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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Floods: the kind of floods you could have a cup of tea with

You get some incredibly nice surprises sometimes. That was the case with Joe Wright's  book, The Floods. It's a book made between 2012 and 2014, when there was heavy flooding in the UK, when rivers swelled their banks, meadows were indundated and life for people living by rivers came to a standstill.

I remember those years well. On a very trivial level we were affected. We couldn't get to the pub we visited after our walks over Solsbury Hill because the River Avon was flooded. The scenic route we took into Bath became unpassable because of a raging torrent of clay brown water was blocking our way. The river had burst its banks and invaded the pathways, the woodlands, and the brambles that had once stood so peaceful and benign..

Everything became wilder and more primaeval during those floods. I remember looking at the water flooding across rocks and tree roots, how swamplike the marginal lands that we usually passed by without a glance had suddenly become. It was never pastoral this land, it was disused and a bit wasted, but suddenly it had a wild side. It became swamplike and murky, a damp mud-soaked expanse that hinted at parallel universe of an unpeopled land.

The floods created a world that was quite exciting in its way, but it also had a resolute Englishness to it; these were still downtrodden, low-key floods. It was a flood, but it was an English flood on English land with English vegetation, the kind of flood that (if you weren't flooded out of your house and you didn't have the anxiety of living by a river) you could have a cup of tea with.

And that's what Joe Wright's book The Floods looks like exactly. It's a book of beautiful, beautiful pictures of these flooded margins, pictures that fit in that difficult space between the pastoral, the primaeval and the sublime (and you can read more about that in Rob Hudson's thoughtful review here).

A lot of the books featured here on this blog have some kind of ideas going on that take the photography up a level, that makes images work in book form rather than as images in themselves. But in the Floods there is both great photography and an idea that revolves around the representation of landscape, Englishness and the margins that we take for granted. There might be a bit much of this at times - I don't think you need the word Edgelands in the title for example (it takes away from the globally relevant environmental nature of the work - and there is an environmental side to it) - but at the same time, the use of text from Robbie Cowen's Common Ground is smart and gives the work a biographical tinge.

The Floods is a book that resonates at the highest level. It's a bit odd having something like this come out of nowhere; it leaves you second guessing yourself (and Rob Hudson had the same reaction), but in terms of intelligent landscape work, this feels very special.

It's a hand made book and unfortunately the first 50 books has sold out, so you can only get the special edition (Wright is a book-binder as well as a photographer so the special edition is beautifully made). It's very good.

Buy the Floods here.

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