This project was born from an idea to produce a set of photographs that followed a straight line. The images would go through, over and under what ever came in the path of the camera’s lens.
Two other factors influenced its development. Firstly, the Year of the Artist residencies – proposed for unusual places which would bring art to new audiences – and the celebrations for the new millennium which highlighted the Meridian Line and its route through Cambridgeshire.
The Meridian Line is the zero line of longitude (0°00'). A residency here would be a ‘virtual’ residency – it is, after all, an imaginary line running from the North Pole to the South Pole – which would involve people and communities throughout Cambridgeshire, many in isolated locations.
As the crow flies, some forty two miles of the Meridian Line runs through Cambridgeshire – from the Royston by-pass (A505) in the south (latitude 52 degrees 03 minutes north) to Cole's Bridge on the Lincolnshire border on the north (52 degrees 39 minutes north).
Along the Line there are settlements dating back to the Bronze Age; a Roman causeway and river navigations; Fen drains; the old coaching routes to London and York; wartime defences; railways, and the Fen links roads constructed in the 1970s – all have imposed their indelible mark on the landscape and communities of Cambridgeshire.
The Line intercepts all of the county’s major rivers – the Cam, the Great Ouse and the Nene – and the major Fen drains: Vermuden’s Drain (Forty Foot), Fenton Lode (Twenty Foot) and the North Level Drain. It crosses the Cambridge to London railway line, the disused Cambridge–St Ives line and the March to Peterborough line. It intercepts the A505, A10, A603, A428, A14, A141 and the A47.
Now heralded as ‘Silicon Fen’, the county will have to cope with being the fastest growing in the country and a population influx of 150,000 people over the next 20 years. This will have to be accommodated with more change. Documenting Cambridgeshire as it is now is an important exercise as the pace of change accelerates.
In October 1999, the Year of the Artist residencies were announced and I made my application. In anticipation of success, I began to make preliminary pictures, learning the landscapes around the Meridian Line and discovering the obstacles that I would have to overcome.
The residency was confirmed in January 2000 and my proposals to not only make pictures but to host a series of workshops with communities on the Line were underway.
The project posed technical challenges and shooting strictly along the Line imposed a discipline upon the compositions. The Meridian Line runs north–south, whereas the sun moves across the sky east–west. The disciplined way of shooting, which I adopted, denied photographing sunrise and sunset directly. There were also difficulties photographing south along the Line because for long periods of the day, especially in winter, you are shooting straight into the sun. I exploited this using any available cloud cover as a kind of large lens hood.
As I look at the collection of images, I am very pleased with the result. There was so much enthusiasm around the county for what I was doing from the people whose homes, land or businesses straddled the Line. Working together we were able to pinpoint the correct locations for the photographs. There was a lot of pride, too, that the Line ran across their land.
The hardest part of putting the show together has been editing the collection of pictures to the final 37, one for every minute of latitude in Cambridgeshire.