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Buxton Goes to New Mills

Over the last 16 months I’ve been going into Buxton more frequently, and I guess there is a limit as to how often I can walk past St. Ann’s well without the spout of water creeping into my thinking.

I was genuinely surprised – and of course delighted – by the reaction to ‘The Art of Water’. It’s a way of making images that is removed from my usual ‘in-camera’ process, but evolved out of the relationship I have developed with water, and the way that the River Dove has changed my photographic vision and the experimentation and play that it has engendered. I hadn’t been sure whether I would construct another photomontage, but 2 years was just about long enough to soften the memory of exactly how long it took, and how fiddly it was. On the umpteenth time of walking past the well, the seed formed. What if I were to combine an image of the spring with a grid comprising photographs of Buxton? There seemed to be a nice symmetry to it – the impetus for the town’s growth, its prosperity as a Spa Resort and hydropathic centre, and the buildings that the water had effectively paid for. And so in July 2018 I started to collect images for ‘Aquae Arnemetiae: A Town Built on Water’ - Aquae Arnemetiae being the name of the Roman settlement at Buxton.

In the mornings before the Great Dome Art Fair opened, my fellow Peak District Artisans observed me pottering around happily in the sun, taking photographs of some of those things that only photographers find warrant it. Our annual showpiece event takes place at The Devonshire Dome, one of the iconic buildings of Buxton. It’s hard to credit that it started life as stables for the Duke of Devonshire’s The Crescent development, before morphing into a new life as The Devonshire Hospital, a centre for hydropathic treatments, and latterly becoming the heart of the Buxton campus for the University of Derby.

 


My starting point was the inclusion of those buildings most closely associated with water and the development of Buxton as a spa and resort town – an assortment of iconic architecture that many a town would be proud of: The Crescent, The Devonshire Dome, the Octagonal Concert Hall and glasshouses of the Pavilion Gardens, and Buxton Opera House. Behind the modern day uses lie a number of former hydropathic establishments, and a plethora of fine accommodation built for the water-seeking traveller.

Over the course of the next 9 months I came and went, collected and curated. My curious eye has been unable to resist either the small details that we frequently overlook, or some of the town’s present day icons. My affection for the town has only grown, and I’ve found small things that I would not have otherwise noticed. There are also two images to represent ‘Buxton Water’; one that you may recognize, the other you are less likely to, but it is representative of the more abstract image making which usually occupies me.

In contrast to the randomly chosen 10 by 10 grid of ‘The Art Of Water’, I decided to see if I could develop a geometry that drew reference from some of Buxton's ‘vital statistics’. It seems that if I can make things even more complicated for myself, I will. And so:
  • At full size the image measures 45.44cms or 17.89 inches, 1789 being the year that construction of The Crescent was completed.
  • The grid interval (2.67cms) is based on the temperature of the hot springs, 27oC
  • The completed work includes 230 images, one for each year from 1789 to the planned re-opening of The Crescent Hotel and Thermal Spa in 2019.

Little by little, the grid grew. As far as possible, placement of the images took account of their predominant colour, and that of the stone surround to the lion's mask. Finally in April 2019 it was complete, and all that remained was to selectively mask and vary the opacity of the base image.

 


My plan is to publicly show the completed photomontage for the first time over the Derbyshire Open Arts’ weekend of 25-27 May. I’m again exhibiting in New Mills with the group of artists and makers that came together last year. Now, under the name ‘Peak 7’ we’ll be showing a selection of art, ceramic and jewellery at The Providence Church, Mellor Road, New Mills, High Peak SK22 4DP between 10am and 5pm each day.

The High Peak is the place to be for this year’s Derbyshire Open Arts extravaganza, with New Mills alone hosting 21 artists in 9 venues. All artists and venues in New Mills can be found using artist Paul Gent’s trail map – pick up a copy and look out for our flyers in and around town and further afield.

Peak 7 are seven Derbyshire based artists and makers: Lin Cheung Artist, Cath Dunn Artist, Michela Griffith Photographyr, Adele Kime Contemporary Jewellery, Howard Levitt Artist, Pentimento Ceramics and Print, and Emma Sidwell Artist.

In the meantime, here are a few of my favourite ‘grid’ detail images. If you can, come and have a look at the final piece and you can let me know if it was time well spent!

 


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