The title of this work comes from a wobbly, handwritten sign jammed into a pile of earth alongside the A3, which I photographed during a day spent at the huge project to tunnel through the Devil’s Punchbowl at Hindhead in order to join the two halves of the A3. As the injunction “do not take” can apply equally to photography as to piles of earth, it seemed a good choice of name.
Is this progress? Is moving the traffic jam twenty miles down the road to Portsmouth a good enough reason to spend millions of pounds digging up beautiful countryside? And yet there is beauty in the work itself, as I found out when I photographed it. Throughout this summer the photography I have done has begged the question – is this progress, is it worth it?
Most of the other images come from the nineteenth century Eastney Beam Engine House in Portsmouth. This beautiful beam engine performed the task of pumping all Portsmouth’s sewage, removing the city's sea of cesspools – from dystopia to utopia, you might say. Other photographs were taken in Sussex and Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight.
“Even a potato in a dark cellar has a certain low cunning about him which serves him in excellent stead”. So says Samuel Butler in the Book of Machines, Chapter XXIII of Erewhon, published in 1872 at around about the same time as Winchester School of Art was founded and fifteen years before the completion of the Eastney beam engine. This chapter deals with Darwinian theory (On the Origin of Species was published in 1859) in the context of machines and their ability to think and reproduce – reading it now 136 years later, downloadable from the internet, is an odd experience.
So, this work is a small contribution to the debate on the progress of the inanimate: machines, motorways, tools, things.