Norwich photographer’s images of where land meets water

Photographer Richard Denyer's images of what takes shape where the land meets the water on the Norfolk Broads features in his new exhibition at Norwich Arts Centre. Simon Parkin reports.

Anyone who has ever taken a boat trip on the Norfolk Broads will have seen the strange array of structures — bungalows, boat sheds, bird hides, shops, factories, follies and gardens — that line the hinterland where the land meets the water.

The relationship between water and land, the wild and the man-made, is particularly evident. Sensitivity to the delicate nature of wetland terrain is reflected in some vernacular architecture but also ignored by other idiosyncratic structures.

Norwich photographer Richard Denyer has explored these marginal spaces that connect domestic and commercial buildings with the special qualities of wetlands for his new exhibition Neither Land Nor Water, which is currently on show at Norwich Arts Centre.

Denyer worked for 20 years as a freelance photographer for a mix of clients including Norwich Union before establishing the MA Photographic Studies programme at Norwich University College of the Arts, where he was course leader between 2003 and 2005

His pictures begin in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, with an interest in wetlands stemming from freelance work commissioned by the Broads Authority during the 1980s and 1990s.

This work focused on the practical conservation of the waterways being undertaken as part of the authority's stewardship around the time Broads received National Park status in 1989.

Most Read

Having become closely acquainted with the geography and inhabitants of the region, he self-published a book of black and white photographs of the Broads called Still Waters in 1989, which shows it as a working community as well as a location best known for tourism and leisure activities.

Neither Land Nor Water builds on this earlier work, with a more reflective examination of how the construction and positioning of buildings refer to a vernacular style common to wetland settings, and, by contrast, how other man-made interventions either turn their backs on the particularities of the landscape and impose an urban sensibility onto the natural scenery or embrace idiosyncrasies.

Surprisingly perhaps for such a unique and distinctive part of the UK landscape, the Broads has never attracted the attention of contemporary photographers working in a documentary style.

This may be because of the hidden and rather remote nature of the waterways tucked in to the landscape, usually best seen from a boat.

The most well known photographic studies of Broadland scenes were made by Peter Henry Emerson during the 1880s and 1890s, and images he created which have been broadcast far and wide on postcards and tea towels have perpetuated a rather sepia view of the area.

But times change and the Broads now face urban sprawl and creeping development. What impact will encroaching development have on this sensitive environment?

To find out Denyer has recently travelled Friesland in northern Holland and some of these pictures are included in the exhibition to reflect the similarities and differences between two significant wetland landscapes.

As funds allow Denyer plans to further develop the project into other UK and European wetland regions.

n Neither Land Nor Water is at Norwich Arts Centre until March 15, free admission, 01603 660352,