I have so many photographic obsessions, and one of them is the mud on the Avon banks, especially around the blocked up lock at the entrance to the Cumberland Basin. The silt has banked up here in corrugations, with lines where water has flowed meandering through it. It’s fascinating in every kind of light, but my favourite moments are when the sun is low, making the water on the surface turn to silver. The ridges and lines look like landscapes – mountains and rivers and hills. And on windy days the light changes so fast, as clouds whip across the sky. I made a film of that in the summer, and I need to go back and try it again in winter light.
I’ve got various collections of photos from walks I took this autumn, and never got around to blogging – exploring the Malago, and the Avon at St Anne’s and the Greenway. Full photosets under title links, and if you mouse over the top photo, it should turn into a slideshow.
I’ve walked along the Bedminster sections of the Malago, down through the parks, but for some reason I’ve never gone past Parson Street before. This was a babywalk with Cee and her son, and Vik, and I loved getting to see this area I’ve looked at on maps, and passed in the car. And it’s beautiful!
We walked through the parks from St John’s Lane, then down Hartcliffe Way, and then the sidestreets. We’d passed the river as a little stream, overgrown with plants, a treecreeper on a tree as we turned into the park.
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.
Back at the start of the month I was taking the kind of walk I do a lot of in winter. I get SAD, and I’ve been freelancing, so I have to make a conscious effort to leave the house sometimes. One thing I do is order books from the library, so I have a continual reason to be out, dropping off read books, taking out new ones. They start off as functional, deliberate walks, rather than explorations, or leisure, but they can lead into more.
This time I started getting fascinated with the wooden structures that are built into the silt banks along the stretch of river between Bedminster Bridge and the former entrance to the Harbour at Bathurst Basin. They look so botched together, straining at the pressure of holding up the weight of the banking, and on their last legs. I wonder when they were built, how long they will last, and what will happen when they fall – and that makes me think about how so much of the New Cut has been so badly maintained, and seems like one or two big storms away from collapsing. It’s an unnatural river, and should need constant upkeep. Without it, it won’t last another 50 years, let alone 100.
My photos were bad – grey November day, just my iphone, and 200iso in my 35mm, but I love them. I hopped over the fence to look at the mechanics of the outlet that lets the Malago into the Avon, as I’m always intrigued as to what everything is. It’s this kind of view I like best, and these are the moments the functional walks turn into something more.
And it’s a continual obsession to take the same photos with multiple cameras, to see how the view changes – here’s the river from an unusual viewpoint, phone & 35mm.
The composition is better on the mobile, the colours better on film – but neither are great. I wish I’d had my medium format or DSLR with me. But I love them for the memory, and because I can’t remember seeing this view before. I want to see what it looks like in winter, and spring, and summer. Golden hour and frosty morning light, and everything between!
One of the things I want to do with this project is to use it as an excuse to go walking, and exploring places I’ve always thought about – and last week was an adventure I wouldn’t have had without it.
I’ve known Tracy Homer for nearly 12 years, when we met at the first Bristol flickrmeet. Back when flickr was this amazing social media site, we were part of the Bristol flickr group, and there was this moment when some of us went to a pub to take it from online friends to In Real Life, which branched off into going for flickrwalks to take photos together. Some of my best friends in Bristol are people I met that way, and I still go to a pub once a month or so with some of them, even though we now arrange through different ways, and flickr has gone from being about social media to being somewhere I just upload my photos to.
I liked Tracy from the moment I met her, and I’ve got so many good memories of talking mile-a-minute with her, taking photos, discovering new places, and always laughing a lot. It’s one of those friendships where we can go years at a time without being in touch, but start where we left off, and she’s the best company for photowalks. There’s something about not needing to explain why the walk will take twice as long as it should, because we’re stopping for photos, with someone who’ll get exactly what I mean when I’m over-excited about the light on the mud, or the way the grass curves, or whatever it is, and will understand the need to take the same shot on three different cameras, because she’s doing exactly the same thing.
Last week we went for a long walk, one I’ve been wanting to do for ages: from Pill, up the Avon to the M5 road bridge, then down the north side of the river to Sea Mills, to look for echoes of the Roman town of Abona, and then up the old Roman road to the Downs. All walks with Tracy tend to start with frantic texting and laughing at ourselves right from the start, and this was no different. Could we manage to meet on the same bus from different stops? Of course we could!
This is the map of our route, with my photos on it, and there are more in my flickr album. I had four cameras with me – my Canon DSLR with a 50mm lens, my Olympus XA2 point & shoot film camera (though I ran out of film, stupidly), my iPhone, and the last of the £1 disposable underwater cameras, and there are some from each on the map, plus a mini film.
I’ve also put photos in the blog below. It’s a long one, because it was a long walk (that’s my excuse, at least!)
It’s the Bristol Balloon Fiesta this weekend, and they’re notorious for not saying whether the mass launches will happen or not – so I set the alarm for 5:30am (ugh) yesterday to try to see the 6am ascent, but fell asleep before they confirmed it would happen. Then the evenings have been too windy for the launches, so I made myself get up for the 6am launch today.
I’ve been dreaming about getting a film of something we experienced a few years ago – a stream of balloons floating along the Avon. I’ve seen the mass ascent from the Fiesta once, and it’s fine, but I really want that river-of-balloons echoing the river, and to record the roaring of the burners.
I was so pleased with myself for being up early, in the beautiful morning light, and watching the balloons from Vauxhall Bridge felt great, I was convinced it was going to happen… until we realised the wind was taking them east, away from us.
I had that really crappy FOMO feeling (Fear Of Missing Out), and I feel for Vik and Matt, as I was also having low blood sugar and literally didn’t know which way to turn – chase the balloons? Find a different spot? Try to find breakfast? Luckily Lockside was open early and I recovered my equilibrium – and then on the way home, there were these gentle-looking streams from the Outflow into the river, with clouds of silt. The incoming tide was a fast one, but the force of the outflow was pushing the stream far over the water. I only got 5 minutes of this, but I love it, it’s my perfect meditation film:
The only thing was wanting about 15 cameras pointing at different points. But I here’s a mobile phone film-ette of a different point of the river at the same time:
My Avon Stories project is based around the river and the waters in Bristol, and while I’ve been looking at how the river impacted on the history of Bristol, and how people use and are inspired by the river, I’m also very interested in the water itself – and in this podcast, I set out to find out more
I talked to Claire Hutchinson, a Project Officer with the Bristol Avon Rivers Trust (BART), a community-based charity that works to protect and improve the rivers and streams. Claire told me about how healthy the water is, the challenges and issues facing the rivers, including the different forms of pollution, and what BART, and we, can do to protect our environment.
The BART catchment area covers the Avon and all the tributaries that feed into it:
You can find out more about BART’s work on their website, including their projects, and the ones we talked about: