Avon Stories Podcast #21: Photography, film, heritage and more, with Dr Shawn Sobers

I met Shawn Sobers when I was doing my Photography degree at the University of the West of England, and he was one of my professors.  But that’s just one of the many strings to his bow – Shawn is a filmmaker, photographer, writer and curator, and I always found his community-based practice and his range of interests to be completely inspiring.

We went for a walk along the Avon in Lacock, exploring the landscape where Henry Fox Talbot lived and created processes that gave us modern photography.   While we walked, we talked about teaching photography, Shawn’s film practice, his work with National Trust sites helping communities research their links to Transatlantic slavery, and his own role in running a heritage site, curating the Tafari Gallery at Fairfield House, where Emperor Haile Selassie lived in exile in Bath.

Please do forgive the patches of audio problems in the recording.  We were walking in the March snow, on a day full of weather warnings, and it proved a bit too much for my audio equipment!

Find out more about Shawn on his website, which has a selection of films we talked about, including his 1999 film on Haile Selassie, Footsteps of the Emperor, his recent art film about the sinking of the SS Mendi, a ship carrying Black South African Labour Corps troops to serve in World War I, and Under The Bridge, the 1990s film for HTV exploring Transatlantic slavery in Bristol, including the River Avon:

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Spring tide, February 2018

Today was the highest tide of the month, one of the highest of the year (11.5m!) and I pulled myself of out bed to get to the very end of the Harbour, by the Entrance Lock, for 9:20 and the high point.   I know that doesn’t sound like much, but on a grey, dreich Saturday in February, it’s a big deal.  Especially with the Chocolate Path closed.  Especially in the rain.  But wow, I’m glad I did!

Clifton Suspension Bridge, spring tide

Cumberland Basin, high tide

River, refelctions

When I got to the river, it was still, that moment of balance that I love, and wish I could find in myself.  It’s always a rush to get as many shots as possible in that time, and I was cursing because I’d once again forgotten the cameras I wanted to bring, spare film etc.   But it was lovely.  I lay on the edge of the Harbour, putting an underwater camera in the river (it’s so much better doing that in summer) and watched the way the misty rainclouds moved through the trees.

I think my favourite part was standing on the Entrance Lock gate, and watching the water move.  By this time the tide had turned, and the water, which had flooded over the top of the lock gate, was rushing back out to re-join the river, bringing clouds of silt.  I only had my phone to take films, but this makes me very happy:

The clouds of silt always look so magical, and I could have watched this for days.  I walked on around the Harbour, and had other adventures too – but those will be in my next podcast…

 

Repeating a walk: November adventure from Pill down the Avon

It took me a long time to be happy with the fact that a lot of my practice involves repetition and re-visiting places to see how they look at different times.   I think part of this is doing a photography degree, where no project lasts more than 5 or 6 months, and each time it’s about doing something new.  But one of the things my final project – and even more, my post-uni life – taught me was the value of the everyday, and how re-visiting can add depth and value in ways that continually jetting off to exotic new places can’t.

When I walked from Sea Mills across the M5 motorway bridge and down the Avon with my friend Tracy Homer in the summer, we talked about how we should definitely take that walk again, and see how it looks in different seasons, and what else we can discover.  So last week we did it again, with changes – our November walk to see how the autumn looks.

Map, and click on the flickr album to see more photos, taken with my DSLR + 50mm lens and my Olympus XA2 35mm film camera.  Below I have a selection of my favourite photos and thoughts about the day, along with some mini films and some sounds I recorded.

Wind on the Avon

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High tide, and experiments

Last night I was walking home in the dusk, under beautiful skies, and the tide was so high that the lock gates in the Cumberland Basin were left open, and 11.2 metre tide, per the Bristol Tide Tables, and that’s without any extra rainfall coming in from all the tributaries.

On evenings like this, it’s always hard to choose what to do, as the sun sets so quickly, and the river changes fast.  Between here and Vauxhall Bridge, where I left the water, the tide kept coming in, and it was a beautiful night – windy and gorgeous, and all my phone photos look like I’ve put crazy filters on them.

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