Walking Through History
- Billy Rickards
This project aimed to create a photographic timeline of the history of Cornwall in a way which was original, impactful and engaging. I opted to use lightpainting to create a visual timeline which would run throughout each photo, alongside ‘time portals’ which would send the viewer to the next historical location, blending the historical reality with a sort of narrative fiction. Throughout the summer nights, I visited many locations, from Lanyon Quoit and Men an Tol – 2 famous neolithic locations in Cornwall, ancient stone creations formed by our ancestors long ago – to the industrial Wheel Coates Mine House and up to the modern Goonhilly Space Observatory. Ultimately, the series is intended to be expanded into a wider interactive project with digital integration such as VR.
For this series, each location is part of a certain time in history – from the neolithic to the modern day and has some human construct in it, piecing the natural and the human history together. Their significance comes from the historical context, each one is significant in a different way (the stone circles for the ancient rituals, the castles for who ruled at which time etc the wind turbine near the end for the ingenuity of humanity and what needs to be our future (renewable energy) if our timeline is to continue etc).
Let's talk process. For this project, I really wanted to explore the timeline of Cornwall through photography. I wanted it to be impactful and engaging and fun – not just photos of buildings/landscapes old and new but something more deep and explorative, experimental even. I wanted to utilise astrophotography for the symbolism of time as an infinite concept, forever moving and changing just as the universe has and will forever more, and I wanted to incorporate light painting to create lines of light to symbolise a timeline which connects all the photos together – from the past to the present. So that was the idea.
Part of the creative process is the concept – finding one for a start, and then building on it in a way which is hopefully unique, impactful, and engaging. Then the next part of the process is planning it – how will you get the shots you want, where will you need to go, when will you need to be there. After that you go and do the shoot, which is the most fun. You experiment on the fly, look at what’s being created and aim to improve it as you go. The first shot might end up being great (or terrible) but keep adjusting, keep improving as you go as the minute little details can really make the difference later. After the shots have been taken and you’re happy with how they’ve come out the next really creative part comes in: Post processing! And for a series like the one I did, there’s a lot of it!
For post-processing I initially do the basic adjustments and then send them into photoshop to be masked and blended together ie the light painting and the landscape, or the milkyway shots and the landscape. There’s a lot of work involved per photo and for milkyway shots there’s about 40-60 photos blended into one photo overall. After the blending/masking I colorgrade it and make extra adjustments to make the image pop or to give it the look/feel I think looks good on it.
Lanyon Quoit, Madron – 3500 BC
Under the bright glow of the moon, a beam of light races across the scene like a spirit, weaving in and around this ancient stone monolith - older than the Great Pyramids - with dramatic intention and precise direction. Suddenly, a brilliant blinding flash of light engulfs you, and as it settles, a white orb appears. It is alluring, and tempting, and within it you can faintly see the outline of somewhere else. You don’t know where it leads or why it is here, only that it wants you to follow. Vibrations begin to resonate through the hard old stone which has stood there for millennia. The voice of the wind – quiet only a second ago – starts to crescendo and pick up speed like a steam train accelerating. Echoing out from the depths of the orb you can hear chanting. What are those voices? Who’s are those voices? You know it is time to go, but where? You step into the light. Instantly, you’re there.
Men an Tol, Madron – 1500 BC
A sense of eerie familiarity creeps over you. You know this place, you thought, but how? It was not a place you had ever been to, nor seen, and yet there was a connection, like an electric current that pulsated through the earth around you and within yourself. You could feel the people that had been here. The tribes that might have gathered to perform healing and birthing ceremonies, to celebrate during the summer and the winter solstice. You could feel them now just as they felt the connection between each other then. These are your ancestors, your kin from long ago. The orb quietly waits this time – there is no rush to leave. It wants you to explore this place, to see what it has constantly seen since time began, to understand how it all works.
After some time, though difficult to tell how long, a new location begins to appear within the orb. It is inviting you in. As you approach the light once more, you look back and for a split second see a ghost of a women touching the hollowed-out stone and pointing towards you. Can she feel your presence too?
Hurlers Stone Circle 1, Bodmin Moor – 1500 BC
The cold, damp air of the moorland greets you as you arrive through the portal. The stars above you glimmer like a million fireflies overhead. Before you, a wide stone circle stands strong, weathered for thousands upon thousands of years. You see figures dancing and weaving in and out of the standing stones as the beam of light follows them. You follow them too, until you reach a stone which calls out to you. You sit in front of it, looking up as the sky turns red but the stars remain.
Hurlers Stone Circle 2, Bodmin Moor – 1500 BC
The white portal shifts location and appears in front of you in the centre of the standing stone. You can hear the sound of waves crashing ashore and an image of a faint island appears. You crawl through the stone and are transported.
St Michael’s Mount, Marazion – 1135 AD
Cutting through the land at low tide, a wide path leads to a small island. A monastery and a castle stand atop it. Thousands upon thousands of people appear before you, blending in and out of each other back and forth as they make their way to and from the island. This place has seen a lot of history. Thousands of human stories all building on top of one another, each unique and completely personal. You walk with the crowd towards the island and as you walk closer you start to hear the clanging of metal and the chisel of stone. Another place, you thought, calling out to be seen, to be heard, to not be forgotten.
Restormel Castle 1, Lostwithiel - 1192 AD
Lying in ruins and disarray, an old castle perches on the hillside. It has a moat around it and a small bridge leading towards its entrance. You hear horses coming from a nearby stable. That metal clanging increases and in the courtyard 2 knights swirl around each other in a duel. The portal appears in the centre, but only you can see it. Time is separated, allowing you to observe and explore, but not interfere. You run up the stairs to the top of the castle to get a better view of the duel. After some back and forth, a knight is knocked to the ground, winded and wincing. The duel is over and the crowd around them cheers. The victor puts their hand out and helps the other up. You run back down to get a closer look.
Restormel Castle 2, Lostwithiel – 1192 AD
By the time you reach the bottom of the stairs, the courtyard and the castle are empty again. As if nothing was ever there. The only thing that remains is the portal in the enter of the castle, with two brilliant lines leading to it like a carpet from either side. An echoing hollow from the orb calls out to you and the line of lights circle around you and lead you into the orb.
Tintagel Castle 1, Tintagel – 1233 AD
You are transported to another castle, but this one feels different. You can feel the myth and the legend that surrounds this place. Just like Men an Tol, you can feel fault lines of connection resonating through the old ruins. Standing in front of you is a figure draped in ragged clothes with a crown and an iron sword. The figure is unmoving and as you edge closer you realise it is just a statue, cast from Bronze. Lights swirls around and you are transported atop the hill of Tintagel.
Tintagel Castle 2, Tintagel – 1233 AD
Looking out as the lights swirl around the statue, you can see it is of King Arthur, mythical and legendary king of the Britons and defender from the Saxons. No one knows if he was real or not, but it doesn’t matter. Eternalised through story after story, King Arthur remains a part of the narrative of our reality, as real as any other King that might have roamed this land. For King Arthur is a symbolic representation of the heritage that we have around us. From the right hand side of the statue, the portal appears and a call from another time beckons again. Things are speeding up, you thought.
Gold Diggings Quarry, Bodmin Moor – 1800/1900 AD
Back on the moor, you stand there alone in an old, abandoned quarry, now filled with water which has risen up and reclaimed the space that was once used by countless people to extract minerals from the landscape. You look up, astonished at how beautiful and gorgeous the sky is. The Milky Way arching above you, entwined in its own near-infinite history. It’s calling to you – a deep desire to explore that abyss and see what lies beyond the edges of our world and into the next.
Mesmerised for hours as you dreamt of further exploration, you are snapped awake by the pulse of the portal once again. A rumbling in the distance and in an instant you were gone from the quarry.
Wheal Coates Mine House, St Agnes – 1809 AD
Before you stands a tall chimney tower built into the ground and the sky is lit up by the biggest moon you have ever seen. So big that the reflections of light bleach out parts of the sky. You are at a mine house where once hundreds of people, many of whom were children, would workday by day to mine tin from the deposits below.
The orb glows out in the centre of the chimney and you step through.
Wheal Coates Mine House 2, St Agnes – 1809 AD
You are transported to another part of the mine house. It is in ruins but you can see the different builds that once stood there. You can hear the steam engines pumping water down to break up the deposits below and pump it out of the earth.
You are called again as time begins to speed up, just as everything is speeding up.
Wind Turbine, Looe – Present Day
Are we home? You thought. The air felt the same as it did a few days before you left for Lanyon Quoit. Before you, a tall turbine works away as it generates electricity from the raw force of the wind. All that motion, stored in pressure, harnessed by ingenuity, kept the blade spinning through the night. It begins to speed up, fast and faster. And as it speeds up, the stars start to move faster too. Lines of light appear in the sky as the Earth rotates and you begin to feel dizzy. You can feel something coming, but you don’t know what it is. Like energy merging together into an inevitable reaction that cannot be escaped from. In the distance at the base of the turbine, another portal appears, and you run towards it. With a giant leap you dive into the white orb.
Goonhilly Satellite Station – Present Day
Everything is spinning around you, light trails are everywhere. The sky is a smokey orange. Where are you? Satellites towers appear in front of you and you can see the energy beaming into them and racing back out into the sky. A glowing orb stares at you from above and suddenly you blast of. Further and further into the sky you head towards the orb. Goonhilly Satellite station becomes just a small speck on the earth below, but the orb doesn’t get closer. You speed up and in the corner of your eye you see rockets, spaceships, atoms and colours across the spectrum. You realise then that there is no end to this journey. No start or finish, just a continuation from what came before. Faster and faster and faster like a rocket you accelerate until everything is just a blur of light, indistinguishable from anything else. You don’t stop, you just carry on.