Tuesday, 12 May 2015

What is Alternative Fieldwork?

Looking up through a lime kiln on the canal-bank near Pant
Some fieldwork techniques have an instant appeal, such as pressing flowers, or throwing a quadrangle to monitor species population. Others involve transfer of material, such as brass rubbing, or making plaster casts of animal footprints. Fieldwork means different things in different disciplines, or 'fields' of enquiry. As an artist, or an enthusiastic amateur, you have the freedom to use, misuse and adapt techniques borrowed from archaeology, ecology or even ethnography. 

So far I have mostly recorded my visits along the canal photographically, but I am keen to explore other fieldwork techniques with a connection to the history of the canal. A lengthsman was a canal worker employed to tend a two or three mile stretch between one village and another, keeping the towpath in good order, checking water levels and many other ad hoc duties. The lengthsman kept a notebook where all these day to day details were logged, a real 'field diary' of the minutiae of canal life and maintenance. 

Canal mapping is another important discipline, with many beautiful examples to be found at the archives in Ellesmere Port (worthy of their own post when I get hold of some scanned images).

After the archaeological dig on the canal I have been thinking about ways to represent the finds (pottery shards, pipe fragments, molten glass etc) visually. It could be interesting to play with the conventions of archaeological recording and still-life photography.

On one of my many walks along the canal I photographed a kind of fern 'rock garden' growing inside a lime kiln on the canal-bank. I noticed the effect of the limelight, or 'lavender-light' as it appears to be, pouring in from above and hitting the fern-fronds. It would be nice to try setting up a still-life photograph inside a kiln, and make the most of this unearthly light.

Ferns growing inside a lime kiln on the canal-bank near Pant

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