Category Archives: iii.Context



Historical context

Although I’d read around this topic quite a long time ago I waited until until I’d finished the photography sessions to read again and further as I wanted my mind to be clear to the present moment.


During the late 18thCentury the growing industrial revolution was beginning to transform people’s lives. Steam engines were beginning to transform industry. Britain had built up-a large overseas empire. Owning land was the main form of wealth and groups of rich men had already formed turnpike trusts to improve and maintain certain roads – tolls having to be paid to use them.  There was money to be made and, of course, wasted as The South Sea Bubble had already shown early in the century  – an early version of the technology shares crash in the early 2000s.

The first canal had been dug in the north of England and many more began to be dug throughout the country to make it cheaper to transport goods. In the late 1770s a group of Hampshire landowners promoted a new canal scheme to link Basingstoke with the Thames via the Wey Navigation at Byfleet in the borough of Woking.  Below is a PDf of notes made from my reading of several sources looking at the history of the Canal and its relationship with Woking:

History of Basingstoke Canal


To cut a long story short, the Basingstoke Canal Navigation Company went bankrupt in 1866, with seven owners during the next fifty years each finding the canal to be nothing but a financial liability – factors being the eclipse of most of the national waterways system as a result of the development of road and rail transport; the decline of both industries and the importance of agriculture in the South and larger /cities such as London and Bristol bringing in produce from other parts of England or abroad rather than from neighbouring counties. Commercial traffic on the Basingstoke Canal gradually dwindled – the last load of timber delivered on its route being in 1949.

By the 1960s the Canal, closed completely, had become weed-choked and silted, with crumbling locks and an overgrown towpath. Work began, in 1973, to totally restore the canal, after years of campaigning and lobbying by those determined to give new life to it. Hampshire County Council bought one stretch in 1970 and, in 1976, Surrey County Council purchased the rest of the canal between Woking and Frimley. The work took 15 years to complete, was supported by armies of volunteer labourers and publicised by boat rallies and events.  It was formally reopened in May 1991.

Between 2008 and 2011 a sustainable cycling town project was delivered within Woking, with the emphasis on connecting people with places, using sustainable modes of travel in walking and cycling and connecting to public transport for longer journeys. 26.31km of new off-road cycle network was constructed, with 12.9km along the Basingstoke Canal (The Saturn Trail) being ‘the jewel in the crown’.

Artistic Context

Even though I found the note recording tedious at the time I realise I gained a great deal of inspiration from the Projects/Exercises in Part 2. Throughout the process of the Assignment I had in mind those words of Mark Titchner  (see here) about gathering ideas together on how a City (or Town in my case) brands itself and how that can reflect on me as a resident; to source background material; see how historical areas have changed, and view the City as a non-static evolving place.  Titchner also uses as few words as possible to allow space for the viewer to insert their own meaning. His other sentence that really impacted on me was “The World isn’t working” – against something that someone else had said “Every problem has a solution”. The latter sentence is quite often used in business, but it had much force when said to me by a tour guide in Canada who was a member of its First Nations people and very much involved as a mediator between them and the Canadian Government.

I recognised the thought again during one of my walks

(grafitti on a wall under one of the Canal bridges)

When I did the reading for the Edgelands Exercise (2:6) (see here)  I also looked at Farley and Roberts chapter on Canals (2011: 117) and how canals are uniquely “able to offer a portrait of the decline in manufacturing, and the shift of power from water and rail to road” and how they now lead a double life, being adopted as natural features in the countryside, being associated with tranquillity and leisure, whereas in urban areas they are often ‘wet skips’. Therefore, I was alerted to seeing such changes on my walk.

(Grafitti seen on one of my canal walks 2017)

On the short stretch I walked there wasn’t much opportunity for creating any ‘land art’ in the sense that, for example,  there were no flowers to gather/arrange and, to my pleased surprise, hardly any litter to portray as a blot on the landscape.  Also, there was nowhere to sit apart from at the Woking junction with the path.  What I’d had in mind was the work of Stephen Turner which I’d looked at during my previous Module, having seen work at the Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth, which he’d produced whilst  travelling with the Exbury Egg (see here) .  What I did do was to create a cyanotype from a digital photograph of one of the buildings.  I was quite pleased with the result, especially having exposed the cyanotype in natural, albeit not very strong, sunlight. The exposure took about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, it was only when I looked closely that I realised I had forgotten to flip the negative which meant the building was the wrong way round.  I did have another go a few days later having remedied the problem but, unfortunately, it was a poor exposure.

On the topic of alternative photography, I had also had pinhole photography in mind for some time, and using an empty drink can, but seeing such a lack of litter along that stretch of the canal has made me think that it might not be a good idea to attempt there.

Throughout, I had the work of Simon Roberts, his views of the British at rest in “Merrie Albion”, “We English”  and National Property: The Picturesque Imperfect  and his concept of the landscape as a stage on which people enact their lives and this is something I know I will carry forward in future assignments.

Amongst others my tutor pointed me towards Michal Iwanowski’s work Go Home, Polish which ponders on where home is and geopolitical agendas from the perspective of each individual.  On a smaller scale both these topics are very relevant to me, given that I have moved house and place quite often.  There is something within me felt as ‘home’ and this does link for me with Mark Titchner’s thoughts on how the way a City brands itself reflects on me as a resident together with how, in many respects, I become an observer of ways in which a community is affected by political choices.  My tutor also referred to Paul Gaffney  whose work I have seen beautifully presented in its soft-covered book. He chose his path, whereas mine on the canal was pretty much laid out in front of me, although I did have a look up some of the paths to the road. The most important aspect though is that Gaffney’s work has a slow, visually lyrical effect for me with no people and just the spaces, which I could equate with slow art and slow walking.

In terms of eventual presentation of the Assignment my first thought was a concertina book as this mirrors the ‘ribbon’ of the canal within the landscape.  I also appreciate the work No Sign of Canals on Mars: The Illustrated Travel Diaries of Eileen Burke by Tim Daly  (Fugitive Press) .   The work includes wool, postcards, a diary, various ephemera and c-type prints in a wallet. All placed in a small archive clamshell box.   A wonderful illustration of how ‘souvenirs’ can be put together to create a whole.  Again, probably not practicable from a short walk but that approach is on my presentation ideas list.