EAST OF EDEN PROJECT (2018-2019) SYNOPSIS
The East of Eden project is a series of photographs that document the River Tees as it travels through the topography/ geography of the North East. It uses the landscapes that have been created by the ever changing industrial, economic, political and sometimes social needs and interventions along its course, from its source in the High Pennies on Cross Fell to it’s meeting with the North Sea at Teesmouth. From Roman lead works in the Pennies through sheep farming, arable farming, wool trading, limestone quarries, coal miming, bridge building, ship building, steel working, petro chemical distillation, fishing and now wind farms, all these industries have a deep indelible footprint within the landscape as the river follows its course from source to sea
The idea of this series was to document how the river cuts a deep, visible, timeline through the landscapes that have been formed by man’s use of the land. This occurs in a multitude of ways, over millennia and showing the evolution and adaptation the topographies have undergone as our industries and societies needs have changed. Engaging with a landscape that constantly reinvents itself. The first twenty-three years of my life were lived next to the River Tees and the factories and shipyards were fixed points in my known universe. Stars, by which you could, if desired, steer your life by. Now, by and large, they have mostly disappeared from the firmament, flickering for a moment they faded then died, becoming the dark matter of memory and imagination.
I left the North East in 1981 but returned in 2008 to make images for my “ Enclosures, Badlands and Borders “ series that investigated the notion of the sublime in man altered landscape. It was a re-crossing the Rubicon moment for me as I never envisaged I would ever come back to the north, but now do so frequently, intrigued to return, constantly drawn back by the siren call of the rivers bucolic and dystopian charms. In the last decade I have returned regularly to work on several large projects. I made the “ Backwater” series (2013) around Seal Sands that looked at the possibility of the “Romantic” in contemporary British landscape, the “Albedo “ series (2014), which used the abandoned limestone quarries of Upper Weardale as a backdrop to the idea which examined the possibility of Apollonian, and Dionysian sensibilities co-existing within the same photographic image. All of this work has been included in my over arching project “ The Broken Pastoral (see footnote). Consequently this new work is a natural progression from the work I have been producing for the last decade.
The series derives its name from the geographical location of the source of the Tees, high in the Pennies to the east of the Eden Valley. In the book of Genesis the area East of the Garden of Eden was known as the Land of Nod, a barren place in which very little grew, where Cain was exiled to wander after the murder of his brother Abel. Significantly, “Nod" is the Hebrew root of the verb "to wander" and I thought it was an apt way to describe the movement of a river through the landscape. It also chimes with the way I undertook the project, which was to follow the river on foot from it’s source to it’s mouth over a 10 day 200km walk in June 2018. This was a walk that could be described as a “wander “, as the river dictated my meandering route rather than from any determination on my part.
Conceived as a black and white and colour project, I made over 400 colour images and 2500 black and white, the colour images envisaged as an exhibition, and the black and white best served as a book. I have returned periodically over the last 12 months to produce much of the digital colour night work. I wanted the “ cinematic-romantic” element to the project to collaborate/ collude/ co-exist with the more documentary black and white daylight work, which was shot on film. Again this was to try and develop both classical and romantic ideas about the river and attempt to get two styles in opposition to somehow come together to create something whose sum was greater than its parts.
Neither the black and white nor colour images are manipulated; they are truthful documents of what was in front of the camera. The romantic style derived from the capture of the photographs and the contributing, essential, factor rather than any enhancement in postproduction. The romantic aspect is important; as I believe that pure documentary photography tells the viewer a specific story whereas romanticism allows the viewer to participate in the telling of the story, using their own imagination.
Another aspect of the journey, though small, was significant; photographing every bridge over the River Tees from Cow Green Reservoir to the Transporter at Middlesbrough - from the first to the last. The bridges themselves are important signifiers of our ever-changing relationship with the river, from metal monuments, industrial prowess to the now more sculptural pieces that are used for social, domestic and pleasurable purposes. These bridges highlight a more recent, respectful relationship with the river. Ultimately it is a story of two journeys, one of a river through landscape and time, the other is a more personal one. A journey back, homecoming even, to the place from which I first started my own wanderings with a camera, quite like the Israelites, 40 years ago, back to the Land of Nod.
When all the words are put to one side I hope the project will instigate a new curiosity for the people who live and work around the River Tees and rekindle a pride in this remarkable asset that has served them so well over hundreds, even thousands, of years.
David George .