“Farewell to Shuffleboat River,
I’ve been here a while too long.
And that well-known leaving feeling,
It’s coming on so strong.”
- Michael Chapman, Shuffleboat River Farewell
A channel of water zig-zags across the beach and leaves the shore, just as photographer Vanessa Winship left it. Like the songwriter Michael Chapman, Winship once lived by this river but moved away. But in 2010, she revisited this place from which she sprang and made some photographs.
Irrespective of where she has made them, from the Near East to the USA, Winship’s pictures never shout. They generally whisper, they quietly insist. But her Humber photographs are different: they are all stony silence.
Like Chapman, Winship used to ride on the boats which crossed the Humber before the bridge was built. But in her 2010 photographs the bridge stands silent, as if disused. It’s almost elegiac, with humans apparently erased from the landscape. There is little here but rocks and churned-up concrete amidst the weeds. It’s as if some apocalypse has occurred.
It has been said that all good photographs are self-portraits. If Vanessa Winship's Humber pictures are in any way self-portraits, perhaps they say that whatever there was here for her has now gone. Perhaps it’s been destroyed. Or perhaps it’s just moved on, just as she’s moved on.
From the words of his song, Michael Chapman isn’t coming back to live here. And judging by these pictures, Vanessa Winship isn’t coming back either. But perhaps this is as it should be. After all, none of us can truly go back, can we?
Words and snaps by Simon Bowcock
Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds was exhibited at the Barbican Art Gallery over summer 2018.
The accompanying book is published by Mack.