Once, great steam trains puffed and ploughed through the Somer and Cam Valleys of north-east Somerset, cut through the Mendip hills, and crossed the Levels out to the west of Glastonbury. Now, these rural tracts are peaceful and quiet. Quiet, but not silent: Indeed, these stretches of former railway lines remain resonant and evocative.

Over the past fifty or sixty years, since tracks were pulled up, nature has begun to reclaim these spaces. But rarely wholly so, as the use of footpaths (by humans or animals) keeps many of the ways at least partly clear. Of course, most of these tracks eventually either stop dead, perhaps at a road where the crossing has been removed or the route subsumed into an open field, or simply peter out where nature has taken over completely. Yet, in-between, the landscape continues to bear the traces of the railway; whether an in-filled cutting across a field or just a suggestion of a route curving through a rural wood or meadow, the new merely masks the old.

It is as if the landscape remembers what has gone before and wants to remind the visitor of what is absent.

And here there seems to be an overlap between the concepts of photography and these landscapes: If a photograph can be thought of as denoting, rather than the existence of something, the actual absence of the referent (the ‘thing’ photographed being no longer present), perhaps, then, in a similar way, a ‘landscape’ could be considered to signify the loss or absence of what had gone before, whether the original wilderness before humans set eyes on it, or the various layers of man-altered scenes that have existed since people began to impose their own various myths upon the space.

January, 2022

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