featherstone – landscape as a verb

‘As W.J.T Mitchell suggested, we might think instead of landscape not as a noun, but a verb.

I like this, to think of landscape in an active, relational sense, as the result of an over-layering of ways of life and forms of habitation resulting in endlessly shifting, not fixed identities of place.

This way of thinking about landscape encourages more of an affinity with disciplines of human and cultural geography, of archaeology and social anthropology.

And so in this way this particular northern Borders cultural landscape might be thought of as a palimpsest or an archive of traces and deposits of representation, engagements and interactions, all of which produce – or perform – a particular sense of place. A borderland place.’

A quote from a talk given by Ysanne Holt, recorded in RECREATION a blog describing a creative retreat at Featherstone Castle.

The image is a print by William J Miller after a painting by  Edward Swinburne.

John Wilson Carmichael

Pictures of Tyneside or Life and Scenery on the River Tyne circa 1830.


I found a book of engravings in the library, republished in 1969, from original prints with an edited description of an original folio of engravings by Lambert and Collard from drawings by the artist J.W.Carmichael, a North East marine painter.

I was attracted by the simplicity of the narrative created by 33 engravings starting high up the river and depicting a scenery, the everyday life and the changing river.  This again returns to my fascination with the notion of series, with each element independent as a visual image, but linked together as book or folio, to describe something in multiple viewpoint. Even the individual images must be composites – the engraver working from an artist’s sketches and more importantly a framed composition that places figures, animals, boats into a foreground that is episodic, isolating the action.  I was immediately tempted to go and stand in the places and see this narrative in place – my first expedition to Aydon Castle is recorded here  – this confirmed the impossibility of the views created by Carmichael in terms of one position recordings of a place or a single view.



(Noting the connection to Carmichael’s finished painting of ‘The Lord Mayor’s barge’ in the Laing Art Gallery)

Any photographic re-staging or transposition of these engravings or paintings  would need to be one of photomontage. This way of looking and recording was easily interpreted by viewers in 1830 – why show just the Tyne in a single moment when you can show various incidents of the life of the Tyne riverside as well. This explains the continuing interest in the work of historical marine and landscape painters like Carmichael – they don’t just show what things used to look like, they invite viewers into a nostalgia of activity, revelling in what people did and comparing it with what people do now, all set against a backdrop of theatrical scenery.  It is important to note the distance put between the viewer and the people depicted, they are actors, and are small in scale, observed as if in passing, dwarfed by the relative importance of the scenic stages that Carmichael creates. We are not invited in to really find out about the realty of these lives.

this final one particularly intriguing………who is the reluctant boy sat on the bridge:

This book  is described in a local history blog with full scans from the published book here, recording all the scenes down the river Tyne.


an oil sketch by Carmichael – a view back towards North and South Shields from the river mouth – showing a kind of impossible distance emphasising the slow transportation and connection of the time. The tiny figures are like rocks or points of light to show scale.

Middlebrook, S (ed) (1969), Pictures of Tyneside or Life and Scenery on the River Tyne circa 1830. Newcastle upon Tyne: Oriel Press Limited.

Aydon Castle (J.W.Carmichael)

In the footsteps of J.W. Carmichael and the engravings made from his drawings, in this case the Cor burn with the dominant Aydon castle in the background.  This exact view was not surprisingly hard to find on the ground. The work could be created at some difficulty from a view above the castle where it was almost possible to see the castle through the trees, but the reality was that the engraving undoubtedly shows the crossing just below the castle – and a view similar to the one depicted cannot show the castle in the distance in this way.  So a composite, then.




Flood pumps 2015

I found a lost film from december 2015 – showing the flood pumps working the river back into its banks from the flooded fields.  The pumps ran for a number of weeks to clear the backlog that would not drain away

My beautiful picture
flood pumps pushing water back over the flood defences


My beautiful picture
The flood debris jammed against trees

Tyne Pilot

I found these old slides in the Northumbria Library – apparently part of an audio visual presentation to go with a voice over – describing the work of the Tyne river pilots.

My beautiful picture
Title Slide

Not sure if they are nostalgia or something finer.  The following in sepia tone show the river from a boat.

My beautiful picture

more in black and white:

My beautiful picture


My beautiful picture