The themes for me from the start were:
- Aggressive invasion by the English in Tasmania, which disturbed H.G. Wells to the extent that he turned this on its head by describing the Martians behaving in the same way but being ‘beaten’.
- Lack of communication and empathy with others who are different
- What would it have been like for H.G. Wells to live in the Woking area briefly at the time?
- What attracted Wells towards Horsell Common and sparked his imagination?
- Destroying habitats and ways of living and being – Tasmania; European colonization generally; why the Martians had to leave Mars and find somewhere else; the struggle now between competing forces – the need for housing therefore attempts to develop green belt land or nibble at the edges of it; fights to protect it; fears now of increasing Climate Change; the Space race now to construct the technology to travel to other planets; my fear that if we eventually live on other planets we will slowly destroy their environments as we are doing on Earth now.
I knew that the Assignment needed to be more focused so decided to think myself into Wells’s mind-set and visit locations which are mentioned in his book. I soon discovered that I was being too ambitious in scope and it was better to concentrate on Horsell Common since the Martians chose to land there. The Common is familiar to me and I’ve photographed there many times in the past, but it did seem different this time. I decided to take photographs of anything which caught my attention in some way rather than plan to walk in specific places. That and the fact that I hadn’t visited there for a while helped too, I think, as there had been interesting changes. I realised anew what an unusual environment this is with its unusual and striking features and ‘uncanny’ aspect. I decided on the title of ‘The Eve of the War’ to portray the Common just before the Martians landed and with aspects of it that would act as foreboding signifiers – portents of a danger to come.
Our monthly meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group took place after submission date but, knowing that it had been submitted as a draft and that my tutor would be providing formative feedback, I took my ‘draft’ set of photographs to gain some peer feedback – see here The feedback was positive but, as can be seen, comments indicated that there was some confusion as to my narrative around the choices, the point of view I was taking and how that might affect my sequencing of the images.
My tutor sent me some interim notes the day afterwards, ready for discussion, and although generally positive, she also asked questions along similar lines but more challenging. What war was I referring to; was I searching for Wells’s imaginary war and his prophetic ideas of how we have waged war against nature/our earth. Is my project about climate change, space exploration or a visitation? If my series is about climate change then, unless this is in the sense of the apocalyptic, this is achieved by Wells’s story rather than this particular landscape and my images of it. Therefore, is this why I would feel that this is what makes the story so resonant today. My tutor suggested returning to the images to question what they are really saying – sense of the unease, other-worldly, nature looking alien – is this notion of the ‘uncanny’, “unsettled” of more interest? In which case there are other images I could also use. Alternatively, is this about a visual means of exploring a place that has been turned into a visual one through TV and film; to absorb the ideas that Wells was expressing and see if I could find traces of it on this site?
The issue has been that, for me, there are so many aspects which is probably why the book has been such a success continuously through the years with its various editions and other media stemming from it. This fits very much with Tom Lombardo’s description of science fiction as ‘The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future’ (2015) with archetypal, mythic, and cosmic qualities. (I wrote about his book here
Thinking over it all now I’m aware that all those themes were at the back of my head as I was walking around the Common, but I felt involved in what I was seeing and also connecting with its history. The sandpit, part of the Bagshot Beds, formed millions of years ago when the ‘Great Bagshot River’ deposited thick sands; all those people passing through history. It was as if I was actually walking alongside H.G. Wells each of us with our different thoughts – looking at our surroundings as if through a stereoscope. Looking back at my original proposal for the project I see I entitled it, ‘The War of the Worlds: Projections from the past to the future’ but I don’t think that quite fits now.
Looking at the Project in another way, I wanted to look at an area I know well through the mind and eyes of H.G. Wells to understand why he thought that the Sandpit on Horsell Common was a good place for Martians to land their Spaceship. I have always thought that Horsell Common was an unusual place, something out of the ordinary, but this time I saw it with slightly different eyes through allowing myself to become even more in tune with it. I was looking at the remnants of an ancient landscape; sand the colour of the desert; pale silver birches in the sparse soil, thin trunks like fingers reaching to the sky and old trees, skewed branches clinging together on entwining roots. Hanging on to life in a changing world. Perhaps that’s the conversation I would have with H.G. Wells if we had ever met.