I love maps and I love photography, so when you get a mapping project such as McCoy Wynne's (made up of Stephanie Wynne and Stephen McCoy)Triangulation, I know I'm on to a winner - especially when the project is so rigorous and ambitious in its outlay.
For Triangulation, McCoy Wynne are going to photographically map the triangulation points used to map the UK. It's a simple idea and one that resonates geographically - I can see the trig point on Solsbury Hill from my house - a place that my daughter always climbs and jumps off when we walk up there (like this... complete with light leak).
I saw McCoy Wynne's pictures online and then met Stephen McCoy at Liverpool Look 13 so I decided to ask the partnership a few questions - which they answered.
What is a triangulation point?
Triangulation points are concrete pillars built as a base for measuring theodolites and referencing lights. We are concentrating on the 314 "primary" triangulation points built between 1936 and 1962 by the Ordnance Survey for the "Retriangulation of Great Britain". Over 6,000 secondary triangulation points also exist.
Many people mistakenly think the function of the triangulation (trig) point is to mark the highest point of hills, but the trig points are placed in positions where at least two other points can be seen in order to form triangles for accurate measurement. An accurate base line was established ( a story in itself) and from this a system of triangles enabled surveyors to make very precise measurements of distance - essential to map making.
The realisation that accurate maps were necessary coincided with the Enlightenment in the early 18th century - the move away from religion towards scientific method and measurement (Age of Reason) - and a recognition that error-free maps gave advantages to the user, whether they be the military, trade and the transport infra-structure, or road builders.
When did you get the idea for the project?
We intend to photograph all 314 primary triangulation points from the Shetland Isles in the furthest North-Easterly reaches of Britain to the Scilly Isles in the south-west.
We have been interested in representations of the landscape for many years and have produced sets of work that deal with different aspects of interactions of people and the land. We began to think about mapping and the relation of abstract map view with the reality of terrain. The trig points were an obvious landmark, but we didn't want to just produce another typology collection of these pillars. We decided to use the trig point as a base for the camera and we placed the camera and tripod on top of the trig point. We formulated the idea around the same time as we started the project - about 3 years ago.
Although we did try other options ( eg: photographing the cardinal points of the compass), we decided that 360 degree panorama was the most valid response to the visual experience of reaching the trig point.
Why is it an interesting project?
The viewpoint is predetermined by the position of the trig point and this reduces the aesthetic decision-making. Notions of what makes a good photograph, which are heavily effected by cultural and educational background, and compositional choices, are reduced. The viewpoint is not randomly chosen but was essential in the mapping of Great Britain.
The method allows us to move away from pictorial or romantic representations of the landscape into more descriptive typology. However, by combining the view of the trig point with the 360 degree panorama taken from the trig point, the visual significance is enhanced.
The work will provide a comprehensive survey of the British landscape and deals with representations of the landscape, the layering of history, land use, ownership and boundaries.
The project deals with aspects of mapping and even though the locations of the pillars is well documented, there is still a heightened sense of exploration and anticipation based on the uncertainty of access, weather conditions and the disparity between “the real” and the “abstract” of the map view. The final image is a further abstraction, creating a linear, ribbon like, prospect. The linear characteristic of the image relates to different map projections. We are all familiar with the aerial map of the Ordnance Survey, but some earlier maps are linear and based on routes and track ways, such as the Roman ‘itinerarium’, that shows the Roman road network from Europe to India as a single ribbon.
The work in the exhibition is a selection from those 30 trig points we have photographed so far, but we feel the effect of the work will grow as more trig points are photographed. The power of the work depends on how the varied landscape is unified by being portrayed as a series of strips.
The display of the work will also provide interest because we intend to display the photographs region by region in a relevant venue.
Techniques of mapping improved as technology improved. The majority of the pillars are no longer used in mapping, having been superseded by GPS, but those that can be accessed have become totemic as markers in the landscape. Many people use them as a target for their walk, as ‘touchstones’ on reaching their goal.
Photography is also linked to technology and we have fully embraced digital technology in the production of this work.
How long is the project going to continue?
We have to balance earning a living from our commercial photography practise with this personal project, so although we would like to instigate a more systematic procedure this will be difficult without any financial support. Therefore, we are not imposing any time constraints on the project. We will continue until we have finished even if it takes ten years to complete. Unfortunately the trig points are no longer maintained and some may disappear in the near future.
What are the challenges?
Time, money, travel, weather, access, sore knees. All technical problems have been solved. Fortunately, not all trig points are in remote places and long walks can be offset by some trig points being within a 100 yds of a car park.
What does the project say about the UK
In one sense it is for other people to decide what it says about the UK, but ...Although we are perceived to be an overcrowded island we have been struck by the lack of people when we are out on the hills of Britain. However, these areas show evidence of the use of land by people over centuries, the layering of history. Often the hills were used as forts, lookouts, beacons etc. Modern water towers and communication masts have sometimes overlaid these historical uses. The hilltops use for surveillance, survey and measurement of the land, places them as integral to the structure of land ownership and control.
It also says something about the systematic nature of applied science existing in Britain at the start of the mapping of the country. Our current 'applied science' of satellite technology has and continues to extend survey and surveillance.
There is also an exhibition of some of the Triangulation pictures on show at The Cornerstones Gallery, Liverpool Hope University, Creative Campus, 17 Shaw Street, L6 1HP, from 7th June until 29th September 2013 as part of Look13 Photographic Festival. Two other photographers, Kevin Casey and Stephen King will also be exhibiting and the photographers are collaborating with three writers.
McCoy Wynne have been working with writer and journalist Kenn Taylor http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com/, his written piece will be displayed alongside their work.