One Square Mile

by Ann de Bruyn

Andrew Smith

I'm a semi-retired Management Consultant/Coach pursuing the perfect Life:Work imbalance. Photography, for me, is a love affair with the beauty that I encounter in the outdoors. My aim is to capture and hopefully evoke the magic that I experience in the places wherein I am lucky enough to spend the majority of my time..

miffsimages.co.uk

Osm18 I’ve barely had a conversation with a landscape photographer in the last few years that hasn’t at some point touched upon the ‘carbon guilt’ complex from which we all suffer - how do we reconcile our love of far-flung places with the uncomfortable knowledge that by virtue of far-flinging ourselves to those locations, we are almost certainly contributing to their potential demise?

I’ve barely had a conversation with a landscape photographer in the last few years that hasn’t at some point touched upon the ‘carbon guilt’ complex from which we all suffer.

We can (and usually do) assuage our discomfort with statements concerning ‘education’, ‘documenting the journey,’ ‘raising awareness’ and so on, but the simple fact is, every time we get on a plane and/or drive hundreds of miles, we are causing damage, and we all know it.

This is not to say that we have no positive effect. There are innumerable examples of local and even national policy being influenced by the vision and courage of the photographic community.

Peter Dombrovskis’ passionate campaigning and his historic image ‘Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend’ even reputedly influenced the result of the Australian presidency. It certainly changed the entire perception and awareness of preservation, specifically of the Franklin River, but more broadly too.

However, having raised the issue of the carbon dilemma of travelling, visiting and photographing landscapes (after all, that’s what we all do!), I don’t particularly want to get over-involved in that specific dilemma here. Greater minds (and consciences) than mine have done so to greater effect and in greater depth than I ever could. Joe Cornish, for one, is an informed, excellent and impassioned writer on this very subject.

However, the pandemic and the resultant lockdown resulted in us all being somewhat ‘becalmed’ for a year or more, and severely restricted in our movements.

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I would not make light of this, and many friends and mentors suffered greatly from the inability to run tutorials and events, increasingly their most important source of income.

However, it also forced a particular question which in retrospect presented a positive challenge - ‘if I can’t go to Yosemite (or even Yeovil, for that matter!), where can I go to make images that delight me’?

It also forced a particular question which in retrospect presented a positive challenge - ‘if I can’t go to Yosemite (or even Yeovil, for that matter!), where can I go to make images that delight me’?

During the first phase of lockdown, I committed to following the government guidelines and not ‘cheating’. So I restricted myself to walking from my door, riding my bike, or driving only very short distances - in the absence of specific government rules, I gave myself an arbitrary 15 mile radius as embracing the spirit of the guidelines (even though they were notoriously vague and I could have easily interpreted them more broadly and more to my advantage).

The practical upshot being that I basically made images in my village or in one single location nearby.

As time progressed, I began to feel that in many ways this was no longer a restriction, but a welcome discipline; one that encouraged a deeper examination and appreciation of that location, it was forcing me, in the most positive sense, to be more still and to create a richer and more personal relationship with one place.

Lawrence Durrell wrote about and evoked the ‘spirit of place’, and I think that this nurtured a similar process for me.

The place in question was Holme Fen.

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For those who don’t know it, it is a wonderful location, despite the total absence of soaring mountains, majestic waterfalls or mysterious hoodoos.

It is actually a nature reserve consisting of approx 650 acres of ancient fenland, with oodles of wildlife and rather a lot of venerable birch woodland. And I love it.

It is actually a nature reserve consisting of approx 650 acres of ancient fenland, with oodles of wildlife and rather a lot of venerable birch woodland. And I love it.

The absence of mountains is exemplified by the fact that it’s the lowest point in the whole of England, rising to a majestic -2.75 metres below sea level. There isn't a local rock-climbing club.

As I visited and re-visited my ‘place’, a thought began to form in my mind - wouldn't it be great to consider a ‘One Square Mile’ location as a dedicated subject and theme.

And beyond that, wasn't it a pretty cool idea in the broader sense - as a definite discipline and counter to the carbon deficit of the continuous travel commensurate with landscape photography?

So that was my challenge to myself, and one I’d like to offer to my fellow travellers - why not consciously invest at least some of your time to creating a ‘One Square Mile’ portfolio - a celebration of one small area, requiring no significant travel but requiring just as much heart and soul as a trip to Utah.

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I have collated a number of images from a specific small section of Holme Fen - including some that are just iPhone shots from the times I wasn’t carrying equipment. These now form my first ‘One Square Mile’ project. And it’s not static - I intend to keep developing my relationship with this wonderful place.

A little like a marriage, to some extent, I took this location for granted and lockdown forced us to spend more time together! Thankfully, and partly because of the actions I took, my relationship is now renewed and thriving.

The whole process has been illuminating, surprising, inspiring and enriching.

I would like to commend the principle and practice of ‘One Square Mile’ to all.