The new Britain from the Air exhibition, currently on show in Bath’s city centre, provides an unprecedented view of the nation’s varied landscapes. But what does it tell us about Britain itself? Nicholas Crane offers his thoughts views
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icture a tilted greensward of rough grazing terminated by a 60-metre cliff washed by a silvery sea. The hillside is parted by a couple of ruler-straight dry-stone walls and the sunlight is catching the layers of strata in the cliff, which is visibly unstable: debris lines the base of the cliff and a section of land bigger than a football pitch has slumped downward, almost to sea level. But that’s not what catches the eye. Curving around the very lip of the cliff is a railway line, and on that line is a locomotive towing 13 freight wagons. The loco and its centipede of cargo look terrifyingly precarious.
This is just one of more than 100 extraordinary images that are currently on display in central Bath. Set out as an outdoor gallery, weatherproofed and spotlit, with extended captions and a gigantic walk-on map provided by the Ordnance Survey, Britain from the Air will leave Bath in February next year and set off on a tour of British cities and towns. The idea is to offer each venue a core set of 96 images, along with the exhibition space for an additional ten images selected by the local partnering council or its heritage/tourism arm.
A co-production between the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), Ordnance Survey and exhibition specialists Wecommunic8, the outdoor gallery invites passersby to take to the air on a flight of geographical fancy. The photographs are much more than aerial views. They are the work of a select band of professional photographers who headed skyward in a variety of small flying machines. Each image is a portal into a different type of landscape; each tells a story about our island.
appl i ed art The last time I was this excited about aerial views was a memorable minute or so spent falling face-down through the sky above Aldershot in Hampshire. At 10,000 feet, Surrey looked like the curved panel of a globe, patched and striated. Hurtling downward at 200km/h,
32 www.geographical.co.uk december 2010