On Streaming

Streaming began as a formal exercise and a “response” to Chris Welsby’s 1976 film Streamline.

To make Streamline, which you can see a section of in this interview, Welsby suspended a camera from a ten yard long stretch of wire above a stream on Kinder Scout. The camera, pointing downwards, then tracked along the wire, filming the stream bed.

Welsby says of his work that it involves a very personal involvement with the landscape. He sees himself as being in a dialogue with nature.

“If you look at a Renaissance painting, it is very hierarchical: nature is positioned firmly in the background, a mere backdrop for the human narrative. We still have that hierarchy today, and you can see the split between nature and culture in every commercial from toothpaste to BMW cars, so what I’ve tried to do in my films is not exactly reverse this hierarchy, but try and position myself as a filmmaker with the technology within the landscape. It’s the difference between collaboration and surveillance, really.”1

This intimate connection with the landscape being filmed is something I share and which also lies behind Streaming.

Like Welsby, I took as my subject a ten yard stretch of moorland stream, but whereas Welsby’s single camera didn’t focus on anything but the stream bed, in my case, the rules were different. I used five different cameras above and below the water surface and the only rule was that no camera was allowed to leave the ten yard area marked out. The cameras could point in any direction.

Wessenden Brook, like the stream Welsby filmed, is in the Dark Peak. The two streams lie by the Pennine Way. Most years, in January, I pass both streams when running in the Marsden to Edale Fell Race.

Wessenden Brook begins at the head of the Wessenden Valley but there is barely any of the original brook left. Four reservoirs now fill the valley and the stretch I filmed in is pretty much all that is left of the original brook. Three hundred yards upstream is the spillway from Wessenden Reservoir. Three hundred yards downstream, the brook widens out to form Blakeley Reservoir. It’s at this latter point that I sometimes swim, on summer evenings with my children, where the flow becomes sluggish and the stream is warmed by the sun, then quickly cooled by the kicking of three pairs of legs just visible through the golden, peaty water.

The Wessenden Valley is a ten minute walk, or five minute run, from my house. I run most days and I’ve probably run in the valley on average twice a week for the last sixteen years. I moved to Marsden to be closer to these hills and over those sixteen years the time I have spent in them has, physically, shaped me.

But for the Wessenden Brook, it’s unlikely I’d live where I do because without the brook Marsden wouldn’t have evolved as it did. The brook fed Bank Bottom Mill, the largest of the Marsden Woollen Mills, and my house, like so many of the others in Marsden, was a mill worker’s house.

Wessenden Brook is, then, linked intimately with my life now. But my relationship with it is informed by, and is a continuation of, my relationship with other streams in my past.

My grandmother lived in rural Shropshire and during childhood holidays my brother and I would spend hours paddling around in streams. My father would drive us across the Long Mynd, an area of mountainous moorland similar to the area where Streaming was filmed and where I now live. At the other end of the Long Mynd, he, my mother and sister would go for a drink in The Bridges Pub at Ratlinghope. My brother and I would put on our wellies and carefully lift stones in the stream to catch bullheads and loaches with our hands or reels of fishing line.

Filming Streaming I had to stand in the river a lot. On the first visit I was in wellies, but I still got cold feet as I was filming for a couple of hours. Over the next week, I incorporated visits to the stream into my daily run and I went back twice to record sound both above and underwater. These times I was in fell shoes which meant my feet got cold and wet immediately.

Wading in the stream I kept slipping on rocks. As I was using a waterproof camera and hydrophone, my hands were constantly in and out of the water. As I bent down to record sound, I got my trousers wet. Filming the brook and adjusting the equipment, I was focussed constantly on the water. The experience of filming Streaming wasn’t much different to, and recalled, the experience of trying to catch fish at Bridges.

I couldn’t much see what I was filming because the sun was too bright and I had no viewfinder. In any case, one camera had no screen and on two others the screens weren’t visible. This meant I wasn’t looking at the landscape through the technology. Being in the stream, filming, I was concentrating on and was directly connected to the landscape. Technology, rather than being something which distanced me from the landscape, became something that facilitated a strong connection with it. The landscape, rather than being something other, was something intimately connected to my present and my past. Indeed, making the film I concentrated more on the landscape than I often do when running: then I tend to zone out and my mind wanders.

What I am getting at, then, is the intimate connection between me, as a filmmaker, the landscape, and the technology involved in filmmaking. For me, as for Chris Welsby, Filmmaking is a way of being in, of and for the landscape. That is what Streaming is about.


1. “Filming with Nature: A Conversation with Exp Chris Welsby” B. Bartolomé Herrera & S. Cook, Synoptique – An Online Journal of Film and Moving Image Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 2013 98

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