Crossing Thresholds by Dominic Smith


This project is a meditation on the crossing of thresholds. Commissioned by the North Pennines AONB Partnership’s Fellfoot Forward Landscape Partnership Scheme and part of the ‘Everything Changes, Everything Stays The Same’ programme. It was an opportunity to spend time contemplating the nature of change and our perception of it. Whether that is environmental change or a gradual change in our understanding of the world and our place in it. But it happens. Nothing remains the same forever.

We find ourselves at a point of anxiety about the environmental thresholds we cross in terms of climate change. We learn about conflicts over geopolitical borders. We struggle with thoughts around class, education and how we access services and culture as a result. These are complex and overwhelming subjects.

I began by exploring Tindale Tarn and Geltsdale and met with groups who took part in experimental image gathering events, using light sensitive paper to capture the outlines of found materials. Recording what was available; light, climate information and their own impact on the environment at that point in time. Watching participants create these group snapshots I became aware of how varied each image they created was. I began to think about how each gaze overlapped with others and where it stopped.

Walking and exploring the area, camera in hand I encountered rocks and stones that had been hewn and displaced as part of Armstrong’s zinc works and quarry. Many of these rocks are now covered in lichen that on close inspection reflect the larger environment. They can be viewed as self contained microcosms. They were starting points for deeper contemplation on how giving things in this world our attention we can become aware of the attention that the world pays us.

I began exploring these miniature landscapes, adjusting the focus of my camera lens to try and gather as much detail from these scenes as I could. Trying to keep my hand steady, holding my breath when shooting. Waiting for good light and trying to maintain my focus and keep my attention. I gathered images over a number of visits, mapping and recalling the locations of the most interesting scenes.

I returned to my studio with thousands of images. I catalogued the scenes and began the slow process of focus stacking images. This is a process where you align multiple images from a scene, selecting parts of each image by focus. Selecting the sharpest area and discarding the rest. Like a jigsaw puzzle where each piece has a random edge.

As I worked through this process, I became aware of the areas I had missed, the parts of the tiny landscapes that had not held my attention and would remain forever out of focus and I started to realise the edge of each scene was unique. Every border was a map of the limit of my gaze.

With each decision to capture an image there is a lot happening. How much of the subject are we really taking in at that moment? I have learned over the years to spend time with my images. To revisit them, to reframe and remember what it was that motivated me to set off with a camera that day and think about what it was I wanted to capture. I often find within each image there is a mini drama unfolding that I was not aware of at the time I pressed the shutter button. But it is too interesting to have been a fluke.

We train our conscious attention on our momentary needs and naturally ignore the edges where our needs end. But as I found with the workshops and the layering of focus points, if we can combine multiple perspectives and views, then we begin to better understand the edges of our attention and contemplate what lies beyond.

The environment around Tindale Tarn was the catalyst for a meditation upon change. As an artist I am lucky to have moments in which to consider the world in such abstracted terms. Through discussion with others as part of a series of creative engagements, I learned that time spent together in the landscape, sharing overlapping points of view can focus our minds collectively. It can help us to become resilient at a time in which we are crossing multiple thresholds.

The Fellfoot Forward Landscape Partnership Scheme is led by the North Pennines AONB Partnership and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It is a major project to conserve, enhance, and celebrate the natural and cultural heritage of a special part of the North West of England, which stretches from the Cumbrian fellside of the North Pennines AONB and UNESCO Global Geopark to the River Eden, and runs north from Melmerby to Hallbankgate.