Projects: Black Fen
Black fen they call it round here. Black — for the peaty soil; black — for the mood of the area, for its history and for its future.
— Mary Chamberlain, Fenwomen, 1975
Black Fen is an ongoing series of photographs exploring the mysterious flatlands of the Fens. To drive across this landscape feels like crossing a great sea. The road undulates from the ever-shifting land, tossing the car like a small boat. Occasionally an unpaved drove branches off providing access to a house, farm buildings or fields deep in the middle of the fen. The presence of water is constant. A complex network of dykes and drains criss-crosses the fields, the murky waters rising and falling as the fenland locks and pumping stations work to prevent the water from taking back the land. All around is an abundance of crops which fight for space with an encroaching wildness of weeds and bushes that grow thick and fast out of the fertile earth. Once a place of swamps and marshes, this landscape exists because of the pioneering work of Cornelius Vermuyden and his fellow Dutch engineers, who in 1626 began draining the fens with the support of King Charles I. Today covering an area of almost 1,500 square miles in Eastern England, the Fens are one of the world's largest areas of reclaimed land.
(Justin has been photographing in the Fens since 2002. A number of photographs from this project come from a commission by the publisher Full Circle Editions and feature in the book Fenwomen.)