Following weeks of heavy rain this time last year, the Somerset Levels were starting to get very soggy indeed. Although they are a stones throw from my home – frustratingly – I was unable to get down there and witness or photograph the floods myself. Like most ‘newsworthy’ events, my experience of the floods was mediated through the TV and reportage images on newspaper websites. Images of impressive aerial views, distraught (as well as stoic) locals, and an abandoned train stick in my mind. Also, a pretty ropey ‘live’ TV broadcast one evening of territorials or marines building makeshift defences out of sandbags, to which I couldn’t shake a deep sense of cynicism for – both in terms of its likely effectiveness, and I suspected, the true nature of the story as an exercise in PR.
Plenty of independent photographers did document the flooding of course, and several photobooks have been published on the floods in the past year. Amano Samarpan’s investigation of the flooding, and the long-term effect of the water on what is predominantly agricultural land is however a more sustained project than most. Steering away from of the familiar media images of wrecked homes and ruined possessions, and the clean-up operations, Samarpan’s photographs examine the 2014 floods within the visual and theoretical framework of landscape discourse. His pictures, many of them diptychs, address, and even answer, the ecological and agricultural anxieties that spiralled last year: “How long can grass survive underwater?!” was one such question that I recall being uttered in earnest desperation. Visions of a sterile, post-apocalyptic plain seemed to haunt the imaginations of many.
There is a quiet beauty in both Samarpan’s images of the Levels underwater, as well as his photographs of the ‘recovered’ land, which inevitably have a more traditional beauty to them – that is, dare I suggest, a ‘picturesque’ quality. In this instance, the visual reunion of the Levels to their ‘normal’ state offers both ecological and aesthetic comfort: nature came good in the end. Perhaps Samarpan’s ‘drier’ pictures don’t belong within the realm of beauty or the picturesque: in fact the sublime aspect of this investigation is not the awesome power of the rains, but the terrific power of the land to dust itself off and renew itself.
Amano’s Book Beauty and the Sublime in the Flooding of the Somerset Levels is available through Blurb.