Nothing Unnecessary

It is rare for me to leave books incomplete once I have started them but twice in the past fortnight I have found myself disinclined to continue. In both cases the novels were what I would call contemporary: One first published in 2015, the other in 2013. The first I stuck with for perhaps a quarter of its length, at which point I realised I cared not one jot for the characters, plot or substance (which sought to connect with contemporary fears around terrorist attacks and the manner in which the ‘intelligence’ services might be meeting that threat) whilst the other I’m afraid I put down after an opening prologue filled with a graphic and heartily sickening description of an individual’s torture. Perhaps it is the time of year, when End of Term tensions run high and emotions are raw (three times this week I have found myself reduced to a sobbing fountain of tears on reading the most innocuous and disparate texts about faith, meditation, song-writing and collecting promotional items from sporting events) or perhaps it is the fact that I may have reached A Certain Age when all these kinds of things just feel rather unnecessary and vulgar. A younger version of myself would certainly have had no problem with the description of torture and violence (step forward the person who adored David Peace’s ‘Red Riding’ quartet, Gordon Burn’s books on Sutcliffe and the West’s and frankly anything by Derek Raymond) although I can’t quite think of a time when I particularly enjoyed reading novels that hooked into a thread of contemporary news narrative so maybe putting that one into the charity shop pile has nothing to do with me Getting Old at all. Let’s say that anyway.

So what did I pick up and read instead? Well, I admit that I fell back on the comfortable pleasures of a George Bellairs novel featuring his fine Scotland Yard detective Chief Inspector Littlejohn. Although first published in 1964, ‘Surfeit Of Suspects’ (recently re-published as part of the British Library Crime Classics series) is very comfortably of that old English school of detective story writing where upper lips are stiff and folks still drink sherry before dining (a thoroughly civilised approach to living, it must be said). The narrative revolves around the multiple murder of a struggling small company’s directors in an explosion, with (in this case Superintendent) Littlejohn tracing the lines of enquiry throughout the surrounding community. The web of interconnected small town dalliances, betrayals and desperate clinging to old class distinctions wouldn’t be out of place in one of Shena Mackay’s novels of (bitter)sweet suburbia and Bellairs navigates them all with a deftness of touch that is to be applauded. The climax of the investigation may be one we see coming from a ways off, but (assuming one enjoys corrupt officials getting their just desserts) is nonetheless immensely gratifying. The British Library Crime series has published several of Bellair’s titles whilst many more of the 57 Littlejohn novels are available in paperback and eBook format from the Bellairs website (you can get a free eBook each month by signing up to the mailing list). I understand many of his later Littlejohn novels are set in Provence and the Alpes-Maritime areas and I very much look forward to reading those.

Now if Bellairs very much mined the vein of Golden Age detective stories it should be remembered that much of what coloured that particular era/genre/style is not necessarily what more modern, 21st Century, imitators have taken from it. So where some have plundered a (largely imagined) sense of cutesy whimsy, full of rose-covered cottages in sleepy villages inhabited by sweet old spinsters, what actually shines out strongly from many writers and stories from that era/genre/style is instead a pleasurable lack of the extraneous. As mentioned earlier, there is nothing unnecessary in their pages. Often it is dialogues that drives these books (Bellair’s ‘The Case Of The Fanished Parson’ is almost entirely exchanges of dialogue) and it would not be outside the realms of reason to suggest a strong connection here to the likes of George Pelecanos, a writer who, on the face of it, may have nothing in common with 1930s English detective fiction. And yet… and yet…

Valerio Varesi may, on the face of it, have little in common with 1930s English detective fiction, but on the evidence of his terrific ‘River Of Shadows’ novel, there are certainly connections to be made. For Varesi is similarly spare in his writing. Nothing superfluous imposes itself into the pages of this slim novel, whilst the pieces of the puzzle drop into place with a satisfying click. ‘River Of Shadows’ is also strongly suggestive of Simenon, with Varesi’s depictions of the Po river valley being as rich in texture and atmosphere as those of the French and Dutch canals into which Maigret’s investigations occasionally lead. And lo! There are even glorious map illustrations in the frontispiece! Varesi’s novels featuring Commissario Soneri may not be quite so slim as Simenon’s Maigret’s (you could probably fit at least two Maigret novels into each Soneri) but from the taste of River Of Shadows they are set to be every bit as delicious and I have the next four instalments lined up on the shelf to enjoy alongside my now-traditional gorging of six Maigrets at the start of the school holidays. One week to go…

Unpop 177

Screaming in the fields

A Raven – The Diamond Family Archive (from ‘Would I Were A Swift (Or A Skylark Be)’ LP. Bandcamp)
Shadows In The Water – sproatly smith (from ‘Thomas Traherne’ LP. Bandcamp)
Hymn Fifth – Alula Down (from ‘Homespun’ LP. Bandcamp)
God’s Food – trappist afterland (from ‘Insects In Amber’ LP. Bandcamp)
Wanderer – Sharron Kraus (from ‘Chanctonbury Rings‘ LP)
Sweet Lemany – Burd Ellen (from ‘Silver Came’ LP. Bandcamp)
Terminal Paradise – Big Thief (from ‘U.F.O.F.’ LP)
Maeve (JFDR Rework) – Penelope Trappes (from ‘Penelope Redeux’ LP. Bandcamp)
The Owl Service – Pram (from ‘The Museum Of Imaginary Animals’ LP. Bandcamp)
Tea Rooms – Gazelle Twin (from ‘Pastoral’ LP. Bandcamp)
She Moves Through the Fair – Fairport Convention (from ‘What We Did on Our Holidays’ LP)
Great Houdini – Meic Stevens (from ‘Outlander’ LP)
Billy Don’t You Weep for Me – Nic Jones (from ‘An Introduction to Nic Jones‘ LP)
I’ve Loved Her For So Long – Unicorn (on ‘Strangers In The Room‘ compilation)
Evening – Nick Garrie (from ‘The Nightmare Of J​.​B. Stanislas’ LP. Bandcamp)
Underwater – Stanley Brinks and The Wave Pictures (from ‘Tequila Island’ LP. Bandcamp)
Noon Rendezvous – Prince (from ‘Originals’ LP)
He Sails Tonight – Ian Broudie (from ‘Tales Told‘ LP)
In Walks a Ghost – The Montgolfier Brothers (from ‘Seventeen Stars‘ LP)
Violins – Lloyd Cole (from ‘Guesswork‘ LP)

Animals, darkness and trees

Partial playlist on The Spotify

Full playlist on The Mixcloud

In Pursuit

When writing about Mark Brend’s excellent Undercliff a few weeks ago I made reference to a predilection for maps in crime/thriller novels and suggested there is a piece to be written about this. This isn’t it, but I should say that when it ever does get written there will be a reference to Allan Mackinninon’s 1947 novel ‘House Of Darkness’. The map in its frontispiece shows an area around the west coast of Scotland, taking in Loch Linnhe, Glen Coe and the hills of Morvern, for it is in this landscape that much of the action in the novel takes place. I believe Mackinnon wrote several thrillers set in the Highlands but this is the first I have read and it is rather fine and well worth tracking down. Early in the novel Mackinnon’s Colin Ogilvy character makes humorous reference to feeling as though he is in a story by Ambler or Buchan and of course these are entirely appropriate references for as the novel unfolds Ogilvy finds himself in an extended chase scene through the Highlands that could be straight out of The Thirty Nine Steps, and, like Ambler, Mackinnon himself spent time screenwriting for cinema.

Mackinnon conjures the misty grey dampness of the Highland landscape pretty finely, though this is never at the expense of driving the narrative onwards with a pace that, whilst never frenetic, is nevertheless speedy enough to keep us eagerly turning the pages. You might realistically argue that the denouement is pretty obviously signposted through the book and so hardly comes as a surprise, but I don’t think Mackinnon ever set out to make this a complicated fair-play mystery so its a moot point.

Interestingly, from a contemporary perspective, the underlying ‘plot’ is one which sounds remarkably familiar. It is painted deftly in a few paragraphs wherein Ogilvie and another character have a conversation in which references are made to politicians, government ministers, financial ‘players’, foreign powers manipulating National Interests, collapse of British economic prospects, nationalism and a minority plotting to make significant financial profit at the expense of drastically reduced standards of living for the majority. It’s like reading a précis of the past three years of UK politics in two pages and just goes to show that there is nothing new under the sun.

Now there may be nothing new under the sun, but in his sizeable ‘Underland‘ tome, Robert Macfarlane suggests that there is plenty new under the earth, and he goes to great lengths to share some of those peculiar landscapes and the people who inhabit and explore them with us. It’s certainly an interesting enough premise for a book, although where it falls on your personal continuum of appeal will likely fluctuate somewhat from chapter to chapter. The later chapters in which he seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on and around glaciers in Greenland, for example, leave me (ahem) cold, whereas those in which he explores points in/beneath the landscape that involve explicit human intervention carry much greater appeal.

Throughout the book there is necessarily a lot of crawling through tight underground spaces and lots of heroic walking across expansive icy wastes, and if I struggle, on a personal level, to understand and connect to those physical aspects of Macfarlane’s journeys to (literally) the ends of the earth and its subterranean depths, then I think I can at least grasp that behind these exploits sits some deeply felt need to experience some kind of blissful state. A pursuit of the Other, if you like. It strikes me too that there is a relationship between the physical activities and the act of writing, between the events/places and the reality of the book itself.

For the writing throughout Underlands is undeniably fine, the words and phrases often gorgeous, and it strikes me that the process of writing and of reading can itself be that vehicle through which we encounter the Other. Those moments where our conscious perception slips away and we fleetingly glimpse the essence of bliss. Words no longer forming thoughts and meaning but instead entering the realm of feeling and sub-conscious knowing. A deep connectivity that exists outside of everything.

Nevertheless I cannot help but wonder if some people never discover the thing through which they might encounter the Other. Do they even strive to uncover it, and is the luxury to even think about such things only open to us once our more basic needs have been met? Macfarlane, having journeyed many miles through inhospitable climes in order to witness the ancient handprints of our distant cave dwelling ancestors would doubtless point to this as evidence that this ‘luxury’ is in fact as basic a need as shelter. And if I’m almost certain he would be correct in suggesting this, I cannot shake the feeling that the unfolding movement to disconnect from the networks we have created for ourselves with technologies in order to reconnect with the networks nature weaves around us seems like a luxury of an educated middle class at best, and a hipster’s fashion accessory at worst.

If only Macfarlane had included some maps.

Unpop 176

It was on the 12th of June

Contact – Big Thief (from ‘U.F.O.F.’ LP)
You Let My Tyres Down – Tropical Fuck Storm (from ‘A Laughing Death In Meatspace’ LP. Bandcamp)
Midnight Mist – Witch Hazel (from ‘Otherwordly’ LP. Bandcamp)
Vacation – Sebadoh (from ‘Act Surprised’ LP. Bandcamp)
D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E – Clinic (from ‘Wheeltappers and Shunters’ LP. Bandcamp)
How Far – Sacred Paws (from ‘Run Around The Sun‘ LP)
Don’t Cry For Me, California – Red Sleeping Beauty (from ‘Stockholm’ LP. Bandcamp)
Sun Memory II feat. Rose Berlin – epic45 (from ‘Sun Memory’ EP. Bandcamp)
Haiku – Katherine Johnson – Pam Berry (from ‘One Small Step For Global Pop’ LP. Bandcamp)
Chronostasis – Deerful (from ‘One Small Step For Global Pop’ LP. Bandcamp)
Qui A Su – Gillian Hills (YouTube)
In Your Life – Adam Faith (from ‘Three Day Week: When the Lights Went Out 1972-1975‘ LP)
Within a Dream – trappist afterland (from ‘Insects In Amber’ LP. Bandcamp)
The Dukes of Stratosphear – Ralegh Long (digital single. Bandcamp)
The Postcard – Stephen Duffy (from ‘I Love My Friends‘ LP)
The Dystopian Days of Yore – Monnone Alone (from ‘Summer Of The Mosquito’ LP. Bandcamp)
What Was That Sound? – Theatre Royal (from ‘Singles 2010-2018’ LP. Bandcamp)
Light Bending – The Claim (from ‘The New Industrial Ballads’ LP. Bandcamp)
Waylon Jennings Live! – The Mountain Goats (from ‘In League With Dragons‘ LP)
Technicolor Summer Sunshine – Paul Den Heyer (from ‘Everything So Far’ LP. Bandcamp)
There Goes My Miracle – Bruce Springsteen (from ‘Western Stars‘ LP)
Devil May Care – Son Volt (from ‘Union‘ LP)
After the Sunrise – The Grip Weeds (from ‘Trip Around The Sun‘ LP)
Heavenly Day – Peter Perrett (from ‘Humanworld’ LP)
If That’s Alright – Uncle Tupelo (from ‘Still Feel Gone’ LP)

I felt like a teenager out on a date

Partial playlist on The Spotify

Full playlist on The Mixcloud

This and That

There are barely twenty five people in the room, whose walls are decorated by randomly hung paintings and other decorative art forms, each firmly within the genre of what, in a heartless moment of dismissive judgement, I might term #earthyhippieamateurnonsense. With a hashtag because it’s the twenty first century and we are driven by its drum, aren’t we? The art is the kind of thing I remember seeing on the walls of Exeter’s legendary vegetarian restaurant Herbies back in the early nineteen nineties. I could well believe some of the pictures had been there for a decade or more when I saw them and could well believe that they adorn the walls still, casting an ageless aura of… what? Regret? Loneliness? Isolation? Inner peace and self-assuredness?

Perhaps I am a harsh judge of visual arts (though I suspect my friend Rupert, who I catch up with for the first time in far too long, would consider my judgements to be overly positive) but perhaps this is because it is a form I understand (to a degree). Perhaps if I were a musician, or if I understood the practicalities of making music, then I might be equally dismissive of the sounds that permeate the space throughout the evening. But I don’t, and I’m not, for most of the noises seem otherworldly, mesmerising and strange. Not quite strange enough perhaps for Rupert, whose tastes, whilst overlapping with my own, have always largely veered more towards the more, ah, ‘difficult’ end of the weirdshire spectrum, but in the context of a small room in the depths of Cornwall, certainly strange enough to be going on with.

The Diamond Family Archive. Photography by Sharon Aston.

Laurence Collyer hails from around Totnes (of course he does) and records and performs as The Diamond Family Archive. Subsequent exploration tells me that he sometimes performs and records with other musicians but tonight it is just Laurence accompanied by a few instruments, a small electronic box and a shallow wooden drawer full of effects pedals. The drawer is dusted at the edges with cobwebs, as though it has just been pulled out of a magikal map-chest in a shed, and whilst this might be a carefully designed piece of artifice it certainly is a useful piece in the puzzle where The Diamond Family Archive constructs itself before our eyes and ears as a audiological collage of creaks, cracks, loops and luxurious textures. It’s the noise of a madcap laughing, perhaps, but a noise where the tendrils knowingly draw themselves out to recognisable touchstones of drone, traditional folk and lyrical narrative. The collage aspect is important, for these are sonic constructions that are simultaneously abrupt (loops are created like tearing paper, source material seen upside down to remove obvious visual reference) and sensitive (loops interweave, each giving the other a breathing space). Indeed, this talk of collage reminds me of Alan Davidson’s Kitchen Cynics and of Davidson and Gayle Brogan’s collaborations as Barrett’s Dottled Beauty and of course these are concrete connections in this imagined landscape of the illusory. I had not heard (of) The Diamond Family Archive before tonight but I will certainly be hearing more in the future.

Alula Down. Photography by Sharon Aston.

It’s only after seeing Alula Down perform that I realise I will have heard them before on the Weirdshire 2 compilation that I enjoyed greatly a year or two ago. In another of those strange coincidences that are not coincidences at all, whilst I listen to Alula Down perform I am minded of some of Alison Cotton’s solo work and of course there is an Alison Cotton (with Michael Tanner aka Plinth) cut on that same compilation. Alula Down too it seems are part of the Sproatly Smith collective and the Weirdshire scene out in what I admit I think of as the dark depths of Herefordshire, inhabiting the same magikal landscapes as the fictional presences in Phil Rickman’s novels. Indeed, upon subsequent meandering down avenues I discover that on volume 1 of the Weirdshire compilation series there nestles a tune by Lol Robinson and Hazy Jane II. Now I imagine that Jane Watkins is a fan of Sproatly Smith too, and rightly so. They even made a record called Thomas Traherne in 2014, which would have been the time I was first discovering Merrily’s world. As we are apt to say, it all fits.

On record Alula Down are delicate and dreamlike, quite clearly connected to established folk traditions. This is all fine, and their beautifully packaged Hopedowns set (in a little cardboard box with a pressed flower nestled inside next to the CD) is certainly well worth tracking down. Yet in a live context they manage to push the strangeness further, opening fissures in the aural landscape from which they tease threads of illusory pastoral calm. Birds sing somewhere to the left middle distance; amplified acoustic guitar feedback whines a mournful call; Kate Gathercole’s voice drifts to the centre, a wraith balanced on butterfly wings, just so. I believe some call the call of the Weirdshire sound ‘avant-folk’. If so, then whilst on record Alula Down feel more distinctly rooted in folk, performing live they are assuredly avant.

Trappist Afterland. Photography by Sharon Aston.

Elsewhere in my archives I have noted about how I was completely unaware of the Trappist Afterland records until my friend Phil tempted me to the depths of Totnes in April 2018 for a night of psych-folk (or folk-psych) wonder. Since then I have listened extensively and repeatedly and yet would still struggle to explain exactly what it is about Adam Geoffrey Coles’ songs and recordings that I find so captivating. Like the rest of this night’s music, it comes in from the very edges of my interests (musical, cultural, spiritual) and seems almost opaquely impenetrable. There is a denseness about much of this music that I find enormously appealing; a denseness that feels as though it hovers on the brink of consciousness; a denseness whose claustrophobic repetition is eased only by a lightness of touch that rests on our ears as though from sunlight glimpsed through the forest canopy. If there is an earthiness to this music it is an earthiness that does not need to use such irrelevant notions such as ‘authenticity’. We all know there is no such thing. There is only this and there is only that and sometimes the two are one. Perhaps this is the entire point. Perhaps it is this yearning for one-ness that underpins all. Certainly I hear it in the short set of gems Adam and his accompanying guitarist collaborator for the evening perform for us as Trappist Afterland. One by one they drip and merge into one rock pool of mesmerising psych(ik) reflection.

There are barely twenty five people in the room whose walls fade to irrelevance even as they contain the presence of something other. Out There is rain and darkening clouds. Out There is what feels like an eternity of irreconcilable difference and fundamental division. In Here is a warmth and an ageless spirit of, not defiance exactly, but selective disconnectedness. Out There exists but In Here is reality. Upside down, inside out. There is only that and there is only this and sometimes the two are one.

Mysteries of landscape

As we rapidly approach the half way point of the year I am reminded that I started January by enjoying Geoffrey Household’s ‘Rogue Male‘. Mark Brend’s newly published novel ‘Undercliff‘ is the vehicle for this nudge of memory and I dare say that even if I had not known Brend to be a Household fan I would still have felt an undertow of ‘Rogue Male’ reference in the pages. Certainly ‘Undercliff’ is set in much the same landscape as that in which Household’s novel reaches its conclusion, although Brend settles just on the Devon side of the Jurassic coast, with Household’s ghost hiding out in the holloways of Dorset a pebble’s throw to the east. There is a structural similarity to the two novels also, with both using the first halves of their narratives to paint scenes, set connections and introduce characters before embarking on what is essentially a ‘chase’ in the second half. In ‘Undercliff’ this chase may be more muted than it is for the ‘Rogue Male’, but it nevertheless allows for much enjoyment in exploring a landscape of crumbling cliffs and densely woven undergrowth. In ‘Undercliff’ too the ‘chase’ is less animalistic and more informed by loosely bundled threads of investigation. These threads draw from notions of religion, belief, mysticism and the cult of the personality. They draw from notions of the simultaneous appeal of and repulsion from connectivity and community, of belonging and isolation. Where Household makes quite clear distinctions between good/bad whilst suggesting too that we all of us are rooted in the earth to which we all return, Brend instead leaves question marks hovering over everything. So whilst there are certainly mysteries in ‘Undercliff’, anyone looking for a puzzle to solve will perhaps be frustrated to find nothing quite so orthodox; whilst there are hints and suggestions of Magik at work these are never more than that, so anyone looking for something akin to a landscape hewn from conflict between Christian faith and a more ancient belief system such as Merrily Watkins inhabits may also find themselves faintly bewildered. ‘Undercliff’ instead treads more subtle ground and in this it feels very much a novel of contemporary flavours, even though it is set largely in 1973. So whilst there are some sensitive touches of historical contextualising (Brend’s descriptions of folk band The Flock are particularly fine) the novel as a whole seems invested with a sense of vague uncertainty. Characters seem caught between reality and fantasy, unable to judge truth from falsehood. Darkness seems always just round the corner, light just out of reach whilst we inhabit the realm of unknowing. As a first novel it is certainly one that suggests Brend has further treats to be unearthed and I heartily recommend it.

Culbone church

Less easy to recommend from my recent reading are three novels by E. and M. A. Radford that have been republished by Dean Street Press. My interest was piqued by an article in issue 80 of CADS, but whilst this estimable periodical is so often a source of enormously entertaining avenues of exploration, this one turned out rather frustrating. Perhaps those who favour the puzzle-based genre of detective fiction will find more in the Radford’s novels to enjoy but they left me rather cool. There are certainly few things that frustrate me more in mystery novels than the authors interjecting to tell me that in the chapter we have just finished I will surely have spotted all the necessary clues to solve the problem. Not that I mind writers breaking the fourth wall, as it were (Edmund Crispin does this with delicious dexterity), it’s more the insufferable smugness in a writer who seems determined to remind us that they have constructed a damnably clever puzzle. There is certainly a smugness about the Radford’s main character Doctor Manson which borders on insufferable and unbelievable. The influence of Holmes on the Manson character is clearly visible (I’m sure he says something is elementary several times) and I quite quickly found myself hearing him in my head as Basil Rathbone. In the CADS article Nigel Moss suggests that the three novels published by Dean Street have “strong plots, clever detection and evocative settings” and in this he is partially correct. Personally I would temper this by suggesting that the plots are confusingly complicated, the detection irritatingly clever and the settings less elegantly painted as they might be. ‘Murder Jigsaw’ is a good example of the latter. Set on the edge of Devon and Cornwall along the Tamar river, the Radfords sketch the landscape with a few daubs of colour, yet it feels always just a little clumsy and in many ways comes across as something of a pastiche of Cyril Hare’s marvellous ‘Death Is No Sportsman’ (written in 1938 – six years before ‘Murder Jigsaw’). Certainly Hare’s book is more adept at capturing the intricacies of fly-fishing without them ever feeling like insufferably detailed explanations of a favourite hobby, whilst his dry wit and more fully fleshed characters are immeasurably more convincing that the almost wreath-like presences conjured by the Radfords. Hare too is much more adept at painting convincing landscapes, and he does a grand job of showing off Exmoor in his final novel ‘He Should Have Died Hereafter’. With its traditional detective-novel mixture of real and imagined place names, the novel traverses the edges of Exmoor, up to what I read as being Dunkery beacon and down again to what is surely the hidden gem of Culbone church near Porlock. Sadly neither ‘He Should Have Died Hereafter’ nor E.C.R. Lorac’s ‘Murder In The Mill Race’ (just published in the British Library Crime Classics series and next up on my ‘to-be-read’ pile) subscribe to the less-well adhered to tradition of including hand drawn maps of the territory in their frontispieces. These little maps are always a delight and it please me enormously to say that there is one included in ‘Undercliff’; the more so because it unashamedly blends the real and the unreal together in just the way that Hare does in his Exmoor.

Still Feel Gone

“Falling out the window…”

How could I resist this book of photographs made by Tim Carpenter and Nathan Pearce? Titled after my favourite Uncle Tupelo record, ‘Still Feel Gone’ is woven through with the same threads of motion and longing that are certainly at the core of many of the songs on that record and of many of my favourite moments in Pop and photography ever. In his terrific autobiography Jeff Tweedy tells us that the title of the album, and by connection then this body of photographs, is to do with the notion of returning home from touring but being unable to fully re-root oneself (you “still feel gone”). Homesick for motion. Motion-sick for home. Longing for the other, whatever the other is and whatever it is you currently have.

What I liked most about the Uncle Tupelo record is what I like most about Pearce and Carpenter’s photographs. It’s the way in which they touch on traditions (old, new, who cares) but are never slave to them. Tweedy and Farrar would plug into Dylan and D. Boon; Williams and Rollins. Fast. Slow. Fast, fast, slow. The songs would be in dialogue with each other. Balanced and tensioned just so. It’s the same with Pearce and Carpenter’s photographs which are presented in a double-sided format where each has his own side. There are nods to the traditions of American landscape photography with ghosts of Darius Kinsey, William Henry Jackson and a kind of inverted vision of Ansel Adams (Pearce in particular present us with some images that are hardly Adam’s grandiloquent expression of immensity but rather a more cautious appreciation of the wilderness) but there are also nods to Bernd and Hilda Becher’s typologies of industrial architecture. It all fits and yet it doesn’t quite. “The slides are upside down…” indeed. Flip. Frame. Click. Flip.

So here we pass close to the mountains rearing over a rippled lake. Here the clouds drift down the hillside and slip between multitudinous ranks of trees, each blurred with a breath as they remind us of their passing. Now we slow so that the camera frames a development of homes dusted with snow. Where are we? Why are we here? Big questions. Small questions. Just moving. Always moving. And here again, the railroad tracks paralleling across the frame to punctuate the journey. This is how we experience landscape. Moving. Passing through. Us and it. It and us. Permeating. A two-way process. This way, that way. Just like the book, which we flip round and begin again.

If Pearce’s photographs appear to be shot from the moving train then Carpenter’s may be made whilst trudging relentless on foot and his photographs are similarly punctuation marks on the journey. If Pearce’s images show the promise of a changing landscape then Carpenters insist on uniformity. Here are the railroad tracks. But railroad tracks are not railroad tracks are not railroad tracks. Things are the same but all things are different and all things are the same. Carpenter’s photographs of the tracks are punctuated by grain elevators and similarly agricultural-industrial structures. Sometimes these are close-to, other times as a distant presence on the horizon. Is that the same tower we saw a few pages previously? Didn’t we pass that same composition of telegraph poles a while back? Is this arrow-straight railroad receding to that vanishing point just an illusion? Are we really just going round in circles? Are some of these buildings the same ones Pearce has photographed from the train on these same tracks? Did Pearce pass Carpenter en-route? En-route to where? Back to the start and beginning again. Flip. Frame. Click. Flip.

“Falling out the window…”