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Celebrating bleak Essex

by Ruth Slavid
This chilly view was taken by photographer Jason Orton in March last year at Horsey Island in Essex, and is the last image in a book that he produced with writer Ken Worpole, called The New English Landscape. In his text, Worpole looks at ‘the changing geography of landscape aesthetics since the Second World War, noting the shift away from the arcadian interior to the contested eastern shoreline’ so it is fitting to end with a focus that is almost entirely on the sea.

In fact, though, beyond the wave-sculpted sand and the tussocks of vegetation, one can see a sliver of land, almost as if Orton
is taking his photo from out at sea, staring back to the shore. Of course he isn’t;  it is his position on the island, part of Essex’s fractured coastline, that allows him to look across water at land.

Horsey Island appears in one of Arthur Ransome’s books, Secret Water, but Orton’s photo is a world away from Ransome’s children’s idylls. His approach is more in sympathy with Essex artist Edward Bawden, referenced by Worpole, who dreaded the way that spring cloaked in green the muscular landscape that he celebrated. Worpole believes that the changing landscape of Essex provides a microcosm of our attitudes to landscape across the UK and the ways we should think of it. Orton, who finds beauty in what many would ignore, is an ideal companion for his essays.

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