I’ve written about Chorlton Meadows before at my web site, and will now describe my interest with specific reference to photography: why is it interesting and what does it mean when I go there repeatedly?
As I considered this subject what occurred to me is the nature of craft. Photography used to be a craft; it still is in some respects but it’s also radically different from what photography used to be. Everyone’s got a camera now, whether it’s built into a phone or tucked into a bag or pocket and carried everywhere. Casual snapshots are circulated far more than considered and intentional photography; this is seen at Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and millions of personal blogs. This is a wonderful development because it’s not so long ago when photography was a more exclusive art whereby people were excluded: because film was too expensive to waste on frivolous snaps, and you had to invest more effort into understanding the methods and techniques of using a camera. Teaching photography in colleges, I’ve been surprised the extent to which people have no idea what their little compact camera is doing. But if you’re not exposed to any photographic education and you’ve only used an automated device, this situation is inevitable.
Photography can still be a craft, but it requires a craft-like approach not point and shoot fun. You have to slow it down, think about it, study it, learn, and refine your practice.
This is precisely the quality of my repeated visits to Chorlton Meadows; which is not to say I haven’t engaged with this process in other locations, or that the process is new to me, because it isn’t. I’ve studied and practised photography very extensively, not least of which was my MA degree. My point about Chorlton Meadows is that it serves to illustrate the point about craft, where my photography does not illustrate the drama of mountains, camping, and backpacking, but simple moments of beauty which you can find in modest locations.
As such, I’ve expanded both my walking and photography repertoire. I love climbing big hills, setting up a tent for the night, and waking and walking again, miles from civilisation. Britain has wonderful places to do this: Wales, Scotland, the Lake District and Peak District are my favourite locations – although I haven’t yet camped in the Peak District because it’s quite close to home and relatively tame compared to those other areas. Overseas, I love the Pyrenees and I’ve walked there five times.
Chorlton Meadows is situated close to houses and next to a motorway. It doesn’t have any drama, you never get out of breath, you never get lost, and if you want to you can find a coffee shop or curry house in a walk of thirty minutes. So it’s a different experience and not one to eulogise in terms of retreat, recreation, or immersion in nature such as you find in the mountains.
But – photographically – it’s a fine place to wander, again and again, patiently observing all its details and gentle attractions. There are nature reserves and semi wild areas such as Chorlton Meadows scattered all around the country, offering photographic opportunities in addition to the pleasures of the trees, birds, and flowers you find there.