Below/Above

This week I bought myself a waterproof phone case and a small GoPro type camera, to start experimenting with filming at and below the river’s surface. The camera isn’t quite up and running yet (I’m waiting for the memory card to arrive) but I have been dangling my phone into the river off of bridges today, like crabbing off of a harbour wall on a seaside holiday,

It was exciting to lower the phone down into the water and steer it around water plants, moving from the silvered, reflective surface to the silty bottom, before lifting it out again and seeing what the phone and river had got up to. It reminded me of the feeling of using a camera trap for my film The Ash Looks Back, not knowing what I had recorded until a week had passed and I returned to collect the camera fom the tree where it had been set up.

I also took a couple of printed photographs along with me today, that I originally took in Salisbury during my walk with Claire Mellet as part of the Ebb and Flow project. I like the idea of bringing images from an urban stretch of the River Avon, back upstream to meet itself near where the river starts in the Vale of Pewsey, blurring the urban/rural divide (see Urban Rural Exchange).

As with my usual Walking Pages, these River Pages give me a chance to respond directly to my experience of the river, layering drawing, writing and rubbings with photographs and found materials. Noticing the shape of the river as it meanders through beds of dried iris, before hitting the metal siding and swerving under the bridge.

I’d like to see what results I get on a day when the river water is clearer, and when I can get down closer to the surface, to stop it swinging like a pendulum. That way I can have greater control over the camera and focus on really investigating the surface, that point at which the air seems to suddenly become water. I’ve also been looking into ways of attaching the GoPro to my dog so that I can get a feel for her perspective too.

Of course the whole above/below division is another divide that the Queer lens questions. Is the river only below? Is there actually a clear divide between air/sky and river/water? It is this partly this mystery of what lies beneath the water, a sense of it being a gateway or portal to another world, that has led to the development of ritual practices which focus on giving offerings to rivers and lakes, as mentioned in my last Walking with… post, featuring the artist Jonathan Mansfield. I’ll be returning to ths in more depth another time.

Next week, once the lockdown lifts, I will be returning to Salisbury to walk along the the stretch of the Avon on the Southern side of the city, with Artist/Educator and Medical Humanities Researcher Dr Catherine Lamont Robinson, during which we will be discussing (among other things) rivers and health.

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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