Saturday, June 06, 2009

History and The Fens

click photo to enlarge
Historians, like many people, often look for the easy life. When they come to write about a subject they tend to favour those that are well documented by contemporary primary sources and extensively covered by subsequent secondary sources. You might think that there is nothing wrong with that providing it produces useful additions to our understanding of the past. But, there is a danger, particularly when looking at a subject over a period of several centuries, that the later phases, where extensive written documentation survives, are given an emphasis and importance that isn't always warranted.

Take the draining of the Fens. Many people's knowledge of this undertaking begins with the "adventurers" who, in the seventeenth century raised money and made use of Dutch and English engineers to build large drains, such as the one in today's photograph, and ends with the conversion of the marshes, meres and seasonal pasture into some of England's most productive arable land. What is less widely appreciated is the fact that this was the third phase of drainage and "improvement". The Romans began the project, but their causeways and the Carr Dyke constitute the few remains of their work in this area, and there is no contemporary documentary evidence. The medieval monasteries undertook the building of extensive embankments and drains, the scope of which we don't fully appreciate. There are those who believe that their contribution to the conversion of this "waste" into farmland was at least as significant as the work of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, and possibly more so. Rather more of the medieval work can be seen in the form of, for example, old sea banks and the Midfen Dyke, but little documentary evidence remains, and so it is given much less emphasis than the later works.

The South Forty Foot drain was begun in the 1630s and extended and enlarged in subsequent centuries. It is a conduit that takes the water from subsidiary drains and deposits it in The Haven at Boston, where it joins the flow of the River Witham out into The Wash and the North Sea. My photograph shows the Drain at a point next to Neslam Bridge, half way between Billingborough and Gosberton. The inlet on the left is the waterway, called Billingborough Lode, feeding into the canal-like watercourse. I stopped to take a photograph from the bridge, but noticing a track to the water's edge, perhaps made by an angler, I went down into the vigorously growing reeds. The quality of light there was different, vivid and wonderful, and intensified by the yellow flowers of oilseed-rape growing along the top of the bank. I returned to the car happy to have secured this shot.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/640 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On


Henk said...

Funny what a slightly different point of view can do to colour.

I noticed that I started to look differently, more intense at colour since I picked up digital photography.Especially the many different shades of green in grass fascinates me.

The framing/composition makes this image of an ordinary subject, a tad too dark for my taste :)

Best Regards,

Tony Boughen said...

Hi Henk. Thanks for your feedback - it's much appreciated.

It's always seemed to me that since the advent of digital, and the relative ease of manipulation it involves compared with wet printing, we've produce images that involve one of 3 photographic variations.

The first is the unadulterated image that the camera's sensor gives us. That is to say, the shot with only the default, in-camera processing.

The second is the image we want to create. By that I mean the camera's default offering processed in some way by the photographer to produce an image that he/she finds more pleasing/effective.

The third is the image we think our eye actually saw. A camera's default offering only very rarely exactly matches the reality that our eye sees and brain processes (and even that differs slightly between individuals.) If you want to present an approximation of the reality that your eye recorded you've got to process the image using your memory of the scene. Of course, your memory will inevitably be flawed, but it's usually the best we can do if we want an accurate record.

Some of my images are (1), most are (2), and today's was (3).

For me there are two further complicating factors in digital photography. One is that post processing an image can become like word processing a written document - at what point do you call a halt to revisions, and say, "That's as good as I can get it?" The danger is that in both instances you end up with a finished work that has departed significantly from the original.

The other complication is that the medium (and each individual version of that medium) on which your image is displayed - monitor, paper, web, etc - brings its own set of changes to the photographer's final work.

As far as this blog goes, once I submit an image to Blogger for conversion and display, it darkens the shot and increases the contrast slightly. This matters more on some images than on others, and sometimes I find myself providing a version that is lighter, with less contrast, for display. But it's a bit hit and miss :-)

Crikey, I went on a bit there didn't I :-)

Regards, Tony