A46, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 1]

Over the past two years I have journeyed many times on the A46 travelling up to North Lincolnshire and East Riding to work on location around Hull, Grimsby, Mablethrope. A 17 mile section of the A46 which runs close by and on the old Roman road the Fosse Way between Newark-on-Trent and Widmerpool has just undergone road improvements that started in June 2009 and finished in the later part of 2012. This section of road has caught my attention, my route has now become my subject. I had taken photographs of one section of this road before and now I wish to explore the rest of the road and the surrounding land.

The original route of the A46 ran from Bath to Laceby and was created in 1923, it changed little until the 1970’s and then over the past 40 years it was broken up, by-passes, re-routed and re-numbered. The section between Leicester and Newark remains relatively intact and there has been only slight deviations from the original Fosse Way created by the Romans. The new ‘improved’ 17 mile section between Newark and Widmerpool that I am interested in was recently changed and redeveloped by the Highways Agency as a response to an increase to traffic from lorries and the number of accidents on the old A road.

Time for some facts and figures from the Highway Agency for the redevelopment of the new section of the A46.

  • £362 million budget
  • 23 new bridges
  • 2.4 million cubic meters of earth moved
  • 50km of ditches
  • 650, 000 tonnes of new road surface
  • 144 km of drainage
  • 129 miles of white lines - this figure appeals to me
  • 600, 000 plants planted

A46, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 2]

What drew me to this piece of civil engineering was it’s throw back to the age of modernism, function determining form, a spirit of opportunism, the rationality of enlightened thinking and aptitude, the pioneering spirit of industrialisation, all the tenets of the futurist dream. The road has a simple and austere aesthetic defined by it’s central concert barrier that divides the dual carriageway uninterrupted for 17 miles snaking through undulating hills, across flat meadows and above flood plains.

The road is a machine, efficient, expedient, but there is a sculptural element to the road, it is to my eyes a thing of beauty, perhaps a cold and calculated but a type of beauty, a minimalist beauty. A beauty derived from the road’s inherit dynamism, it’s measured pragmatism, it’s certainty, a self contained engineered organism that controls and subjugates the land around it. The ruthless subjection of nature and history to the new road may at first seem as destructive but it can also be seen as something creative and constructive, an altered landscape the result of a logical and coherent management of the flow and containment of movement as an expression of human logic and reasoning, a civilisation of a space and purpose.

The road is self contained, quarantined, unfettered by it’s surroundings, concrete barriers have been built, ditches dug and fences erected to contain movement to a defined path and prevent outsiders from trespassing onto it. The land adjacent to the road has been stripped bare and remodelled, at the moment one can still see the traces of the engineered landscape, the mechanics of the machine are exposed but soon they will be covered and softened when the newly planted 600,000 plants take root and grow which over time will create an additional barrier, a green screen.

Lay-Bys, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 4]

My intention is to photograph this section of the A46 before the plants grow, the concrete discolours, the road develops pot holes and cracks, the white lines are soiled, the verges littered and the landscaping softens and matures. The other day I drove up and down the road taking snapshots from different locations to see how my experience of the road holds through a photograph. I pull into all of the parking lay-bys and took ‘straight’ photographs capturing the road, barriers and the land beyond from the same position which took a bit of experimentation to get right, it seemed best that the photographs were taken from a low view point to create the sense of containment and separation from the surrounding countryside as seen in [fig 4]. I am reasonably happy with the results quickly done on a digital SLR and will return with my large format film camera to get a higher quality and composed image.

Next I looked at the bridges as places to survey the road from above, it was the busy part of the day and few of the 23 bridges were suitable but an early start on a Sunday morning should solve this issue. I found one bridge to test the framing of the location and how I wanted to capture the subject. I decided I did not want any vehicles in the shot, I wanted the road unused in a state of stasis, untainted and alone, just the road. When I photographed the road it was packed with fast moving vehicles so I took a sequence of photographs over a period of time so I could mask out the vehicles in layers in PhotoShop finding the sections of empty road and replacing the vehicles from the sequence of images. Cheating, maybe but I wanted to visualise what the road would look like empty of traffic, of activity which resulted in the photograph in [fig 2]. In [fig 1] I was about to do the same sequence of photographs from the other side of the bridge but suddenly the road was empty, for that split second I fire off a single shot. One image is realised in camera the other in the digital darkroom, which is more real?

New Trees, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 5]

After viewing the road from above I started to look at the adjacent landscape, the land in-between the road and the countryside. The newly landscaped verges have been planted with 600,000 plants and they are neatly wrapped up in white collars to protect them, the artifice of this planting against the distant landscape is appealing, I need to explore the possibilities of capturing this in-between land while it is still laid bare, edges hard, geometrical and immature. The other element of this between space are the metal barriers and wooden fences that separate the road form the countryside, in [fig 6] I have started to survey this division and demarcation.

Separation, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 6]

The final area I wish to investigate is the land and roads the new improved A46 now by-passes, in [fig 7] there is a defunct petrol station in the distance, the petrol station is on the old Fosse Way which originally served as the A46, the road and now is empty except for local traffic, a ghost of its former self. Travelling on the old A46 I came across a junction with traffic lights that was created when there was a heavy traffic load on the road, the traffic lights still operate but I did not see anyone on the road for a couple minutes.

Old Fosse Way, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 7]

So far I have not discussed the environmental impact of the road, what it displaced and what it consumed. I find myself in a quandary at the moment on this issue, as stated earlier I see this altered engineered landscape as something beautiful, it is a tragic or a horrible beauty and my aesthetic appreciation for banal and utilitarian space reflected in this abstracted landscape that is removed from the traditional norms of what is picturesque. To complicate my quandary further the road and the automobile that run on it have become a cause of climate change and environmental concern, warming our planet and polluting our air, the problem is this 17 miles of road is the best piece of road I have driven on in some time, the road is so smooth you feel like you are gliding over it, there is an sense of effortlessness of movement, a flight through gentle undulating hills down into the valley.