Dungeness By Nigel Green
An artist's impression29 October 2004
British artist Nigel Green spent a year photographing in and around the Dungeness plant in the UK. His book ‘Dungeness’ contains many large-format colour images and small back and white ‘fragments’, as well as an essay by architecture critic Jonathan Glancey.
Produced in association with British Energy (BE), the book Dungeness results from a project by Photoworks, a visual arts organisation based in the southeast of England. In the book, Green’s richly coloured photographs of the interior and exterior of the power station blend with small photographic ‘fragments’; Jonathan Glancey, architecture and design editor for The Guardian newspaper, contributes a personal ‘Guide to Dungeness’; and Green’s work at Dungeness is explored by an introduction by Photoworks director David Chandler.
Born in Kent near Romney Marshes, Green has known the Dungeness plant all his life. His father (in whose memory the book is dedicated) was an electrical engineer and had worked on the commissioning of the Dungeness A Magnox units in the 1960s. Although Green had heard much about the plant from his father, it wasn’t until 1986 that he visited it himself. “I went with my father to an open day in 1986 and he was able to point out areas that he had told me about before,” Green told NEI. “It was the first time I had access to the interior so I had some idea of what was in there.”
Almost ten years later, in 1995, Green discussed the possibility of a photography project of the plant with Chandler. But it wasn’t until early 2001 that Photoworks asked BNFL for their support. “We approached Dungeness A initially and BNFL weren’t interested in us doing it,” said Green. “It was a setback, so for about another year I was just photographing from the exterior.”
But at the end of 2001, BE agreed to grant access to their AGR units at Dungeness B. Green said Martin Pearce, the public relations officer at Dungeness B, “was very keen on the idea and very supportive. We had an initial meeting with him and agreed a set period of access – over the first five months of 2002. I was obviously accompanied by an engineer when I was onsite, but there was virtually unlimited access. I was going in every couple of weeks to a month – probably about seven or eight visits in total.”
Dungeness by Nigel Green
From a nuclear industry public relations point of view, extreme caution at the very least ought to be exercised with regard to any request from a UK arts organisation – which is probably why BNFL rejected Photoworks’ initial proposal. However, Pearce found the idea appealing. “It was an idea that was intriguing and it was also an opportunity to document the inside of the station in a way that hadn’t been done before,” Pearce told NEI. “Obviously we’ve often got photographers in and they’ve done pictures of the kit, but to actually get an artist in to see it from an artist’s point of view was an interesting way of doing it. He’s captured some very mundane things and really brought them to life. We were delighted with it and the publicity on the back of that has highlighted the uniqueness of having a power station down on Romney Marsh.”
BE should be congratulated for its cooperation with Green – NEI wishes BE would exercise a fraction of that level of cooperation when it comes to providing electricity generation data!
Pearce also mentioned that Green was able to reciprocate the favour. “There was a sort of a two-way thing there – at the time we were refurbishing the corridor with the central control room and we thought it would be a nice idea to get some photographs up there, but we wanted something a little bit different. So we brought Nigel in, not only to get the photographs for us, but he looked at how the photographs could be laid out within the corridor as almost a sort of art exhibition.”
DUNGENESS ON DISPLAY
Once Green had taken the photographs, he agreed on a final portfolio of images that were then made up into exhibition prints. “ Initially the exhibition was shown in July 2003 at the Sassoon Gallery in Folkestone, which houses the archive of all the material relating to the building of the power station,” said Green. “Since then it’s been shown at Rye Art Gallery early this year and part of it’s now on show at the Photofusion gallery until 13 November.”
The large (320x255mm) hardback book came out at the beginning of this year, and contains 60 colour and 10 black and white plates. Clearly both the essayists are not big fans of nuclear power but, for the most part, they avoid the temptation to air their political views on the subject. Indeed, Chandler’s main criticism is more against the “extraordinary and inexplicable site” for the station, rather than nuclear power per se. “And yet, strangely,” he goes on to say, “in spite of the incongruity of their position and the understandable resentment, the stations somehow feel integral now to this modern wilderness, the collision of nature and culture has produced something remarkable, an additional force of character that is both stark and magical.”
And again, at the end of his essay, having referred to the “malign, invasive technology that, for so many, the nuclear power stations represent,” Chandler points out that Green’s work “recognises that the presence of the power stations has created a hybrid landscape, one that is harsh and bleak but within which a raw and undeniable beauty continues to surface.”
‘Dungeness’ (ISBN: 1 903796 07 5) by Nigel Green is published by Photoworks, The Depot, 100 North Road, Brighton BN1 1YE, UK
|From the introduction|
To drive through Winchelsea and then Rye on the A259 towards Folkestone is to leave behind the rolling, green downland of East Sussex and enter an altogether different landscape. Emerging from Rye, the land quickly becomes flat, space stretches out, vertical forms are more isolated and strange, trees and buildings are now silhouetted against the sky; the environment has become less inviting and a windswept terrain of plain fields empties out before you for miles. One feature begins to dominate this landscape, and characterise its severe angularity: chains of electricity pylons trail across the open space converging towards some unseen point beyond the horizon.