Another Kind of Henge



A couple of weeks before the Summer Solstice this year, Jack [Johnstone] and I met for a catch up. Somehow or other we got to talking about the longest day. Its significance to each of us, its spiritual meaning, and how I'd been thinking of a different kind of temple recently. Of how objects don't have to be beautiful to conjure feelings of longing or comfort.

"there’s such magic to be found in the overlooked;" says Jack "the small, the common, the dirty, the ugly - the tiniest textures of light, sound and smell. These elements form the fabric of our lives and so, in their own right, deserve celebration… they are comfort, they are home."

I'd been on the motorway too often over the previous 7 weeks, a thoroughly boring drive of variable speed limits, bouncing between home in London and home in the Midlands. My father had been diagnosed with a very aggressive and untreatable brain tumour.

Just off junction 24 of the M1 is Ratcliffe power station. My first distinct memory of it was when I was maybe 11 years old. We'd stopped at a services very close to it on a school trip, and we were blown away by its scale. Its solidity, but also its lightness. Half soaring concrete, half steam.

Since that first sighting it's become a sort of homing beacon. East Midlands Parkway is a railway station quite literally in its shadow, and often when travelling home from St Martin's, or later from Paris, I would see up close the waterfalls of the cooling towers from the train windows.

Recently it had become a symbol of dread, of desperate hope, and of love. The old boy was in hospital in Nottingham, and the towers appearing over the crest of a hill 10 miles to the south were the indication that you're 30 minutes out. Time to steel oneself.

My father was - amongst many things - an astronomer, and an engineer. He taught me about the stars and engines, the planets and centrifugal force, and about our own transit through the sky unto the great beyond. This Solstice felt especially poignant.

I'd discussed something of this with Jack, and he had a perfectly complementary parallel. His dear late uncle had taught him about photography when he was younger, the two of them spending happy times together admiring trains and industrial architecture. Entering into derelict sites, exploring their well built structures and charmingly functional quirks. They'd spoken about photographing Fiddlers Ferry before - and during - its planned demolition. Heartbreakingly they never got the chance.

So, then, this mutual admiration of huge infrastructure, of the importance of celestial timings, and the weight of sentimentality, brought us together for this moment.

We agreed to shoot Ratcliffe as an unspoken souvenir. I drove to Jack's just north of London for a quick lunch and a tour of his envy-making allotment. Jack is the earth, and the earth is him! From there we went in convoy, Jack leading the way, up the A1, cutting west over to the M1. I guess around 6pm (a touch late, as usual!) Ratcliffe came into view, and as the excitement overtook me I broke formation and raced ahead.

We spent the next few hours in awe of the scale of the place, racing ourselves before the most sun of the year vanished, documenting our apparently strange pilgrimage to another kind of henge.

The pictures are very, very special. A thoroughly personal pilgrimage.

This isn't a shoot of a power station. It's a shoot of an engineering marvel on a day of astronomical significance. It came from a semi-subconscious desire to dedicate something to those who shape us, through that which shapes us. To two men who were the greatest influence in who we are. Those towers represent industry, but in a funny old way they're now as much of a monument to mine and Jack's personal ancestors as the prehistoric henges that their form echos.

Thank you Jack. Thank you Dad x




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