BECK (After Ruskin), digital video, 45:17, colour, sound, 2012/short extract

‘The excavation of the water course was an obsession with Ruskin from the moment he moved to Brantwood. He regularly cleared his beck to aid its series of natural cascades. In his moorland garden he used his group of young disciples to dig a series of small reservoirs to impound the stream….Ruskin took great pleasure ‘in devising sluices and clever gates with long handles, artistically curved, to shut and open the slit.’ In the picturesque tradition of lending Mother nature a hand, Ruskin was said to enjoy startling his visitors by sending somebody up to turn the water on, producing a roaring cascade among the laurels opposite the front door.’

Ruskin and Gardening – John Illingworth

Garden History, Vol.22, No 2, The Picturesque, Winter 1994- THE Garden Society.

How does one describe a beck, river or stream? As they are continuously changing their shape and form over time and are geographically inseparable from the geological, ecologogical, aural and environmental conditions of a specific terrain or landscape.

In addition a river will often meander and pass through different landscapes which will affect its visual and physical characteristics as it flows from its source to the sea or eventual confluence. The seasons and climatic conditions such as rain, snow or floods will also have an affect on the river or beck and surrounding environment and change the way that it looks and sounds. Just to increase its inspirational qualities or add to its descriptive difficulty!

However each will have its own unique characteristics and distinctive qualities specific to its place, and that is certainly true of the Beck running through John Ruskin’s high moor garden at Brantwood.

This film was made using a hand held camera and recorded over a three year period on the Beck in the grounds of Ruskin’s House at Brantwood, Cumbria. It was completed in 2012, and revised in 2020.

It samples and contemplate sections of the flowing Beck as it cascades from high moor to near Ruskin’s home below. Responding to the elements which inspired Ruskin, the film explores the rock formation and geological aspects of the Beck together with the vegetation, moss and lichen, which has grown around the sides of the watercourse resulting in an array of contrasting colours.

I was most interested in exploring the representational qualities of the different ways in which light interacts with the Beck’s water movements. Filmed in different weather conditions, times of year and at different heights within the garden.

As a result each section of the film has been intentionally edited to create different and contrasting image and sound relationships, like writing a sequence for a music score; water music composed of natural sounds. The quantity of water and the differing speed of the water flow determined  the level of intensity of sound which the Beck made as it passed from high moor through different terrain, either torrential and loud or quiet and barely audible and including a variety of notes in between!

I am certain that Ruskin would have regarded water to be the Mother of life which deserves our respect and gratitude.

‘The whole film is like a homage to water and light and form and sound- to life itself’ -D.Hadlow