The Pump Keeper's House


The Pump Keeper's House, Ben Dolman 2012 & 2013


Recently whilst on my way to Sutton Bridge in the Lincolnshire Fens to test a new camera I have just built I stopped at a location for a break and where I had taken a photograph of a pump keeper’s house in the past and something was amiss, the house was gone. Sutton Bridge is an area I often return to photograph, it is an interesting subject, the area seems to be in constant change, a place of transition and transformation. Sutton Bridge is the hub of the area, an intersection of roads and waterways that converge from the surrounding lands.

I usually pull into the spot where the pump keeper’s house was for a coffee and cigarette before I start my day’s work after traveling from the midlands and it was at one of these rest stops that I took the original photograph of the pump keeper’s house, it was a happened upon photograph but it worked for me as a subject. The pump keeper’s house is next to a large flood gate and pumping station that is just to the left outside the frame of the photograph, the flood gate and pump station is now automated and the job of the pump keeper and the house have become obsolete. The flood gate and pump station controls the flow of water from the South Holland Draw into the River Nene that on turn flows onto the Wash and then into the North Sea. Much of the Fens is below sea level and the only way to drain the land is to pump the water out at low tide, the Fens is a land reclaimed by humans and without intense and continued flood management it would return to marsh and now with rising sea levels be consumed back into the North Sea just north of Sutton Bridge.

The building seemed to be watching over the land, a guardian, but now that guardian has gone, a void left where it once stood. The human presence has been removed, trust and faith put in automated technology to protect use, the land and the food it produces from the encroaching sea.

I often return to a given subject to see how it changes and alters through the seasons of the year, to see how nature and humans interact with the landscape over time. I have just brought a book on the collective work of  Jem Southam ‘Landscape Stories’ and central to his practice is this notion of returning to the same subject again and again over time to see the changes in the landscape, these chafes in the landscape are seen in his  projects based around rockfalls, rivermouths and ponds to a seminal piece for me in the book Upton Pyne. This intense observational photographing documenting the subtle and sometimes not so subtle changes in the landscape from humans and nature over a period of time is very appealing visually and intellectually. A series of singular moments that when seen in sequence build interesting stories about places that at first seem nondescript but through intense observation and documentation take on a greater resonance about our interaction with the land that perhaps the monumental depictions seen in landscape photography from mountains to icebergs do not.

I need to return to where the pump keeper’s house as I am slightly out with the framing of the photograph of the now houseless view due to the erection of a new barb wire fence that prevented me standing in the original spot but with a long lens and step ladders I should be able to frame the scene similar to that of the original photograph.

I shall miss the pump house.