Gloucestershire, on the banks of the Severn.
August and September 2009
CB: It’s interesting that nearly two months and two bores have passed by since we first started this project. We’ve engaged in a huge number of conversations about the concept and have refined it continually. We began in one location, and then moved to another. The first pair of images were taken during the August bore – I was on the bank near my house in Newnham, and you drove to Arlingham. Do you remember what a shock it was when we first met across the river and talked on our mobiles?
SA: Yes I do remember … I remember driving along the road from Arlingham and seeing Newnham directly ahead, seemingly only a few hundred yards away. Strange how on the approach the river is singularly absent and it is not until you are right up close, almost in it, that its presence is felt.
I remember walking along the bank toward Gloucester so that I would be directly opposite you on the other bank, you who I could just about see but was not sure it was you until we spoke on the phone and you waved. I remember the wind and turning to hear you speak. I became aware of the distance across the river and having to look across through the high grasses on the bank, moving to the side so that they did not obstruct my view. I remember looking at the surfers lying on their boards in the centre of the river waiting for the bore. I experienced a growing sense of expectation as we awaited the arrival of the wave. (I had never witnessed the bore before).
I remember trying to focus the camera whilst talking into the phone and trying to determine whether we might be using the same focal length. I recall many small details, but it was the overwhelming sense of distance between us yet simultaneously a proximity; a shared purpose, a shared exploration and tentativeness, a shared sense of expectation, a shared experience of the bore.
What do you remember?
CB: Well it was easier for me, as I just strolled to the bottom of my street, where I’ve seen several bores since I moved here 3 years ago. I thought I knew the river well by now, so was amazed to see how far away you were – I could hardly see you at all. The prior conversations we’d had about planning the shots went straight out the window, having imagined that the images would be clearly of you with the bore between us. But to do that involved zooming in, and losing the river width. Also, the surfers were a distraction, they alluded to the performativity of the bore and tended to become the attention of the gaze – it was quite hard to focus on the oncoming wave rather than on the riders. Their presence also creates a social experience, which detracted from the relationship we were trying to examine – that of two people either side of the river, simultaneously marking a moment of passing with cameras.
And how to do that simultaneously was not an easy task either – as you say, focal lengths, morning sun in my eyes, evening in yours! It was interesting that we had both been reading Heidegger and his theory of the bridge creating a locale. It seemed that our gaze across the river became the bridge, but also our communication on the phones – without the conversation we would be entirely separated by the force of the arrival of the bore.
Note: This dialogue continues away from the river, via phone and email, and even meeting occasionally! When we first met (in a room) after 2 months of working on this project, we realised we had not been in the same place at any time during that period, yet had shared many experiences that challenged our visual and intellectual perception of the Severn and the bore. The width of the river had widened our thoughts too, as we struggled to develop a dialogue between the two opposing banks, to create our own sense of locale.