Category Archives: 5. The Eve of the War: Draft Assignment

Further Reflection on my Concept for Assignment 5

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Reflection on Assignment 5 (Draft)

 

My draft Assignment includes an evaluation but I thought it would be useful for my personal development to reflect in more depth.

I have mixed feelings about this Assignment.  Time pressures/deadlines meant that I had to take a fairly narrow focus and be disciplined about not getting involved or side-tracked into wider avenues.  There was little time either for experimenting with different approaches.  On the other hand I surprised myself by how disciplined I could be, developing an inner voice that kept me in check, especially as I’d always been interested in Horsell Common as the site of the ‘Martian’ landing – living across the road from it from 2006 to 2014.  I think that newly developed inner voice is going to be good for me in the future – new learning even at my relatively advanced age.

It was only during Assignment 3 and the Basingstoke Canal that I realised how ‘new’ the modern town of Woking is (as distinct from the earlier Settlement now known as Old Woking). It isn’t so obvious because Woking Borough as an urban district took in the older villages Byfleet, Horsell and Pyrford – all of which are mentioned in H.G.Wells book “The War of the Worlds”. I also hadn’t taken in the import of Woking being a ‘Cemetery’ Town either and the influence of the London Necropolis Railway Company. The historical reading was important in giving me a sense of the Woking of the 1890s and why H.G. Wells thought this was a good place to live with its Railway line to and from London and with surrounding  areas to explore.

During my own walks and photography sessions I came to understand the fascination of Horsell Common and its Sandpit for H.G. Wells. This transferred to me and I think it improved the way I was using my camera to focus on areas of the Common that I thought could have been of interest to him. I gained a new sense of looking at an area I had known well which was also helped, I think, by the fact that I hadn’t been back there very often since 2014.  Come to think of it I was also looking with new eyes because of two lots of cataract surgery during the past couple of years!

I took some test shots with my iPhone to begin with, to accompany my Project Proposal and also showed them to member of “Bridge” Group – a group set up by Anna Goodchild which is an extension of South-West OCA Group.  Members of “Bridge” were very supportive, see here   under the entry for November 2019. The photography sessions proper started in the New Year.  I took quite a large number of photographs, so the editing process took some time; a good exercise though because I think I’m becoming more able to let go of images that don’t fit with others even though they appeal to me.  I made strong efforts to concentrate my choices on images that would fit together as colours and shapes as well as provide an underlying narrative ‘uncanny’ effect without being too obvious; which is why I left out the gloomier images.  I’ll be pleased though if I can make use of their darker mood in my future experiments.

The time factor meant that I played it safe, didn’t experiment with different approaches or technique .  I had thought of using a Holga lens and maybe polaroid photography but decided against this in the end.  A holga pinhole lens could fit with early photography certainly though which is something to remember for the future.  One aspect I haven’t explored up to now is whether H.G. Wells was interested in photography; I’ve got an idea he probably wasn’t, but I could be wrong.  I kept a note of interesting artists which I summarised separately here and, with more time and space available for experimentation, I have made a plan of action for further work.

There were several themes that occurred to me during my walks and the major one for H.G. Wells at that particular point was his disquiet at the behaviour of the English in Tasmania.  Another current theme closer to home but connected is in the wider area where I live so much has happened due to land speculation intended for the profit of the developer rather than the inhabitants.  This type of speculation, whilst not always apparently making a profit, has shaped the land. Even now, as I’ve written before, there are further large developments proposed without an existing infrastructure to support them and which will take away land such as Horsell Common.  I feel thankful that so many years ago, the Earl of Onslow was philanthropic enough to ensure that Horsell Common, at least is safe – so far as we know. It could be said that I am looking backwards as opposed to what might happen in the future but I don’t think that’s the case because what I’ve been doing is looking at the choices that have been made about land ownership and management over time and the results of this for our present generation alongside the stories that we build around our environment.

Assignment 5 Draft – “The Eve of the War”

Assignment 5 – Draft Submission to Tutor

 My tutor approved my original project proposal (attached) with some cautious comments regarding ‘some ambitious starting points’ and, in view of the short timescale, to keep shoots as simple as possible being mindful about any experiments.

Evaluation

Overall, working on this project has been quite a rich experience for me.  Since my move to Ottershaw I have rarely visited Horsell Common and I was pleased to see how careful conservation applied with light hands and sensitivity has improved it.  Thanks to the Earl of Onslow more than a hundred years ago and, now, Horsell Common Preservation Society the public have access to a wonderful area.  Attempts to nibble away at its edges for other developments have, so far, been successfully resisted and I hope that continues.

For my own benefit I felt the need to understand more about Mars, its fascination for so many people and the role that science fiction has played in suggesting future alternatives. I also needed to understand more of H.G. Wells’s life, thoughts/beliefs and literary output; although I concentrated mostly on the period during which he lived in Woking. I already knew a lot about the history of Woking but hadn’t realised to what extent its early growth was owed to the land speculation of the Necropolis Railway Company.  This reminded me very much of the history of Silent Pool (Assignment 3). The early postcards were also a help in imagining what Woking looked like in the late 19th Century.  Summaries are in my Assignment 5 Research  Notes section.

I didn’t follow through on the possibilities I outlined for photographic approaches.  The “search for Ottershaw Observatory” could have been a good map but I didn’t follow through on this for two reasons.  Firstly, I realised that there was no way I could go on extended trips across Woking and nearby areas as this would have been a much larger project.  Also, in 2016 a local historian Ian Wakeford had produced  a very good set of illustrated walks to help celebrate the 150th year of H.G. Wells’s birth which included contemporary maps and photographs and he speculated that, in referring to Ogilvy’s house, Wells might have been thinking of a particular house in Ottershaw – a place called Queenswood – or, possibly Ottershaw Village, Ottershaw Park or Foxhills. Wakeford also included photographs of the last three and a map showing the locations.

I had said I would keep an open mind anyway and do an initial shoot and that’s what I did.  It was Horsell Common and the Sandpit that fascinated me, imagining how Wells could have been viewing all those tree roots, the dark pines, the silvery birch trees and the colour of the sand.  It would have been more open though and so probably a good spot to land a Martian space-ship.  Even so, I couldn’t put myself into a mindset of wanting to destroy all of the area and its people.  I felt the pull of the Common more strongly.  Maybe it’s because such land is rarer nowadays whereas in Wells day it would have been pretty commonplace.

My photography and editing sessions are here  I took photographs from various angles and at various times of the day.  In my final edit I had difficulty in finding links between all of ones chosen so I divided them into three sets.  My chosen set for submission is of Horsell Common and the Sandpit and my title is The Eve of the War.

The Eve of the War

Artist Statement

Throughout this Module I have been interested in the way in which people use the landscape as a stage for creative endeavours; ‘performance’ and also as ground for stories. I used to live in Woking and one of the areas that fascinated me was Horsell Common which H.G. Wells had used as a landing ground for his book The War of the Worlds (1898). The book itself has had many manifestations since then, including a radio broadcast, films and television series.  Wells’s Martians invaded Earth due to their own dwindling resources and the book is amazingly prescient given our own Space explorations nowadays plus the growing fear that Climate change will lead to the end of life on our planet Earth.

The purpose of my project has been to explore Horsell Common and photograph it ‘as if I was H.G. Wells’. What I have discovered is that the Common does have features that are striking and unusual and could easily have influenced his choice of it – twisted tree roots, dark pine trees, ethereal silver birches and, most of all, the Sandpit ; all of which provide an ‘uncanny’ atmosphere viewed in a certain way.

 

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I used Blurb Booksmart software to format a standard landscape size book to see how the images look together and it is without text. I can already see how one image is too large for the space. A PDF is below and it is best viewed downloaded as a PDF from safari and read as a two page display and at 100%.

TheEveoftheWar

The images as a set are below too for comparison .  I slightly altered the sequence, deciding that two of the images are too much alike so one of them is better as the back cover.

A personal reflection on the whole of the project follows, including artistic inspirations.