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The RPS Contemporary SIG conference 2023 will be a weekend looking into the issues of the Fenlands near Cambridge, featuring speakers Justin Minns and Peter Corr.

This event will be held on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th May 2023 in Foxton, Cambridgeshire. All SIG and RPS members from the UK and beyond are encouraged to take part.

A black and white photo of houses in the fens, fenlands, by peter corr. Photography. Photograph. Fens at Risk. RPS Contemporary
Fens Photography by Peter Corr

The weekend aims to investigate the ‘Threat to the Fens’ by lack of infrastructure maintenance or the ‘Backdoor re-naturalisation’ of habitat by lack of investment – or whatever other issues you discover in this weekend mix of lectures, practical photography and discussion.

With a third of the Fens currently below sea level, the area has a network of flood protection infrastructure that is nearing the end of its design life and will soon need significant investment. With the increasing effects of climate change, flood infrastructure is key in providing water resources and sustaining the environment. Sea levels are predicted to rise by up to a metre by the end of the century. On this basis, without major sea defences, the sea could reach to the outskirts of Cambridge and Peterborough; flood much of East Norfolk; and drown large areas of coastal land in Suffolk and Essex. A further effect of climate change is increasingly heavy rainfall which overloads rivers, the potential for severe flooding is considerable in the region.

Our speakers will discuss their photography and experiences in the Fenland.

Justin Minns, author of the best-selling photo-location and visitor guidebook “Photographing East Anglia”, spent 2015 photographing the East Anglian coast as a commission for the National Trust. Justin will present images taken for that project and other work he has done for the National Trust.

Fens photo photograph photography by peter corr road fens fenlands fenland ely cambridgeshire black and white landscape
Fens Photography by Peter Corr

Peter Corr will show us his viewpoint where this land called the Fenland exists as a black-and-white rudimentary, utilitarian landscape, reclaimed from the sea, re-purposed and reconfigured. His photographs include landscapes, buildings, rivers, trees and roads and are included in his book “Fenland” and were exhibited at the ‘Beyond the Image’ photographers gallery in Suffolk in 2021.

The event is spread over two days 13-14 May 2023, with a dinner on Saturday evening. Saturday morning will be Justin’s talk followed by practical work, everyone shooting their mini-project in the Fens and its coastline. Sunday morning will be Peter’s talk followed by a discussion of everyone’s images.

Fens photo photograph photography by peter corr road fens fenlands fenland ely cambridgeshire black and white landscape
Fenland Photography by Peter Corr

Ideas for contemporary photography projects

The Fens have been of interest since the Romans got wise to what they could produce. The area has been subject to profit and exploitation since 1630 when King Charles I granted the fourth Earl of Bedford the right to drain 95,000 acres traversed by the Rivers Nene and Great Ouse, stretching from Ely well to the north.

Now we are faced with ‘Ransom and Risk’ associated with the ransom being successive reductions in environmental flood defence budgets at the risk of lost food productivity and dwellings at a time when food security is becoming more of a national issue than it ever was.

As with the exploitation of the fens in history, it was seen as an area that could generate tax income owing to the natural resources contained therein yet we now face uncertainty by there not being sufficient tax yield distributed to protect this area. It is empirically evident that a good third of Fenland will be underwater again by 2100 if nothing is done.

Fens photo photograph photography by peter corr road fens fenlands fenland ely cambridgeshire black and white landscape
Fenland Photography by Peter Corr

Perhaps your Fenland photography could be the start of an ongoing project recording the here and now – a means of sticking a stick in the peat as it were to record the vernacular landscape as we see it now. Or perhaps you’ll focus on the people, looking at living in the Fens? Come along, enjoy the lectures, get out and photograph in the region and take part in the discussions of everyone’s work.

Note: Colour images in this event listing are © Justin Minns, and the monochrome images are © Peter Corr. All are used here with the authors' permission.


Thank you for visiting! And hopefully, see you at the conference!

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