above, (not the nitrous oxide one, just the adventurous 8), there are three things in play.
First is the quest, be it finding the elusive flower hidden on a sweltering jungle floor, incessantly recording the night sky in order to prove a theory, climbing a near vertical 3000ft slippery wall, or trekking 750miles, kneeling down to kowtow every few steps.
The second is the person or people under the spell of the quest, with the temperament to carry the task out to the end, at huge cost.
The third is the storyteller, who, often centuries later, approaches their task with such a high level of empathy and attention to detail, that we are inspired again and again by the account of a person’s or group of people’s heroic act.
Pursuing an understanding of what we need to exist in the world: how do we connect with others (and the wider world and its objects), what is our language.