I liked this concept of Edgelands, somewhere not quite of itself but on the edge of somewhere else – not interesting enough to be a town or city centre, not rural enough to be called countryside – the places where you find sewage treatment works, power stations, business or retail parks. The wording on the front cover of the book describes Edgelands as “a wilderness that is much closer than you think: a debatable zone, neither the city nor the countryside, but a place in-between – so familiar it is never seen for looking”. Writing on the back cover of the book Richard Mabey says that the Edgelands “where the veneer of civilisation peels away, are the most despised and ignored of landscapes”.
In Wire Farley & Roberts consider finding wire in the landscape, whether the sagging, single strand of a wire fence around a derelict building – or the high fences surrounding a freight depot. They consider the fence, e.g. razor wire, as a deterrence an the threat it poses. They describe children climbing chain link fences sad, wilted flowers tied to fences as tributes to victims of road accidents.
What they achieve from their description is an evocation of the different feel or sense that you get from seeing a fence and what is beyond – happy childhood memories or feelings of threat and unease.
In Power they describe power stations, in particular cooling towers as they appear in the landscape. They consider that they do fit one of the criteria defining Edgelands “a function we can’t live without, but don’t want to live with” and “We want them close enough to serve us, but far enough to be ignored”.
They make an interesting point about architecture in the Edgelands, that there is “more freedom from the watchful eyes of city planners and residents worried about house prices, they can throw up shapes and forms that don’t look quite like anywhere else”. They then talk a little about how the Bechers photographed and displayed such structures. This is a point that rings very true, you do see a style of architecture in such places that would, in most cases, not be acceptable in town and city centres. It would be interesting to explore the edgelands of where I live.
I was familiar with the Becher’s work having seen it in an exhibition, but I couldn’t remember the work of John Davies, so I looked up the image they refer to http://www.johndavies.uk.com/ox.htm. Davies titles it Agecroft Colliery, Salford 1983. Farley & Roberts describe it as “One of the most remarkable photographs of cooling towers”. It is a compelling composition showing the scale (almost brutality) of the power station and the electricity generation but countered by the people carrying on their lives (playing football) regardless. The people are dwarfed by the architecture, but play their football regardless. It is the inclusion of people in the frame that makes this image. Without them it might be a photo of the grandeur (or ugliness) and the scale of the buildings. Including the football match in the frame shows how the buildings are constructed for human benefit, but also the price that has to be paid for enjoying what they produce.
Farley, P. and Roberts, M.S. (2011) Edgelands: journeys into England’s true wildnerness. London: Jonathan Cape.