M1 - part one (Hostile Environments)

Hostile Environments emerged through a photographic audit of an area I was responsible for. The technique was to partition the area into 1 mile squares and to photograph all buildings, fields, factories, roads, bridges, railway lines, houses, cars,... anything. The simultaneous onset of photography and the arrival of Ordnance Survey mapping (circa 1870) allows the terrain to be chased back in time and possible photographs that might have been taken to be imagined and then pursued amongst the various old folks and organisations in the enclosed area. This bases itself on the assumption that everything - no matter how minor - is recorded on film, a situation that only came into being in the latter stages of photography. But more on this another time.

The square I was working on was occupied by the M1 as it threaded it's way into South Yorkshire, pausing to swerve left and split with a triangular junction making the M18 to link traffic on to the seriously northbound A1(M). The triangular junction was at the heart of my diagrams. Ugly and immovable. Previous concerns with documenting the area (and its past) had been examining the impact of industry, the development of coal mining in particular, though this square seemed untouched by any industry apart from its North East corner which contained the tightly packed council housing of Thurcroft. This pit village was at the heart of the miners strike and remains to this day a grim and unwelcoming place, now inhabited by people in transition, those seeking work and cheap housing. A thread of a few fields separates it from Brampton, an exact opposite in that this small village remains one of the most desirable places to live in the area. Strange really because Brampton sits on the edge of this triangle of motorways, and - as I found out - suffers from the same factors.

Ulley Beeches set my experiment in motion. I had identified a gap in our collection and approached the single farmhouse to contact the farmer about gaining permission to take a photograph. The M1 was presses up tight against the farmhouse, raised above on an embankment and creating an incredible drone and din. The noise never ceased. As I approached the farm a collie dog started barking and never stopped. The farmer stepped out and greeted me with some cheer. I tried speaking but the noise of the motorway and the dog was too much. I began again at a greater volume but it still wasn't enough. I literally couldn't hear myself think. On a final attempt I began conversing at the top of my voice. The farmer seemed to accept that the only way to make yourself heard was to shout, and in doing so gave me permission to take my photographs. I did this quickly and retreated down the driveway on my mountain bike.

On reaching Penny Hill Lane I swung right and went directly under the motorway system at its South West edge, entering into the triangle. The experience was uncanny. The noise, which I expected to intensify almost drowned itself out with its uninterrupted continuity. It became an ambience. The air was vibrating with a strange expectancy. The first thing I noticed on the roadside was a very old bench. This intrigued me as it afforded a view to nowhere apart from the three walls of the motorway triangle and fields trapped within. I sat down and became transfixed, the ambience of the noise joining forces with a new ambience of sight. The constant stream of lorries, cars and other vehicles became hypnotic. Time passed.

I decided to live in the triangle as a part of a reversed sensory deprivation project. The constant noise, the constant lights (throughout the night), the extreme levels of pollution, would create certain effects as they were 'naturalised' and 'internalised'.

My time spent within the triangle was pleasurable. I have good memories of sitting on the bench for many hours, only to break and get some food from the village shop. Night-times were the best with lights and noise acting in symphony, at times almost vanishing to nothing as the probability of no traffic moving around the junction almost approaching a definite. But never quite. Never quiet. Even at the smallest hours of one, two, or three, before the big lorries begin rolling through on their long journeys between Scotland and the South. My dreams became elaborate, the noise of vehicles often providing a sudden awakening and a change to remember in fine detail to previous dreams. There were two fires whilst I was there, in quick succession. One in the day, and one in the night. The latter was particularly spectacular with a lorry load of something providing a huge beacon well into the night.

The project was evolved into a part of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts Space 1999 conference, and another account of it is provided in their publications of the aforementioned conference. For now I will leave you with the maps and pictures. Maybe you could go there yourself. I will be going again.

Ian Trowell/Ctrl-Alt-Delete